In an October prayer call hosted by a Christian-nationalist MAGA pastor, Rep. Mike Johnson was troubled that America’s wickedness was inviting God’s wrath.
Talking to pastor Jim Garlow on a broadcast of the “World Prayer Network,” Johnson spoke ominously of America facing a “civilizational moment.” He said: “The only question is: Is God going to allow our nation to enter a time of judgment for our collective sins? … Or is he going to give us one more chance to restore the foundations and return to Him?”
The segment was filmed Oct. 3, just weeks before Johnson’s unexpected rise to become Speaker of the House. Garlow pressed the clean-cut Louisiana congressman to say “more about this ‘time of judgment’ for America.” Johnson replied: “The culture is so dark and depraved that it almost seems irredeemable.” He cited, as supposed evidence, the decline of national church attendance and the rise of LGBTQ youth — the fact, Johnson lamented, that “one-in-four high school students identifies as something other than straight.”
Discussing the risk of divine retribution, Johnson invoked Sodom, the Old Testament city destroyed by God for its wickedness with a rain of burning sulfur. Johnson is a polished orator, but in a closing prayer with Garlow he grew tearful. Johnson intoned: “We repent for our sins individually and collectively. And we ask that You not give us the judgment that we clearly deserve.”
Remarkably, this was not the first time Johnson brought up his fear of biblical retribution on a broadcast with Garlow. During a WPN appearance last December, Johnson likewise declared that he’d been “burdened” by the need for America to “recognize there’s so much to repent for.” The future Speaker elaborated: “We’re violating His commands. We’re inventing new ways to do evil.” He added: “We have to ask ourselves: How long can His mercy and His grace be held back?”
The prayer calls underscore the new House Speaker’s alarming alignment with Christian nationalism — the extremist movement that holds America is not a secular democracy but was founded as a Christian nation and should be governed to uphold a fundamentalist morality. They also provide fresh evidence of Johnson’s apocalyptic worldview, in which he sees America as existing in “disastrous, calamitous” times and “hanging by a thread.” It raises questions about whether the Republican, who’s now second in line for the presidency, is leveraging his power not just to avoid a government shutdown, but to appease an angry deity — and avoid a more permanent Heavenly Shutdown.
Pastor Jim Garlow is not a household name, but he’s a national figure. A Christian nationalist based out of the San Diego area, Garlow is viewed as an “apostle” within the New Apostolic Reformation, a strain of Charismatic Christianity that holds that gifts of the spirit — including prophecy — are not biblical bygones, but alive in our time. NAR differentiates itself from other strains of evangelical Christianity in its obsession with earthly power. NAR leaders embrace “dominionism,” the concept that Christians are supposed to rise and rule over “the nations,” in order to bring the globe into a biblical alignment, in preparation for the second coming of Jesus.
To Garlow, this transformation is to be achieved through the “Seven Mountains Mandate” — with Christians ascending to the tops of seven cultural mountains (also referred to as “spheres of influence”): religion, family, education, media, entertainment, business, and government. “We’re the ones called the disciple the nation,” Garlow has said, teaching on the concept, “and we disciple the nations through those seven spheres of influence.”
Johnson is a professed Baptist. But the 51-year-old has known Garlow for “two decades or more,” he revealed on a third WPN call from 2021. Johnson calls Garlow a “profound influence” on “my life and my walk with Christ.” Garlow, using similar language, calls Johnson “a special brother.” (Neither the Speakers’ office nor Garlow have responded to questions from Rolling Stone.)
In the prayer call videos, Johnson appears unphased — in fact delighted — by the shofar-bleating theatrics featured on Garlow’s broadcast. NAR Christians not only fetishize the practices of the Old Testament, they believe in spiritual warfare — an ongoing battle between demons and angels that influences current events. Johnson speaks fluently in this faith language on the call. He salutes the “prayer warriors” in the audience, and calls for “supernatural intervention” from God, to “withhold the wrath of our enemies here on the Earth” and also to “restrain The Enemy, the one that prowls around like a roaring lion.” Johnson even offers a special shout out for “all those who are leading out in the field, in their spheres of influence.”
Matthew Taylor is a religion scholar at the Institute for Islamic, Christian, & Jewish Studies, as well as an NAR expert who first highlighted Johnson’s links to Garlow. Taylor describes Garlow as “one of the frontline people for the NAR.” But he confesses it is challenging to know what to make of Johnson’s invocation of the movement’s argot. “Is he speaking the local vernacular when he’s hanging out with Jim Garlow? Does he really believe in spiritual warfare? I don’t know. Jim Garlow really believes this stuff.”
Taylor leaves open the possibility that Johnson’s embrace of NAR rhetoric may be more like religious pandering. “He seems to be signaling that he sees himself in affiliation or an alliance with them,” Taylor says, emphasizing that such outreach has paid off in the embrace Johnson has received from NAR leaders since becoming Speaker. “They very much see Johnson as somebody who is with them and their agenda,” Taylor says.
