There’s seemingly no end to the list of Trump allies tromping around Ukraine. Ralph Drollinger, who teaches weekly Bible studies for members of the Trump Cabinet and members of Congress through Capitol Ministries, recently got back from a 10-day European trip where Drollinger “met with numerous Christian parliamentarians, trained newly named ministry leaders, cultivated teams to further the ministry and preached the gospel to more than 50,000 people at a national festival,” according to a blog post on Capitol Ministries’ website.
That festival was in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, and according to Capitol Ministries, Drollinger “greeted the Ukrainian people from the U.S. Presidential Cabinet, the Senate, and the House of Representatives Members Bible studies that he teaches weekly in Washington, D.C., then told the assembly that he and [his wife] Danielle were there to meet with government and religious leaders about expanding CM’s Bible study ministries in Ukraine.” The event was sponsored by a Ukrainian evangelical group.
Drollinger and Capitol Ministries are dedicated to evangelizing and “discipling” public officials around the globe and at every level of government to his “very conservative” version of Christianity, one which claims a biblical grounding for right-wing social, economic, environmental, criminal justice, and immigration policies. He teaches that government’s God-given role is to “quell evil” and that government officials “must send a constant message that sin will be punished.” According to Drollinger, Trump sends him handwritten notes praising his written Bible study materials.
Drollinger uses his high-profile relationships with the Trump administration and other politicians to expand his access and ability to preach his particular biblical worldview to powerful public officials in the U.S. and overseas. Drollinger’s expansion in Honduras, Nicaragua, and other Latin American countries was a focus of an international reporting collaboration by more than 15 outlets earlier this year.
Drollinger’s key political ally in Ukraine is an anti-LGBTQ member of Parliament, Pavlo Unguryan, who teamed up with Capitol Ministries to launch what the group calls a “thriving discipleship Bible study to parliamentarians” in 2018. Unguryan started a prayer group with other parliamentarians in 2008, and he has chaired the parliamentary caucus “For Spirituality, Morality and Health of Ukraine.”
In 2013, Unguryan called for a pride parade in Kyiv to be banned, saying he feared public LGBTQ events would be “the first step towards the legalization of same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage, and then introduction of mandatory training programs for homosexual parenting.” He added, “At the end, we will have the prosecution of any critical comments against these people.”
In 2015, Unguryan was vocal in resisting legislation that would ban anti-gay job discrimination to bring Ukraine into compliance with European Union standards and give Ukrainian citizens access to visa-free travel in the EU. “As a country with a thousand-year-old Christian history, we simply cannot allow this,” Unguryan said. “Today, a special status for sexual minorities is simply unacceptable.”
In perusing websites and statements by both Russian and Ukrainian far right groups and politicians, one is stunned by the identical tone: Both invoke the imagery of a nation with “a thousand-year history of Christianity” battling back the encroachment of decadent Western values in order to justify their cause. Both use the same derogatory terms for homosexuals. Both insist that their country can have a future only once it is cleansed of “foreign” influences. The only difference is, one set of slogans is written in Russian, the other in Ukrainian.
Also in 2015, Unguryan called homosexuality “a treatable disease” and accused gay people of pedophilia, noted Ukrainian journalist Maxim Eristavi. In 2016, Unguryan urged deputies not to endorse a Council of Europe convention on the prevention of violence against women and domestic violence because the document mentioned “gender,” a concept he said should be abandoned “for the sake of Christian values and common sense.” The parliament also, at his request, “eliminated the concept of ‘sexual orientation’ from the bill amending some laws of Ukraine in connection with the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention.”
As Right Wing Watch has reported before, Drollinger teaches that the Bible assigns men and women particular responsibilities and believes the Bible does not permit women to teach men about the Bible, which explains why all his regional directors and Bible study leaders are men. He says that in “God’s ordained institution of husband-wife marriage,” women must submit to their husbands as a reflection of Christ’s submission to God the Father.
Earlier this year, Unguryan joined other anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ activists at the World Congress of Families in Verona, where he reportedly “expressed his hope that Europe would see the rise of a ‘Bible Belt spanning Italy, Romania, Croatia, Hungary and Ukraine.’” This summer, he was one of a group of deputies suggesting that sessions of parliament begin with the Lord’s Prayer. (They were not successful.)
