It’s important to know that Johnson declined a Times interview request. I think that he should have done that interview, with an agreement that he could post a transcript online. Would the Times have agreed? The speaker should test that.
Without an interview, the Times team did a deep dive into Johnson’s work in social media and niche media, looking for material that fit the Christian nationalism template.
Let me stress: There’s plenty of material here worthy of hard questions and further research. Johnson needs a chance to respond. But here is a key block of Times material:
Mr. Johnson, 51, the son of a firefighter and the first in his family to attend college, has deep roots in the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. For years, Mr. Johnson and his wife, Kelly, a licensed pastoral counselor, belonged to First Bossier, whose pastor, Brad Jurkovich, is the spokesman for the Conservative Baptist Network, an organization working to move the denomination to the right.
Mr. Johnson also played a leading role in efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and has expressed skepticism about some definitions of the separation of church and state, placing himself in a newer cohort of conservative Christianity that aligns more closely with former President Donald J. Trump and that some describe as Christian nationalism. …
Over the arc of his career, Mr. Johnson, a lawyer and a member of the Louisiana Legislature before his election to Congress, has been driven by a belief that Christianity is under attack and that Christian faith needs to be elevated in the public discourse, according to a review of his appearances on talk shows and podcasts, as well as legislative speeches and writings over the past two decades.
Once again, it helps to look at a timeline. Johnson’s First Amendment views have nothing to do with life in the Orange Man Bad era.
There is a bit of tension in the following quote, since the Times is anxious to portray Johnson as a bit of a flame-thrower true believer:
His colleagues on Capitol Hill describe Mr. Johnson as not particularly verbose or flamboyant, someone who lacks a flashy social media presence and may get lost in a sea of attention seekers. But his more mellow style can mask the fact that he proselytizes extremely hard-line views and has been hitting the right-wing talk show circuit doing that for decades.
Then note this language:
In lectures to student groups he addresses across the country, Mr. Johnson has lamented: “There’s no transcendent principles anymore. There’s no eternal judge. There’s no absolute standards of right and wrong. All this is exactly the opposite of the way we were founded as a country.”
My observation: It is often hard to pin simplistic labels on the political beliefs of old-school First Amendment liberals.
The big question here is whether that is, or is not, an accurate description of what fair-minded researchers will find in Johnson’s legal and now political career. How does he relate to questions about the rights of other minority religious groups (since I would note that, in polls, doctrinally conservative Christians are now a minority in American culture).