Conservative Faith Ldrs praise Johnson for House Foreign Aid approval

Conservative religious leaders who had implored President Mike Johnson to support Ukraine and Israel in fighting their wars celebrated the House’s passage of foreign aid packages on Saturday, paving the way for the measures to move to the Senate to go.

Brent Leatherwood, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, was among those who lobbied Johnson, himself a Southern Baptist, on behalf of Ukrainian and American Baptists concerned about the fate of Ukrainian Christians.

“That’s why we’ve asked Chairman Johnson and congressional leaders to come together to meet the challenges of this moment,” Leatherwood said in a statement Monday. “In passing the House of Representatives on Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, the President sent a strong message to autocrats and terrorists alike that our nation will take a stand to support vulnerable lives and stand against the tyrants who threaten them .”

The pressure on Ukraine included a meeting on Wednesday between Johnson, Pavlo Unguryan (an evangelical and political leader from Ukraine) and a Ukrainian national whose wife and child were killed in an attack on Odesa in March.

Gary Marx, chairman of the new coalition Defenders of Faith and Religious Freedom in Ukraine and former executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, praised his “courage and willingness to listen to the cries of the Ukrainian faithful” in a statement at the website of the House of Representatives. X on Saturday, said, “While we are celebrating this victory, we acknowledge that more work has to be done.”

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Donetsk Russia Pastor Ukraine Mariupol
A street scene in Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine after an attack, dated October 2022. (Photo via Twitter)

On Thursday, Marx had written a letter to Johnson on behalf of the coalition seeking congressional support for Ukrainian Christians. The letter was also signed by Rick Santorum, a former Republican senator and chairman of Patriot Voices, and the Rev. Adam Hamilton, a prominent United Methodist pastor in Kansas, along with more than a dozen other faith leaders.

“We are pained and shocked by the widespread, brutal persecution of our brothers and sisters in Ukraine by Russian forces,” the letter said. “Russia is waging a war against evangelical and Protestant Christians on a scale akin to ‘cultural genocide.’ These Christians are being persecuted, harassed, intimidated, imprisoned, tortured, mutilated and killed – simply for worshiping God as they see fit.”

Other leaders of political groups representing largely evangelical Christians have pressured Johnson to promote support for Israel through a congress with contingents on the right and left opposed to the aid package. Twenty-one Republicans joined 37 Democrats in voting against the Israeli aid bill.

During a virtual news conference hosted by Johnson’s staff as the House prepared to vote Friday, Sandra Hagee Parker, president of the Christians United for Israel Action Fund, praised the speaker and praised his “determination” in pushing for the “crucial issue” of Israel. Israel help.

“America’s enemies are watching and waiting to see what America does, and we must do everything in our power to support Israel,” Parker said. She echoed Johnson’s comment that Russia, China and Iran are a new “axis of evil,” harking back to former President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address in which he blasted Iran, Iraq and North Korea denounced.

Anyone who doubts that the three states are mounting a “united front against the enemies of the West,” Parker says, is simply burying their heads in the sand.

Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said at the news conference that the US must “hurry” to Israel’s defense. Reed suggested that despite threats from some Republican members to challenge his speakership, Johnson will ultimately be celebrated by conservative Christians if the bills pass.

Mike Johnson speaker
Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., is sworn in as the new Speaker of the House of Representatives by Dean of the House Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023 (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“We must never hesitate, and once this bill is passed, on the president’s desk and signed, Speaker Mike Johnson will get a lot of credit for wading through a minefield to get this done,” Reed said.

A more diverse group of a dozen religious leaders seeking support for the people of Gaza sent Johnson a note thanking him for his efforts, coupled with concerns about the eventual approval of the aid they sought.

“We, as a group of diverse faith leaders, thank you for including in the legislation you submitted to Congress life-saving humanitarian assistance for civilians in Gaza, as well as humanitarian and refugee assistance for other areas affected by wars and famine,” the leaders of Christian, Jewish and Muslim organizations wrote in a Friday letter. “Make sure that humanitarian assistance is included in the bill that is passed.”

Signers of the letter included Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Bishop Vashti McKenzie, president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches; Mary Novak, director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice; Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism; and Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-founder of the National African American Clergy Network.

Adelle Banks and Jack Jenkins are national reporters at Religion News Service.