Now in his mid 70s, Garlow describes himself as having received a “governmental annointing” when he was just a child, and has long preached politics from the pulpit. In 2008, he played a leading role in promoting the passage of Prop 8 — a California initiative, rooted in anti-gay bigotry that for a time outlawed same-sex marriages in the state. In 2010, he joined on as chairman of a Newt Gingrich project called Renewing American Leadership, dedicated to “preserving” America’s “Judeo-Christian heritage.” In 2018, Garlow departed his megachurch to focus on a new project, Well Versed, a group dedicated to ministering to members of Congress and the United Nations. The ministry carries an overtly Christian nationalist message, insisting that politics “need to conform to God’s Word, since He is the one who established government and establishes nations.”
Johnson and Garlow are fellow travelers in many key respects — including in that they’re both unabashed Trump boosters and election deniers. Johnson first won office in the 2016 election, the same year Trump took the presidency, and infamously helped propagate the Big Lie about the 2020 election from inside Capitol Hill. Garlow was part of a small circle of pastors around Trump during his administration, even laying hands on the president during Oval Office prayer. In Nov. 2020, Garlow penned an op-ed for Charisma News endorsing Trump, writing: “God has put him in this position at this time. We need to keep him there.”
In the December aftermath of that election, Garlow was the lead author of an open letter to Trump declaring that “God’s ordained assignment remains unfinished,” because “God’s will is for you to serve for a second term.” The letter concluded with a prophetic call for vengeance: “Mr. President, the Lord is telling you to pursue the enemies of our Republic. Our enemies are God’s enemies. And with the power of God and the global praying church behind you, you shall recover all that the enemies have stolen.” (Separately, Garlow was dismissing the ideology of the incoming Biden-Harris ticket as “anti-Christ, anti-Biblical to its core.”)
During this post-election period, Garlow began a series of “Prayer Calls for Election Integrity” seeking divine intervention to keep Trump in power. These calls became a “hub of gathering, radicalisation and planning,” recalls Taylor. The calls included borderline-seditious rhetoric in advance of the unrest at the Capitol, including a call by then-Pennsylvania state-Sen. Doug Mastriano for MAGA Republicans to “seize the power” on Jan 6.
Garlow’s calls never stopped when Biden took office. They morphed, instead, into a general-purpose Christian nationalist broadcast now labeled the “World Prayer Network,” centered on “the Transformation of Nations.” Despite regularly featuring GOP lawmakers, the online description of the broadcast insists it is not about Republicans vs. Democrats, insisting rather: “We ARE about God vs. Satan.” At the beginning of each call Garlow says he’s seeking “biblical justice as opposed to social justice.”
Johnson’s link to Garlow goes well beyond appearing on these prayer calls. In Feb. 2023, Johnson, Garlow, and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins — whom Johnson says “is like my big brother” — organized a National Gathering for Prayer and Repentance at the National Museum of the Bible. The early-morning event was attended by leading Charismatic figures like the Messianic Rabbi Jonathan Cahn and former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, as well as more than a dozen members of Congress — including then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise.
The doleful day began with a bleat of a ram’s horn and introductory words from Garlow, who welcomed “Americans repenting for the sins of our nation.” Garlow then presented a stark warning, invoking two biblical kingdoms of Israel that he said squandered heavenly favor only to have God “take them out.” America, he suggested, was on that same path: “Present day Americans do not consider the possibility that God could…” He stopped dramatically asking the assembly to “finish the sentence.”
Garlow insists that his biblical calling is way past partisanship. But he uses the Bible to blithely support stuff that Republicans want to do anyway. His website insists, for example, that fracking is holy because “energy independence is a biblical issue and “we are to have dominion over the earth, to ‘subdue’ it, and to ‘steward’ it for the Creator.”
In his conversations with Garlow, Johnson likewise expresses pride that the House GOP’s governing principles — e.g. limited government, “peace through strength,” fiscal responsibility, and free markets — “are the principles of our Creator.” Johnson points to the supposed holiness of the Republican agenda to insist: “That’s why we can be so fervent about it.”
Yet even as he talks up divine support for the American GOP, Johnson makes clear he does not believe that many of his GOP colleagues are true Christians. On the Dec. 2022 call, he relates to listeners how Garlow “asked me the other day, ‘How many do you think you would count as as truly committed Christ followers?’” Johnson reveals his count is less than a quarter of the GOP conference: “I think in the House, I could collect, maybe 45, close to 50 people who I believe [are true] Christ followers, and they live that every day,” Johnson says.
But Johnson is convicted that a small number can accomplish great and Godly things. He speaks at length about a devoted Christian “remnant” — or keepers of the true faith — who can help save America from retribution.
Even here, Johnson is not brimming with confidence. He invokes Sodom, which Abraham tried to salvage by bargaining with God, noting that it would be worth sparing if 10 righteous men could be found there. (Ultimately God only found one righteous family, whom he let flee, before unleashing collective destruction.) “How large is the remnant that He needs?” Johnson asked. “Is it 10 righteous men in Sodom? Is there a remnant that that God would say, Okay, I’ll redeem the land?”
Ultimately Johnson voices some optimism that the “remnant” will be big enough — expressing hope that, “He’ll guide us through,” because, “I don’t think God is done with America.” Johnson insists that’s only because of the Godly founding of America. “We are a nation subservient to Him,” he says, adding that “collectively as a nation, we need to turn to Him. We need a revival.”
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