Weeks Before Election as Speaker, Johnson Lamented ‘Dark and Depraved’ Culture

Three weeks before he was elected speaker, Mike Johnson joined a prayer call where he lamented that American culture was “so dark and depraved it almost seems irredeemable,” claiming as evidence that attendance at church had reached an all-time low and that 25 percent of high school students identified as “something other than straight.”

In an interview with Jim Garlow, a former pastor and political activist who was a member of President Donald J. Trump’s faith advisory board, Mr. Johnson said that “faith in our institutions is the lowest it’s ever been” and noted that church attendance had “dropped below 50 percent.”

As further evidence of America’s decline, he cited the statistic about high school students’ sexual orientation. He appeared to be citing a survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in which about a quarter of high school students in 2021 identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning or other.

“We’re losing the country,” Mr. Johnson concluded.

Since Mr. Johnson was elected speaker last month, his past comments and writings on matters like homosexuality and same-sex marriage have attracted significant attention. While many of those statements are years old, his comments to Mr. Garlow offer an up-to-date distillation of his views.

Mr. Johnson’s comments on the prayer call were reported earlier by Rolling Stone. The call took place on Oct. 3, hours before the House voted to oust Speaker McCarthy, and was broadcast by Mr. Garlow’s organization the following day. On the call, Mr. Johnson said Congress was in uncharted territory, and he appeared to have little inkling that he would ultimately end up as Mr. McCarthy’s successor.

“What we need is a supernatural intervention from the God of the universe,” he said of the chaos gripping the House Republican conference.

Mr. Johnson added that the country had reached an inflection point. “The only question is: Is God going to allow our nation to enter a time of judgment for our collective sins?” he asked. “Or is he going to give us one more chance to restore the foundations and return to him?” He added: “We need to turn to him. We need a revival.”

Mr. Johnson, a fourth-term Republican from Louisiana, was a little-known conservative lawmaker until his surprise election as speaker. For decades, he has been writing and speaking publicly about his religious views, including his stances on same-sex marriage and homosexuality, which he has written is “inherently unnatural” and a “dangerous lifestyle.”

“Experts project that homosexual marriage is the dark harbinger of chaos and sexual anarchy that could doom even the strongest republic,” he wrote in a local newspaper in 2004.

Mr. Johnson’s hard-line views on such social issues, also including abortion, are rooted in his Christian faith and are far out of step with mainstream public opinion. He has been described by some of his fellow House Republicans as someone whose views on social issues are frozen where the Republican Party was in the 1990s, and where the country was in the 1950s.

Aware of the political liability of those stances for someone who now represents the House Republican conference as a whole, Mr. Johnson has tried to distance himself from his past comments, without repudiating them.

“I don’t even remember some of them,” he said in an interview with the Fox News host Sean Hannity when asked about his previous statements on homosexuality. “I genuinely love all people, regardless of their lifestyle choices. This is not about the people themselves.”

Mr. Johnson’s wife, Kelly, a licensed pastoral counselor, has made similar remarks about L.G.B.T.Q. youth on a religious and political podcast the couple co-hosted until last month. On one episode, Mrs. Johnson expressed her deep concern about a “woke agenda” in schools across the country and the rising rates of students who identify as L.G.B.T.Q. Citing a study that attributed that rise to “indoctrination in schools,” she concluded, “These are clearly unprecedented, unsettled and very dangerous times for our children.”

As a pastor in California, Mr. Garlow, who hosted the prayer call, organized evangelical pastors in support of Proposition 8, a state ballot measure banning same-sex marriage that passed in 2008 but was later struck down.

He now leads an organization that describes its mission as “bringing biblical principles of governance to government leaders and the people who elect them.” The organization broadcasts public “prayer calls” with guests, including elected officials like Mr. Johnson.

At the end of his appearance, Mr. Johnson choked up as he led the call in prayer. “We repent for our sins individually and collectively,” he said. “And we ask that you not give us the judgment that we clearly deserve.”

Ruth Graham contributed reporting.

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