NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine was the keynote speaker at a Tuesday evening fundraising dinner for Capitol Ministries, the right-wing group that runs Bible studies for members of the House and Senate and President Trump’s cabinet. The group is expanding toward its ambitious goals of evangelizing and ”discipling” legislators around the world and in every state with group founder Ralph Drollinger’s very conservative interpretation of the Bible and what it requires of public officials. HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Sen. James Lankford, and former Rep. Michele Bachmann addressed the gathering by video.
The fundraising dinner was held during the World Ag Expo, a giant international agricultural showcase held in Tulare, California, in the heart of the state’s Central Valley agriculture industry —a deep red zone in the very blue state. (Rep. Devin Nunes represents Tulare in Congress.)
Companies purchasing tables included an array of local farm operations and the kinds of services that support them, from financing to feed supply and hoof trimmers. Capitol Ministries Board Chairman Rob Hilarides, a dairy operator, opened the program. The main event sponsor was Nutrius, a feed supplement provider led by Capitol Ministries board member Matt Swanson, who served as the event’s emcee.
No alcohol was served at the dinner, but there was a quart of whole milk on each table, and dessert was served with chocolate milk. The flower-pot centerpieces were perched atop a stack of “Oaks in Office,” Drollinger’s recently published four-volume hardcover collection of 52 of his weekly Bible studies, chosen by him as those most important for shaping the worldview and influencing the actions of Christian public officials. (More on “Oaks in Office” in an upcoming piece.)
Drollinger explained that it was support from the Central Valley that allowed him to get his start as a Bible teacher to legislators in the California state assembly before he moved to Washington in 2010. “We started 22 years ago and we kind of grew up on milk, carrots and Asian pears,” he said, adding that it was those initial resources that helped catapult Capitol Ministries to its current role in Washington, 42 state capitals, and about two dozen foreign capitals.
Drollinger gave what he called a “state of the union” address for Capitol Ministries. He said the group’s income had grown 38 percent two years ago and another 25 percent last year.
“Our whole idea,” he said, is to put intentional, deliberate, biblically-reliant disciple makers in the midst of our political leaders worldwide.” He said the group would be launching new ministries in Alaska, Pennsylvania, and Colorado, as well as Latvia, Ghana, Tanzania, Malawi, Costa Rica, and Brazil within the next twelve months. He said the group’s influence in Washington, D.C., makes it easier to open doors around the world.
Capitol Ministries trains men (and only men) to use Drollinger’s materials to do what he does in DC: to get political leaders to embrace his version of a Christian “worldview” through conversion and teaching them “verse by verse in order that they might gain biblical understanding” and “vote biblically.”
As we have reported, in Drollinger’s view, voting “biblically” means adopting a right-wing policy agenda that would be hard for many Christians to reconcile with their interpretation of scripture. Drollinger 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.” We noted last year:
Drollinger says he doesn’t lobby, but he does instruct public officials that the Bible mandates adherence to right-wing policy positions on a wide range of issues, including environmental regulation, the death penalty, abortion, LGBTQ equality and more. He says it is the government’s job to quell evil and punish sin. He teaches that care for the poor is meant to be a job for the family and church, not the government, and that entitlement programs have no “biblical authority.” And he says that once “righteous” people hold positions of power in government, they should hire only other “righteous” people.
Drollinger teaches that “radical environmentalism” is a “false religion.”
To allow fish to govern the construction of dams, endangered species to govern power plants, flies to govern hospitals, or kangaroo rats, homes, is to miss the clear proclamation of God in Genesis.
