Speaker Mike Johnson and daughter were profiled attending 'purity ball' in 2015 German TV news segment

The unearthed segment is the latest example of Johnson's deeply held views.

December 20, 2023, 12:59 PM

Years before Mike Johnson would ascend to No. 2 in the presidential line of succession, a German TV news outlet profiled the future speaker of the House and his then-teenage daughter.

"This looks like a wedding," a news reporter says in German in a 2015 n-tv news segment that was unearthed by ABC News. "But they are not bride and groom -- but rather father and ... daughter," the reporter adds, referring to Johnson and his then-13-year-old daughter, Hannah.

The German news segment documented Johnson and his family preparing for and then attending a purity ball, a controversial formal dance event, popular among some conservative Christians, that gained notoriety in the early 2000s. At a typical event, fathers and their teenage daughters dress in formal ball attire for a night that involves dinner and dancing and culminates with the daughter signing a pledge to her father to abstain from dating and to remain sexually abstinent until marriage.

PHOTO: A still image from a 2015 German news segment featuring Mike Johnson and his family.
A still image from a 2015 German news segment featuring Mike Johnson and his family.

The news segment examines purity balls and the general purity movement among conservative Christians through the lens of the Johnson family. It features clips of Johnson and his daughter at the ball with numerous other father-daughter pairs, and shows Johnson's daughter vowing to him to live a life of purity, as well as her signing a pledge.

Johnson, his wife Kelly, and his daughter participated in interviews for the segment, which was posted on the German news channel's website.

The news segment also features interviews with Johnson's daughter, who is now in her 20s, and shows her at the purity ball pledging to her father "to make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future husband, and my future children ... to a lifetime of purity, including sexual purity," in between shots of Johnson nodding along in agreement.

In one brief interview clip, Johnson's wife Kelly Johnson, a Christian counselor, told the German news outlet, "We don't talk to her about contraception. Sex before marriage is simply out of the question."

PHOTO: A still image from a 2015 German news segment featuring Mike Johnson and his family.
A still image from a 2015 German news segment featuring Mike Johnson and his family.

Johnson, who was a little-known congressman before being elected speaker of the House in October, did not respond to a request for comment from ABC News.

Since growing in popularity in the 1990s and early 2000s, purity balls and purity pledges have faced increased scrutiny from both inside and outside the Christian community, ranging from criticism that the practice places too much of a burden on young women to accusations that the balls themselves objectify young girls.

Linda Kay Klein, author of the book "Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free," told ABC News that purity balls are not as common as other hallmarks of the purity movement, like purity rings, and that they tend to be more popular among more conservative Christian factions.

"In my book I talk about eternal girlhood," Klein said. "There's this way in which purity culture attempts to create this eternal girlhood among girls -- you never really grow up, you never really have headship over your own life. You ultimately are there to be guided by and to support and to champion and to be led by somebody greater than you: a man."

"People often think about it from a purity ball perspective, like, 'Oh, that's creepy.' You've got the father with the daughter in a wedding-like ballgown," Klein said. "But I actually find myself also thinking about what that means when you have your headship transferred over to your husband and what the girl has internalized from that."

PHOTO: A still image from a 2015 German news segment featuring Mike Johnson and his family.
A still image from a 2015 German news segment featuring Mike Johnson and his family.

Books like 1997's "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" by Joshua Harris helped spark the purity movement among many Christians, promoting a strict view of teaching abstinence before marriage.

But now, years later, Harris has pulled his once-popular book from circulation and has apologized for any role it may have played in causing harm. Harris no longer considers himself a Christian, according to The New York Times.

Johnson's participation in the 2015 news segment is the latest example of the previously little-known legislator's staunchly conservative views, which have informed his political career and rise in Congress.

"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?' I said, 'Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That's my worldview,'" Johnson said in a recent Fox News interview.

ABC News previously reported on how Johnson, a Republican, has faced a litany of criticism from the left since clinching the speakership, including over his long history of working to curb gay rights, as well as his efforts to overturn the 2020 election on behalf of President Donald Trump.

However, many Republican legislators and activists have championed what they describe as his strong Christian beliefs.

"We are just getting started, but people are going to come to know and love what he represents because he fights for things bigger than himself," Rep. Steve Scalise told reporters about Johnson after he was elected speaker.

CNN recently reported that Johnson advocated for revisiting Supreme Court rulings related to contraception, gay sex bans, and same-sex marriage legalization, based on an analysis of over 100 of Johnson's interviews, speeches, and public comments throughout his career. When asked about Johnson's post-Roe comments, a spokesperson for Johnson told CNN that he "views the cases as settled law."

"One of the primary purposes of the law in civil government is to restrain evil," Johnson said on one radio show in 2010, according to CNN. "We have to acknowledge collectively that man is inherently evil and needs to be restrained."

Johnson echoed that language in the German TV segment.

"There are predators out there, and there are prey," Johnson, dressed in a tuxedo, said in an interview at the purity ball, adding that he hopes his daughter will "try and steer clear of the wolves like that."