Members of Congress demand explanation for Christian nationalism-embracing guest chaplain in letter endorsed by BJC

by | Feb 22, 2024

Last week, 26 members of Congress sent a letter to Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., and the House Chaplain, the Rev. Dr. Margaret Grun Kibben, to voice their concern about an invited guest chaplain who was allowed to deliver the opening invocation on the House floor. Pastor Jack Hibbs, the letter explains, “is a radical Christian Nationalist who helped fuel the January 6th insurrection and has a long record of spewing hateful vitriol toward non-Christians, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community.”

The letter, endorsed by several religious liberty advocates including BJC, the Interfaith Alliance, and Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, details Hibbs’ defense of the January 6 insurrection (“This is what you get when you eject God from the courts and schools”) and his violent and hate-filled rhetoric directed at Muslims and Jews. The letter also calls out his false insistence that the United States was established as a “Christian nation.”

Perhaps even more troubling is the disregard shown by the Speaker of the House and the House Chaplain for the guidelines in place at the time governing the invitation of a guest chaplain. The letter explains:

It appears that Speaker Johnson – with the tacit approval of the House Chaplain – decided to flout the Chaplaincy guidelines and use the platform of the Guest Chaplain to lend the imprimatur of Congress to an ill-qualified hate preacher who shares the Speaker’s Christian nationalist agenda and his overriding antipathy toward church-state separation.


The decision by the Speaker and House Chaplain to welcome Pastor Hibbs is especially galling in light of the Chaplaincy’s refusal to allow some signers of this letter to sponsor Guest Chaplains who meet all the stated expectations of the program. We should all be able to agree that the Guest Chaplain program should not be used as a political tool, nor should it be implemented in a way that favors one religion over others or applies inappropriate religious tests.

It’s one thing – and already unacceptable – for a person with such a troubling history of divisive, hateful, and discriminatory remarks to be allowed on the House floor as a guest chaplain for a one-minute prayer. But to suspend the rules governing the program so that he can deliver an invocation shows a disturbing institutional disregard for norms designed to protect religious liberty for all and uplift our national religious diversity.

As for the Speaker, it is not altogether surprising. Johnson embraces the misguided idea that the United States was founded on Christian principles. He rejects the separation of church and state, and has described the Declaration of Independence as a “religious statement of faith.” In sum, he is a “near-perfect example” of each element of Christian nationalism. As BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler has said, “Johnson’s brand of Christian nationalism is bad American history and a betrayal of the historic Baptist commitment to religious freedom.”

Being the Speaker of the House calls on Johnson to enforce and implement constitutional principles of fairness and equality, and it calls on him to send messages of inclusion not only to every member of the House but to all of their constituents as well. The position does not empower him to eschew those principles and to use the floor of the House as his own pulpit. The letter requests details from the Speaker and the House Chaplain as to the vetting and approval process for Pastor Hibbs, and it requests an explanation of why guest chaplain policies were not followed in this case. Here’s hoping they get some answers.

Meanwhile, for a look at presidential leadership throughout history and how our founding documents did not set up a “Christian nation” in any sort of legal sense, check out this week’s Respecting Religion podcast.