Arkansas-based Christian lawmaker group honors U.S. House speaker

Leaders at event describe him as ‘answer to prayer’

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., meets with reporters to discuss GOP efforts to investigate President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., meets with reporters to discuss GOP efforts to investigate President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON -- An Arkansas-based political organization honored U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson on Tuesday as part of an event in Washington, D.C., with the organization's founder describing Johnson as a "wonderful example of what we believe is a sincere, Christian servant leader."

The National Association of Christian Lawmakers held its annual meeting and awards gala at the Museum of the Bible, blocks from the U.S. Capitol. Johnson -- the Louisiana Republican who won the gavel in October after hard-right Republicans ousted Kevin McCarthy -- served as the event's keynote speaker and received the group's American Patriot Award for Christian Honor and Courage.

Johnson's national profile has increased dramatically since catapulting to the speakership, as has the scrutiny over his positions against abortion and LGBTQ+ rights.

"We see Representative and now-Speaker Mike Johnson as an answer to prayer," association president Jason Rapert told reporters before Tuesday's awards ceremony. "We're very encouraged by his public statements, we're very encouraged by his actions and we're very happy to have him here tonight as we honor him."

Rapert, who served as an Arkansas state senator from 2011 to 2023, founded the National Association of Christian Lawmakers in August 2020. The organization's mission statement emphasizes uniting local, state and federal lawmakers on "clear Biblical principles," with efforts focused on proposing model states addressing policy concerns through a Biblical worldview.

Group members must sign a pledge stating their support to "uphold the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception until the point of natural death" and "the sanctity of marriage as a sacred union exclusively between one man and one woman."

The organization has 22 pieces of model legislation for lawmakers to reference in drafting bills adhering to its mission, including bills limiting abortion access and blocking transgender athletes from playing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity.

"There are people that would argue any number of things they should be allowed to do, but it may not be the right thing," Rapert said.

Since the association's founding, the body has expanded with 34 state chairs and plans for adding leaders in Idaho and New York. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Arkansas state Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, serve in leadership roles within the organization.

When speaking to reporters before Tuesday's event, Rapert pushed back against comments describing the association as "far-right."

"We're not the far-right," he said. "We're at the center of God's word. That's what our organization is about."

Johnson has been a firm voice against abortion access and LGBTQ+ rights. Before taking public office, he was an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal body opposing abortion services and LGBTQ+ issues. The Louisianan has supported federal legislative efforts challenging gender-affirming care for transgender children and blocking federal funds for programs deemed "sexually oriented."

In a statement preceding Johnson's speech, the Human Rights Campaign -- a national organization advocating for LGBTQ+ issues -- accused Johnson of being "busy leading a parade of hate across the country rather than doing his job."

Rapert defended Johnson, saying the speaker is "not afraid to speak the truth in love."

"What you're going to find here -- and it's pretty consistent and we hope always is the case -- is that we don't hate anyone," he contended. "We love them enough to be able to tell them that we need to get back to being a nation that honors God."

Reporters with The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and other outlets were allowed to watch the start of Tuesday evening's awards gala, but they had to leave before Johnson took the stage for his remarks.

The Democrat-Gazette spotted Arkansas' U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman during the ceremony. The Republican congressman from Hot Springs said he was invited to attend by a group of Arkansans.

One of the event's first speakers was Bishop E.W. Jackson, who called on lawmakers to "start asserting our own set of ideas without apology, without compromise, without equivocation."

"What we're learning is their ideas will rule the day," he added.

Jackson suggested that attendees "start examining our vocabulary," noting that he refuses to use the word "gay" in conversations because "there is nothing happy, joyful or carefree about being a homosexual and rebelling against the almighty God," referencing the older definition of the word.

"I refuse to use the word transgender," he continued. "I don't care how much makeup a man puts on or how many men's clothes a woman puts on, you cannot transition from being a man to a woman or a woman to a man. God made you who you are when he gave you your genetic blueprint, and that's who you will be for the rest of your life."

The National Association of Christian Lawmakers cannot endorse political candidates given its status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, but Rapert said it wants candidates who will "steer back the nation toward God."

"What we believe as an organization used to be the standard in America, and we hope we can restore that so we can save this nation for our children and for our grandchildren," he said.

Rapert has received recent attention in Arkansas after Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders appointed him to the Arkansas State Library Board, the seven-member body overseeing policies and funding for libraries across the state.

Correction: An earlier version of the story had the incorrect date that the charter was founded. 

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