Column: Welcome, Mr. Speaker, and good luck

U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) gives a brief statement to reporters about the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, at the U.S. Capitol Oct. 26, 2023, in Washington, D.C..  (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)

U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) gives a brief statement to reporters about the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, at the U.S. Capitol Oct. 26, 2023, in Washington, D.C.. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS) Drew Angerer

Newly elected House Speaker Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) take the oath of office and the gavel at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 25. (MUST CREDIT: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Newly elected House Speaker Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) take the oath of office and the gavel at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 25. (MUST CREDIT: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post) Washington Post — Jabin Botsford

Randall Balmer. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Randall Balmer. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

By RANDALL BALMER

For the Valley News

Published: 11-06-2023 7:17 AM

Dear Mr. Speaker:

Congratulations on your selection as speaker of the House of Representatives. I can’t imagine why anyone would want the job, but it’s yours. When I was department chair, I often compared the job to herding cats, which I confess is not an original observation.

But your task is to bring some semblance of order to a sprawling, amoeba-like body of ego-fired ideologues, including (let’s be honest here) the nutcase caucus: Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, “Gym” Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

I don’t envy you.

Although I follow politics pretty closely, I confess that I was not aware of you before you emerged as candidate for speaker. I apologize, and so I’ve been following some of the reporting to learn more.

Apparently, you told Sean Hannity at Fox that you were a “Bible-believing Christian” and that the secret to understanding your political views would be to “pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview.”

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As a Bible-believing Christian myself, I applaud that sentiment. The world would be a far better place if more people read, understood and lived the principles found in the Bible. I honor your fidelity to the scriptures.

But as a student of the Bible, you surely know that the Bible admits of many interpretations and that even those who claim to be biblical literalists engage in what I call the ruse of selective literalism.

I gather from other comments you’ve made that homosexuality is “inherently unnatural” and a “dangerous lifestyle.” I suppose you derive that from the Bible, and we all know about a couple of “clobber” passages on the topic. But maybe a sense of proportion is appropriate here. As you know, Jesus himself said nothing whatsoever about the issue, although he did talk about divorce.

Should that be illegal too?

And since we’re talking Leviticus here, what are you going to do with those chapters — not verses, chapters — talking about infections and rashes? Does that call for legislation to outlaw certain practices — along with doing away with same-sex marriage, as you advocate?

As J. Kent Ashcraft pointed out some years ago in a letter to “Dr. Laura” Schlessinger, who had boasted about her adherence to “God’s Law” as spelled out in the Hebrew Bible, some of the passages require a bit of clarification. “I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7,” he wrote. “In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?”

Or, “Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Leviticus 19:27. How should they die?”

You get the idea.

Because you claim to be an evangelical Christian — and you assert, albeit falsely, that the United States is a Christian nation — I wonder if you might be on firmer ground sticking with the New Testament. If the United States is a Christian nation, shouldn’t we pay attention to what Jesus says about how his followers should behave?

It seems to me that the Sermon on the Mount — blessed are the peacemakers, the merciful, the poor in spirit — might be a good place to start for someone who claims that the Bible dictates his policies. Matthew 25 is important also.

Jesus said that on the last day the Almighty will specifically identify with “the least of these,” saying, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

I’m sure as a “Bible-believing Christian” you’ve considered the policy ramifications for immigration (strangers), welfare (naked, thirsty and hungry), universal health care (sick) and prison reform. Yes, many of your right-wing buddies will claim that those matters are for individual, not government largesse, but we both know that is unrealistic.

Besides, ever since the Reagan tax cuts in the 1980s, government policies have directed untold wealth toward the affluent.

Surely, any concern for “the least of these” requires some modification of those policies.

One more thing. Rondall Reynoso, of Faith on View Daily, points out that there is a curious two-year gap in your official biography, 2010-2012, during which you were the founding dean of Pressler Law School at Louisiana College (now Louisiana Christian University). The law school, named for Paul Pressler, a former judge and one of the now discredited architects of the conservative takeover in the Southern Baptist Convention, never admitted a single student.

I think I speak for many Americans when I say that we’d like to know more about your tenure at Louisiana College.

I wish you Godspeed in your new responsibilities.

Randall Balmer is the author of “Saving Faith: How American Christianity Can Reclaim Its Prophetic Voice.”