We survived four years of Trump, but not without serious damage to public life in the United States: an insurrection now incarcerating hundreds of people, a powerful MAGA movement in some parts of the country, and a stacked Supreme Court determined to undermine much of what we have taken for law and policy.
But we survived, and it is unlikely that Trump will ever see the inside of the White House again.
But now comes Mike Johnson, like Trump, out of nowhere. He is likely to be in office, the third most powerful in the country and second in line to the presidency, for at least 14 months—until, that is, the elections in the fall of 2024 when Democrats will, perhaps, push Republicans out of power in the House of Representatives.
Until then, Johnson brings with him from his gerrymandered district in Louisiana a backpack full of theological convictions that he will try to push into public policy. Such as: a preference for private schools over public schools, a rejection of abortion for women and marriage for gays, a desire to reign in the regulatory power of the federal government, and the use of public debt to rationalize cutting back on Medicare and Social Security.
All of these and many more are buried in the mysterious logic of White Christian Nationalism and its vision for the future of our country. Johnson is now the highest-ranking exponent of this religious ideology, that America was founded as a Christian paradise and is destined to showcase to the world the glories of a country fully committed to “Christian principles.”
This is the meaning of the widely distributed photograph of Johnson and his House buddies kneeling in prayer in an otherwise empty House of Congress. They were giving thanks for their rise to power and asking God to bless their agenda with success. Or so it seems.
At the core of their agenda is the protection of Israel. One of their first acts of business was the introduction of a bill that offers Israel billions of dollars to fund their war on Gaza, while deleting any mention of Ukraine and reducing operational funding for the Internal Revenue Service (ironically, the very agency commissioned to collect the money to be sent to Israel).
This commitment to Israel is based on long-standing support of Israel, dating back to Harry Truman’s decision to recognize the state of Israel in 1948. It is strengthened by a commitment to a Western-style economic and political system in a region of the world dominated by dictators and kings. But deeper than either of these, especially for Johnson and his cohort, is what they call “Bible Prophecy”—the notion that God favors Israel in all circumstances and destined Israel to occupy the Land regardless of who else might have a claim. This “prophecy” is hidden beneath the surface of the biblical text and has come to light only within the last two centuries.
The key to this “prophetic” understanding of the Biblical narrative is this verse from the Hebrew Bible: “The Lord said to Abram [Abraham]… “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you…. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse…” (Genesis 12:1-3).
This statement written by Hebrew people (Jews) about Hebrew people (Jews) has been used by some Christians to build an elaborate theological rationale for supporting the modern state of Israel (nine million people) and ignoring the economic, political, and religious needs of the rest of the people in that part of the world (371 million in 17 countries).
Furthermore, these Christian Nationalists (also known as Christian Zionists) are convinced that we are near the end of the age, when all sorts of other “Biblical Prophecies” will be fulfilled, such as the Battle of Armageddon, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and the Rapture of the Church.
This explains why they use dramatic, apocalyptic language to talk about Israel, Arabs, and the United States. They read everything as part of an end-times agenda, shaped by books of fantasy (such as The Late, Great Planet Earth and the entire, 17-volume books series Left Behind).
This theological fantasy that has gripped much of the right-wing Christian world has shaped American foreign policy and continues to do so even as we watch the militarily strong Israelis bomb the hell out of the poor people of Gaza.
To critique the Israeli military and call for an end to this bombing is, in their minds, to become the focus of those Hebrew words written more than 3,000 years ago: “Whoever curses you (the Jews) I will curse.”
Meanwhile, the real prophetic tradition of the Bible, summed up in such Hebrew texts as “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God” and “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” is ignored. Even many Jews worldwide recognize the ugly dissonance between Jewish/Hebrew values and what they see unfolding in the Middle East.
This twisted theology of Biblical Prophecy will dominate our Congressional agenda throughout the coming year. But we will survive, and when all this dangerous “prophetic” silliness is over, we will have the resolve to pick up the pieces and put together our future as a beacon of liberty and justice for all people on planet earth. In this way, we will join voices with Hebrew/Jewish people from ancient times right up until today. We will protect the rights of all people, Jews and Gentiles, to a safe place to live, to justice before the law, to freedom to live, work, and worship, and to move from here to there, just as God told Abraham to do (in the very Genesis text quoted above).
May it happen, O God of Israel, may it happen.