When Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana quickly rose from a little-known lawmaker to speaker of the House late last month, journalists and even fellow members of Congress started trying to learn more about him. A report from A Public Witness the day after his election was the first to look at sermons and other presentations he made at churches in the years leading up to his election as the third most powerful politician in the country. One church we included in that report has removed Johnson’s messages from its online sermons page — but not before I saved both of them.
Johnson preached at least twice at First Baptist Church in Haughton, Louisiana, since he entered public office. Rev. Gevan Spinney, the church’s senior pastor, is a former president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. He’s also listed on the most recent tax filing as board president for Onward Christian Education Services, a nonprofit Johnson’s wife Kelly started and leads.
“I was made aware that the left was trolling our website and pulling quotes out of context in their attempt to attack Mike and Kelly,” Spinney told me when I asked about the removal of the sermons. “I told our media team to remove them so we would not be providing ammunition to the enemy.”
Johnson’s Nov. 15, 2015, sermon occurred while he was a state representative in the Pelican State and nearly one year before his election to the U.S. House of Representatives. A Southern Baptist, he has been engaged in denominational life in Louisiana and nationally.
In the sermon, he articulated his belief that the U.S. was founded to be a “Christian nation.” After criticizing President Barack Obama for not believing the U.S. is a Christian nation, Johnson added, “I disagree. I think we’re a Christian nation. We certainly began that way.”
Johnson used a quote falsely attributed to President John Quincy Adams and another falsely attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville to argue the founders intended the U.S. to have a Christian government. He also invoked G.K. Chesterton claiming the U.S. was “founded on a creed,” a quote Johnson repeated in his acceptance remarks after his election as House speaker.
In his 2015 sermon, Johnson urged the congregants to follow the story in the Book of Nehemiah and “be wall builders.” WallBuilders is the name of the organization led by David Barton, a pseudo-historian who has influenced Johnson’s view of U.S. history and Christianity. Johnson also told those present to “put on the full armor of God” as they engage in the public sphere, adding that they were “at the tip of the spear, at the tip of the frontline” in that place “for such a time as this.” He added, “This is war imagery, my friends, because we are in a war. It’s a spiritual battle.”
Embodying the spirit he urged for congregants, Johnson expressed his disagreement with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision a few months earlier in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage. He criticized “five unelected lawyers” for having “decided that they know better than five millennia of human history.”
“I don’t care what five lawyers on the Supreme Court say; I care what this book says,” Johnson added to applause while apparently holding up a Bible.
Although numerous reporters and commentators used the label “Christian Nationalism” to describe Johnson, A Public Witness was the first to report on the 2015 sermon and the first to include a quote from him calling the U.S. “a Christian nation.”
The page for the sermon on the church’s website now brings up an error message. And while “Mike Johnson” still shows up as a “preacher” option on the church’s online archive of sermons, when selected it no longer lists two sermons but instead says “No sermons found.” But before the sermons were removed, I downloaded the 2015 file. So here’s the full message the church doesn’t want you to hear:
Johnson returned to the pulpit at First Baptist Haughton in February 2019 to similarly make the case that the U.S.’s founders had been inspired by God and created the nation based on “this revolutionary idea that we owe our allegiance to the King of kings.” While the audio is no longer on the church’s website, the full video of the service is still — for now — on the church’s Facebook page where it had been livestreamed.
Another presentation by Johnson at First Baptist Haughton is also now unavailable. David Corn of Mother Jones first reported on a presentation Johnson and his wife gave at the church in April 2019 to again talk about the U.S.’s “biblically sanctioned government.” That presentation wasn’t during a church service and wasn’t included among the sermons, but the privacy settings have been changed on the Vimeo video that Corn found so it can no longer be viewed.
The removal of church messages follows other efforts by Johnson and his allies to remove information amid increased attention after his election as speaker. The website of his wife’s counseling organization was taken down after media scrutiny. Johnson’s office did not respond to a request for comment about the removal of his sermons.
Thus far, other churches have not taken down their messages by Johnson in which he regularly encouraged Christians to courageously stand up in the public sphere.
As a public witness,