2024 Election

Mike Johnson Is a Board Member of a Christian Publishing House that Called ‘monkeypox’ a Penalty For Being Gay


House Speaker Mike Johnson sits on the board of a Christian publishing house that suggested getting “monkeypox” was “an inevitable and appropriate penalty” for being gay and that former President Barack Obama was rumored to be the Antichrist because of his “leanings toward Islam.”

For the last decade, Johnson has been a member of the board of Living Waters Publications, a Christian ministry and publishing house. The speaker has interviewed founder and CEO Ray Comfort on his and his wife’s now-deleted podcast.

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Last year, Comfort narrated a Living Waters video, titled “Monkeypox and God: Is It a ‘Gay Disease’?” in which he quoted Biblical scripture saying that those who engaged in homosexual acts would get “in their own bodies the inevitable and appropriate penalty for their wrongdoing.” (The virus was previously known as monkeypox, but last year the World Health Organization changed the name to mpox, saying the term monkeypox could be seen as stigmatizing and racist.)

A spokesperson for Johnson said Comfort’s statements are “not a reflection of [Johnson’s] views.”

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“Speaker Johnson joined the board of Living Waters years ago in support of its mission of spreading Christian gospel,” the spokesperson said. “His involvement was limited to two phone calls with fellow board members annually. He had not seen the content in question, was not aware of it, and does not agree with it.” Comfort declined to comment.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) walks to his office at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 13, 2023.

Johnson’s affiliation with Living Waters may not hurt him with his Republican colleagues who were relieved that his election ended three weeks of drama over who would be the next speaker. But his association with the far-right organization could further tarnish him in the eyes of socially liberal and moderate voters. Democrats could even end up using it as fodder for campaign ads.

Comfort has also made other remarks about gay people, writing in a pamphlet called “God and Sexuality”: “Perhaps you believe you are gay, or maybe you are sympathetic toward homosexuality and you think that what people do sexually is their own business. Whatever the case, I want to convince you that you are sitting in a car on a railroad track with a train coming, and you don’t know it.” Comfort added that he was aware that he “sounds like a raving lunatic” but asked readers to be patient with him.

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More recently, in an article about how he believed that the Israel-Hamas war could lead to the Antichrist being revealed, Comfort wrote that Obama was a potential Antichrist figure since he had “leanings toward Islam” and said that “many” Christians believe that King Charles was another possible Antichrist since he is “able to speak some Arabic.” Comfort also said other “candidates” to be the Antichrist could be Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

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Living Waters has also published videos in which people try to stop women from getting abortions, with the presenter badgering one woman entering a clinic by telling her: “You think you’re getting rid of a problem. You’re gonna cause yourself a problem for the rest of your life. You’ll never forget this day.” The video was titled “Pleading for Babies’ Lives at Abortion Mill.”

POLITICO was first alerted to the connections between Johnson and Comfort by the progressive government watchdog group Accountable.US.

In Johnson’s recent podcast interview with Comfort, Johnson said he was first introduced to Comfort when someone more than two decades ago gave him a cassette tape of a sermon of Comfort’s called “Hell’s Best Kept Secret.” “It was a game-changer for me, Ray and I’ve told you that many times over the years,” he said.

“I am such a big fan of your ministry and of you, and I cannot overstate what a profound influence you’ve been in my life and my walk with Christ and so many other people that I know and I’m just really grateful for all that you do and the team at Living Waters,” he later told Comfort in the interview. “It’s just one of the most outstanding ministries that I’ve ever known or been involved with and keep going brother. God is using you.”

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Johnson became a director of Living Comfort in 2013, according to its 990 tax form from that year. Johnson, a constitutional lawyer, first met Comfort when he represented him in a religious liberty case. Johnson’s spokesperson said that given his new role as speaker, he will be reconsidering all of his outside obligations, including his service on the board of Living Waters. But no decisions have been made yet.

Comfort, who is originally from New Zealand, founded Living Waters, which is based in California and in 2021 reported almost $7 million in net assets, according to its 990 tax form. Christian evangelicals have long used television to spread their message and Comfort is no different, hosting the TV program “Way of the Master” which his biography says airs around the world. He became famous by partnering with actor Kirk Cameron on working to spread evangelical messages through television, according to a mini-documentary about him posted on Living Waters’ website.

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Unlike some other top celebrity Christians, he hasn’t adopted an excessive lifestyle. In the documentary about him, he talked about how he doesn’t own a car, tends to a chicken coop at his house and spends every Saturday on the sidewalk in Huntington Beach, California, talking to passersby about Christianity.

But his quiet life belies his influence over a particular brand of Christianity. He’s written dozens of books and pamphlets, and he’s sold millions of copies of those books, according to the documentary.

“Comfort’s brand of white evangelical Christianity seems like a throwback to 20th century fundamentalism, with its preoccupation with combating atheism and denying evolution, and tactics like street preaching and proselytizing with the distribution of simplistic biblical tracts,” said Robert Jones, president and founder of PRRI, a nonpartisan organization that conducts research on religion and politics.

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Comfort is part of the religious right in the country that came to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s in response to the cultural upheaval of the 1960s. During that decade, the women’s movement, the sexual revolution and the civil rights movement led to a backlash among many Christian white suburbanites and rural Americans. The Republican Party also saw an opportunity to ally with Christian conservatives and adopt some of their chosen cultural goals in an attempt to mobilize voters.

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“The elevation of Mike Johnson to speaker of the House of Representatives, with the unanimous support of his Republican colleagues, demonstrates how his particular conservative expression of Christianity is now at the very center of the party — both he and his favored policies can no longer be viewed as fringe,” said Andrew Whitehead, an associate professor of sociology at Indiana University who specializes in Christian nationalism and religion in the U.S.

Before being elected to Congress in 2017, Johnson worked for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a powerful organization that has won more than a dozen cases at the Supreme Court. Those include reversing Roe v. Wade, allowing a baker not to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, and letting employers exclude birth control from health insurance policies.

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“It’s certainly another troubling sign of how extreme Johnson’s views may be, that he would sit on a board and wouldn’t have a problem with them putting out ideas like this,” said Jones.

Johnson is hardly alone among congressional Republicans in being an advocate for Christian authors on Capitol Hill. In July, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) led several Republican senators in writing a letter to the Institute of Museum and Library Services asking for information on whether the American Library Association has used federal funds to stop readings of books by Cameron. They demanded that taxpayer money for the association be put on pause while the matter was investigated.

Johnson has defended his Christian beliefs, telling Fox News’ Sean Hannity in an interview after he was elected speaker: “I am a Bible-believing Christian.”

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“Someone asked me today in the media, they said, ‘It’s curious, people are curious. What does Mike Johnson think about any issue under the sun?’” Johnson continued. “I said, ‘Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it.’ That’s my worldview.”

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Ella Ford is a mother of two, a Christian conservative writer with degrees in American History, Social and Behavioral Science and Liberal Studies, based in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area.

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