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Evangelicals Who Support Ukraine Find Friend in Speaker Mike Johnson: 'A Brother in Christ'

04-19-2024
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House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana (Photo: Mario Gonzalez/CBN News)
House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana (Photo: Mario Gonzalez/CBN News)

WASHINGTON – After Congress approved a spate of foreign aid bills, the U.S. resumed sending military aid to Ukraine. 

Once a prominent and vocal critic, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) recently changed his tune.

CBN News interviewed three evangelicals who lobbied Speaker Johnson this week ahead of a public shift that could cost him his job.

With his future as leader now in doubt with threats from the Republican conference, new allies — beyond the political — are filing behind him.

"To be honest, brother Speaker Mike Johnson is a great leader. He has a great heart," said Pavlo Unguryan, a former member of parliament and a Ukrainian Christian who met with Johnson at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday.

He told CBN News he saw Speaker Johnson as far more than a political leader. He viewed him as "a brother in Christ."

When the two met, Unguryan framed Ukraine's war with Russia as a spiritual battle between good and evil.

"For us, it's a call to action to unite together—to unite together an army of Jesus," he explained.

Unguryan introduced Johnson to another Ukrainian Christian believer: Serhii Haidarzhy. A single father, he came to the U.S. for a singular purpose, leaving behind a young daughter, Lizi, with relatives in the southwestern port city of Odesa.

"Our primary and big message to Americans, especially brothers and sisters here, is that there is a very bloody war happening in Ukraine. That we're being killed," Haidarzhy said through an interpreter.

CBN News interviewed Haidarzhy in his hometown just one day after a Russian drone strike killed his wife, Anna, and 4-month-old son, Timofee. 

After recounting his family's horrific loss, Speaker Johnson embraced and even prayed for him, according to several people who attended the meeting.

What followed that emotional encounter was a noticeable shift in Johnson's public support for the Ukraine war effort.

"I'm doing here what I believe to be the right thing. I think providing lethal aid to Ukraine right now is critically important," Speaker Johnson declared Wednesday, pushing forward with plans for a floor vote on funding for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan.

Longtime evangelical leader Gary Marx, who leads the group Defenders of Faith and Religious Freedom in Ukraine, helped organize the meeting. He told CBN News that Russia has destroyed hundreds of Ukrainian churches and imprisoned many pastors since the war began. He asked Johnson to view support for Ukraine, long considered the Bible Belt of Europe, through the lens of fighting for religious liberty.

"He is a thoughtful Christian leader who I think understands that religious freedom is in jeopardy. He's worked on those issues as an attorney for decades," Marx explained. "But he also understands the reality that if we don't help the Ukrainians now, we will be sending our boys to the frontlines next year."

That's nearly identical language Johnson repeated this week.

"To put it bluntly, I would rather send bullets to Ukraine than American boys. My son is going to begin in the Naval Academy this fall. This is a live fire exercise for me as it is for so many American families," Johnson said, responding to reporters Wednesday.

While the evangelical delegation hopes and prays Congress will approve the $61 billion aid package for the war against Russia, they also expressed their thanks for the support of Christians around the world that allows them to minister to Ukrainians in their homeland.

"We feel our connections in one body of Jesus Christ. Many organizations and churches from America help us: Samaritan's Purse, World Vision, Baptist World Alliance, Southern Baptist Alliance. All of them pray and help us," Unguryan said.

Former President Donald Trump also signaled a shift in tone Thursday, acknowledging on his Truth Social platform Ukraine's survival is important to the U.S.

That hasn't swayed GOP opposition. A third Republican, Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, has joined two others already on the record who have threatened to oust Johnson from his post over the aid plan.

 

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