Drollinger demonstrates little respect for those who don’t share his interpretation of the Bible or his version of Christianity. He dismisses liberal Christians, saying that the social gospel, a major strain of Christianity in America over the past century, isn’t Christianity. He warned public officials not to be “deceived” by “syncretistic ‘prayer breakfasts’” because “God only hears the prayers of leaders and citizens who are upright, who live righteously through faith in Jesus Christ.” He has called the Catholic Church “the world’s largest false religion.” In a Bible study guide distributed on Election Day last year, he explained to Christian lawmakers that their non-Christian colleagues often do not vote “right” because they are “spiritually incapable” of understanding biblical arguments.The longer a person “rejects Christ,” he wrote, “the greater his depravity becomes.”
At this week’s event, Drollinger cited a scriptural passage that says the gospel will go into all the world before the Second Coming. “It seems implicit,” he said, “that God will want strong ministries of evangelism and discipleship in every capital of the world.”
“I can’t help thinking that every capital in the world would have a ministry in it before the Second Coming of Christ,” said Drollinger. “And so that’s what we labor and strive about. That’s what motivates us at Capitol Ministries to do what we do.”
Drollinger is thinking locally as well as globally. “There’s actually 512,000 people that are elected to public office in America that serve us and we’re saying how can we reach them to the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. Later in the program, his colleague Jerry Duncan described the need for volunteers to assist in the group’s effort to get every one of the hundreds of thousands of local officials into a database, keep it current, and use it to deliver Drollinger’s weekly Bible Studies to every one of them. The goal, as Duncan described it, is “to communicate the gospel to every elected official, every week of the year.”
Keynote speaker Bridenstine, a former member of Congress from Oklahoma, was not as natural a fit for this crowd as U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who was the big draw at last year’s event. Bridenstine tried to connect with the crowd by talking about time he spent training in California as a Navy pilot. Bridenstine said he felt a calling to public life when he heard about a Ninth Circuit ruling—later overturned—that the use of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. He told a story about meeting a court clerk at a party and talking to him about the case, drawing applause when he recounted telling the clerk that taking “under God” out of the Pledge would “establish our national religion as atheism.”
Bridenstine also told stories about astronauts in the Apollo program who read passages from the Bible during their missions.
He called himself “a beneficiary of this ministry,” saying that in Washington, “there are all kinds of incentives to have the right people do the wrong thing.” Spending time with other believers, and getting the kind of instruction Drollinger provides, he suggested, is an answer to “how do we get the right people to do the right thing.”
Bridenstine echoed Drollinger’s comments that Capitol Ministries is not intending to “Christianize” America, though the ministry’s goal is clearly to “Christianize” its public officials. Drollinger says he is not trying to establish a theocracy or change the structure of the U.S. government; he says he believes in “institutional” separation of church and state but not “influential” separation.
Bachmann, a Capitol Ministries board member, was not in attendance this year, but made a pitch for contributions via video from her perch at the United Nations, where she leads a ministry of California’s Skyline Church. She asked attendees to make their “very best donation,” marveling that the group is “expanding all over the world in a way that is so far beyond what any of us could have hoped to imagine.”
Bachmann described standing at the back of the House of Representatives during Trump’s State of the Union address. She said she went there to pray for Trump, but used the opportunity to greet all the cabinet members and members of Congress who take part in Drollinger’s Bible studies and tell them, “Ralph and Danielle say ‘hi.’” According to Bachmann, “They all said, ‘Oh, that’s so great. We love Ralph and Danielle.’” That was a sign, she said, of the “powerful impact” that Capitol Ministries is having, not just in the House and Senate, but “in the very highest upper echelon of our government”—in the executive branch agencies and the White House.
Last May, Drollinger asked the pro-Trump “prayer warriors” at Intercessors for America to pray that his cabinet Bible studies would be moved into the White House compound to make it easier for Vice President Mike Pence and Trump to attend; he says Trump regularly sends him handwritten notes of praise for copies of the Bible study guides the president receives from Drollinger. So far, the Wednesday morning Bible studies have been hosted by participating agency heads. And last October, Drollinger instructed participants in a National Prayer Assembly held before the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to pray that Kavanaugh would host a Capitol Ministries Bible study at the Supreme Court.