Ralph Drollinger, the Christian nationalist* who leads Bible study meetings for members of Trump’s Cabinet and members of Congress, is aggressively seeking to expand his reach in state capitals and local governments as well as overseas. Drollinger teaches that there is one “absolutely critical preeminent duty of the Church in an institutionally separated society: to convert the soul and disciple—Christianize—the leaders of the State and its citizenry.”
Capitol Ministries’ “seven global directors” will be meeting together for the first time this week, along with state ministry leaders, at the group’s fall training conference. It is being held in Washington, D.C., at the new Museum of the Bible, created by the family that owns the Hobby Lobby chain. The global directors are all men, as Drollinger teaches that the Bible does not permit women to teach men. Drollinger’s “Ministry Update” says that “speakers will include several U.S. White House Cabinet Members, Senators and Representatives.”
When we wrote about Drollinger in July, we noted that he teaches that God only hears the prayers of Christians, that Christians in government have an obligation to only hire other Christians, and that social welfare programs are un-Christian. That kind of exclusionary theology and dominionist worldview* haven’t gotten Drollinger into any trouble with the Trump administration or his other admirers, and they don’t seem to be slowing his expansion.
In a recorded speech to the Hillsboro, Oregon Prayer Breakfast in October, Drollinger said there are 12 Cabinet members taking part in the weekly White House Bible studies, and about 30 House members and 12 senators taking part in the congressional versions. Drollinger and his Capitol Ministries have big growth plans.
Perry Gauthier, the Nebraska-based North America director for Capitol Ministries, has reportedly traveled to 30 states this year to help reach the organization’s goal of creating 50 Bible studies in 50 state capitals. The group also launched CivicReach, “a ministry that partners with local churches to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to city council members and county commissioners.” Drollinger says there are 40,000 local governments, mostly without “outposts for Christ,” and the project’s goal is to “foster” in local officials “a Christian worldview.”
This fall, the group announced new ministries in Tennessee and Texas. The Tennessee effort is being led by Scott Alan Buss, who says the nation pays an “incredible price” when Christians “fail to model true belief in the all-encompassing Lordship of Christ.” He says his mission is “to encourage and equip Christian legislators to advance the Lordship of Christ in the political realm” and to encourage the discipleship of others. In Texas, former Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick helped open doors for the creation of a Capitol Ministries Bible study in the state capitol. Perry, now serving as Donald Trump’s energy secretary, attends the White House Bible study.
In Capitol Ministries’ 2016 annual report, which celebrated the group’s 20th anniversary, several state “ministry leaders” were interviewed. “Lawmakers need to have a biblical core and know that Jesus Christ is the way, the Truth, and the life,” said Mike Shreve of California. Utah’s Carl Wimmer, “a former Utah state representative and Mormon Church leader who four years ago converted to Christianity,” talks about the resistance he gets as he hand-delivers Bible study guides to each of the state representatives every week.
Among the public officials whose endorsements are included in the 2016 annual report is Trump’s former secretary of health and human services Tom Price, then a Republican congressman from Georgia. Price is quoted endorsing the CivicReach project, saying “an aggressive, active, robust Bible study at every single level of governance is exactly what can turn things around.”
Like many other Religious Right groups, Capitol Ministries also has global ambitions. In August, the group said it had planted ministries in “24 foreign nations on four continents” and said, “We purpose to develop 200 ministries in 200 foreign federal capitals around the world.” This year it named Oscar Zamora its director for Latin America, where he has been working to foster “discipleship Bible studies” for legislators in Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Uruguay and Paraguay. Zamora arranged to have Drollinger’s book “Rebuilding America: The Biblical Blueprint” translated into Spanish with a new title, “Rebuilding a Nation.”
In the 2016 annual report, Gordon Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network says CBN is collaborating with Capitol Ministries in its global outreach. The report says Jon Cassel, director of CM’s “French Africa Affinity Sphere,” also serves as CBN’s regional director for French-speaking Africa. The report also says that Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico met Capitol Ministries on a mission trip to Belarus, where “he presented an inspirational speech before that nation’s Parliament about the biblical influences on the U.S. Constitution and the founding of the United States of America.”
Drollinger, who started putting together one-page Bible studies for California legislators more than 20 years ago, and who credits Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona with bringing him to Washington, D.C., now cranks out weekly written “Bible studies for Public Servants” to help them “grow in Christ and do their job of leading our nation in a God-honoring way!” This year, he started offering them in audio format and his ministry is now publishing translations in Spanish, French and Russian, which he says “will greatly facilitate and enable the expansion of effective public servant discipleship ministries in other areas of the world.”