In July, the blog of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty highlighted a tweet from journalist Tom Rowley saying, “Another day, another outrageous quote from Ukrainian MP and PACE delegate Pavlo Unguryan, who says on parliamentary TV that child sexual abuse ‘blossoms’ among sexual minorities – and that Pride Marches will soon lead to ‘Pedophilia Marches.’”
Earlier this year, Unguryan led a “Family Forum” gathering that drew Ukrainian religious and political leaders as well as U.S.-based, global anti-LGBTQ activist Brian Brown. An organizer said the event was designed to “unite our efforts around the Christian idea of Ukraine’s development and resist the total attack of amorality.” Open Democracy reported on the gathering:
According to the forum’s website, the event’s main aims included developing a “strategy to resist urgent threats to the Ukrainian family”, such as attempts by the Ukrainian parliament to ratify the Istanbul Convention, “gay parades” and other “anti-family legislation”.
The day was opened with speeches by representatives of Ukraine’s political elite, but the afternoon agenda focused on education and outreach workshops. The forum’s final resolution included a number of points, among them a call on the government to revoke the position of Parliamentary Ombudsperson on gender policy, minimise the number of abortions carried out and “actively propagandise the insitute of the family and family values”.
According to a translated version of an article from Censor.net, Unguryan had already submitted a package of bills that he wanted those in attendance of the Family Forum to support: According to Unguryan, a package of family bills has already been submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers, which the organizers hope for adoption. The legislative acts concern the requirement to prohibit commercial surrogate motherhood, the inclusion of representatives of religious organizations in the Supervisory Board of Public Television, the removal of gender terminology from legislation and family support.
Unguryan, who was in the U.S. last year to get trained by Capitol Ministries, seemingly shares Drollinger’s belief that nations will thrive when policymakers are guided by Drollinger’s interpretation of the Bible.
“Our goals are to take the Gospel and initiate Bible study groups in all areas of our society such as law enforcement, judiciary, healthcare system, education etc,” Unguryan is quoted saying in a Capitol Ministries’ post from May. “That is the fastest way to enforce law and bring a true transformation to Ukraine.”
“We are so blessed by our partnership with Pavel!” Drollinger said. “He has grown his ministry in Ukraine much faster than we’ve been able to here in the U.S.!”
“Many local government ministries have already been established in Ukrainian provinces and communities,” Capitol Ministries says, adding that the Drollingers trained 40 “newly appointed ministry leaders.” The Drollingers “also traveled to meet with government and faith leaders in Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, and Brussels. Other leaders traveled from Norway, Russia, and Moldovia to meet with the couple to discuss planting Bible study ministries.”
In May, Capitol Ministries reported that Drollinger was connected with Unguryan by Oleg Rachkovski, Capitol Ministries’ Eurasia regional director. Rachkovski also saw to it that “Oaks in Office,” Drollinger’s handbook for ministry leaders and public officials, was translated into Russian; it is being used as a guide for Bible studies in Ukraine. “Oaks in Office” is a compilation of 52 of Drollinger’s weekly written Bible studies that Drollinger believes should guide public officials “on crucial policy issues as viewed through the Bible.”
In the U.S., Drollinger has built relationships with high-profile Trump administration officials and conservative politicians through his Bible studies for members of the House and Senate and cabinet. Two of Trump’s cabinet members, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, have keynoted fundraising dinners for Capitol Ministries that were held in 2018 and 2019 at the World Ag Expo, held in the heart of California’s agriculture industry. (Before moving to D.C., Drollinger ran a ministry with California state legislators.)
Drollinger joined the pro-Trump prayer warriors at Intercessors for America last year to pray for Trump and his cabinet members. Drollinger asked people to pray that he’d be able to move his cabinet Bible study into the White House compound so that it would be easier for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to attend.
Drollinger is also keen to find his way into the Supreme Court. Last fall, at a religious right prayer gathering shortly before the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Drollinger told participants that U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar is “really good friends with Justice Kavanaugh.” He said Azar had predicted that once Kavanaugh was on the court, “either we’ll have him here to the cabinet Bible study or he’ll want to start one in SCOTUS.” Added Drollinger, “So pray that would happen, of all places, at the Supreme Court.”
It seems likely that if Drollinger had in fact been invited to lead Bible studies at the Supreme Court, we would have heard about it. Perhaps Kavanaugh, a Catholic, and his Catholic colleagues might not be terribly enthusiastic about being taught by Drollinger, who expresses disdain for those whose interpretations of scripture do not align with his own, and who has called the Catholic Church “the world’s largest false religion.”