A review of the past few months’ worth of Bible studies confirms that the public officials who attend Capitol Ministries events are being trained in an ideology that claims a biblical basis for right-wing policy making.
In September, Drollinger returned to his attacks on government social spending, which he says is rooted in the “bad theology” of theological liberalism and the social gospel, one of the major strains of Christian thought in the U.S. in the 20th century. While the social gospel gets respectful treatment at the new Museum of the Bible, Drollinger treats it with contempt, saying it is “not Christianity whatsoever! It is another religion!”
That’s not the only place where Drollinger expresses his contempt for liberal Christians. In a Bible study that claims modern archaeology has undermined “the postulations of liberal theologians,” he writes, “It is not the conservative Christian with a high view of the inspiration of Scripture who is the simpleton, who clings to his or her beliefs with blind faith, ignorant and lacking intellectual, scientific, and historical support. Rather, it is the one who espouses a liberal ‘understanding’ of God’s Word.” Drollinger has also defended calling Catholicism “one of the primary false religions in the world.”
Drollinger writes that it is important for public officials to understand why the social gospel is a “perversion, or a corruption of what the Bible actually teaches.” And if liberal political ideology comes from liberal theology, “then liberal political ideology too (specifically entitlement programs) is lacking in a basis—i.e. any basis of biblical authority.”
The Bible entrusts families and churches with the responsibility of helping the poor, says Drollinger, and “nowhere in Scripture does God assign the specific responsibility to Government to provide entitlements for its citizenry.” He does say that the Bible doesn’t explicitly prohibit government aid to the poor, but he argues that “to the degree any institution engages in responsibilities outside of its biblically-explicit God-ordained role(s) is the same degree to which it becomes inefficient and wasteful.”
Drollinger follows that with another study entitled “God’s Design for a Societal Safety Net,” which he grounds in a passage from one of Paul’s epistles, a Bible verse that Republican members of Congress have cited as justification for cuts in food stamps: “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” He cites another letter in which Paul says young widows should not receive charitable help; they should instead get remarried, have children, and keep house. Drollinger says specifically that government should not take care of elderly people when they have relatives like grandchildren who could do so.
In a study focused on property rights, Drollinger cites Old Testament teachings to support his argument that “God is a Capitalist not a Communist.” And he warns that “as America jettisons its trust in the Torah, it follows that there would be and are increasing threats to, and the erosion of private property ownership,” including excessive environmental regulation.
Drollinger frequently claims that Capitol Ministries does not lobby for any particular policies, the way other Religious Right groups do. “I never tell politicians what they should do,” he told a German interviewer recently. But it’s a laughable assertion; the worldview he teaches comes with plenty of policy prescriptions, and not only his attacks on the social safety net.
God’s job is to “suppress evil” and “punish evildoers,” Drollinger says, and he argues in a November 21 Bible study that the Bible not only permits but requires the death penalty, particularly for murder: “Fear of the State and its power to execute equal and proportional justice is a necessary force in a fallen world.” He says directly, “as a lawmaker it is incumbent on you to stand for the death penalty relative to the good of the citizens of the country.”
Drollinger argues for the importance of public officials maintaining what he says is God’s one-man, one-woman design for marriage. In an earlier study, he explained that men and women have different “unambiguous responsibilities” outlined in scripture. For women, those duties are homemaking, home management, mothering, teaching younger women, displaying hospitality, and “differentiating in dress”—for the latter citing 1 Timothy 2:9 which says “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes” (New International Version). Men’s “primary functions” are providing for the household, leading in the church, leading in the home, sacrificing for and sanctifying his wife, and fathering children into adults. “When America in any way denigrates God’s ordained Institution of husband and wife Marriage,” he writes, “our nation loses one of God’s primary means of heralding His nature to our country!”
When asked by a reporter about how his own divorce and remarriage lines up with biblical teaching, Drollinger revealed a more lenient interpretation of scripture, saying “I think guys can be divorced and remarried as long as they’re not married to two women.” Drollinger adds, “By the way, I tried to do everything I could to save my first marriage, but she went into the lesbian lifestyle, and that was 20 years ago.”
Drollinger warns lawmakers not to think that there is a legislative fix for racism, which he blames in part on evolutionary theory. While he said in a September Bible study that anti-discrimination laws “have their place and are necessary,” he also declared, “they will never eradicate the problem from society—so don’t think the answer is in more legislation. It is not. The wise public servant will therefore always work toward religious freedom and incentivization of the Church—so that it can best facilitate evangelism and change hearts.”