A controversial American evangelical pastor who preaches that “public servants are lost without Christ" and has called homosexuality an “abomination” is boasting that he is leading a “Trump cabinet Bible study group,” which brings together “godly individuals that God has risen to a position of prominence in our culture.”
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Pastor Ralph Drollinger told the Christian broadcaster CBN that the sessions are “ground-breaking” and that regular Bible study among executive cabinet members has not happened in the past 100 years “at least.”
Founder of Capitol Ministries, whose stated goal is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ in the political arena throughout the world,” Drollinger announced in April that he was initiating the study groups, and that were being “sponsored” by Vice President Mike Pence and eight cabinet secretaries.
Now, Drollinger says, a White House “spiritual awakening” is underway, with “about a dozen” members of the Trump administration meeting weekly. While he says the president and vice president have not attended, the pastor claims that Pence is “planning to join the study as his schedule permits.”
Current “regulars,” said the pastor, include Health Secretary Tom Price, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Agriculture Secretary Sunny Perdue, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has attended as well.
“He’ll (Jeff Sessions) go out the same day I teach him something and I’ll see him do it on camera and I just think, ‘Wow, these guys are faithful, available and teachable and they’re at Bible study every week they’re in town,’” Drollinger told CBN. “It’s the best Bible study that I’ve ever taught in my life. They are so teachable; they’re so noble; they’re so learned. I just praise God for them.”
“I praise God for Mike Pence, who I think with Donald Trump chose great people to lead our nation,” he added.
Drollinger is a former college basketball star who had a brief NBA career before he became high-profile clergyman. His Capitol Ministries, founded in 1996, operates according to the philosophy that “if you change the hearts of lawmakers, then their Christian world view will guide them to make good policies.” His organization runs Bible sessions in 40 state capitols as well as foreign capitals, and has held such gatherings in the U.S. House and Senate since 2010.
Drollinger holds fundamentalist – or, as he puts it, “true to Scripture” – views. In one interview, he was quoted as saying that homosexuality is a “sin” and “an abomination in the eyes of God.” He has a traditional view of marriage, and supports “the institution in Scripture where the husband is to lead the wife. That is not to mean that she is his slave, but if there is a tie vote, the tiebreaker is the husband. The wife, she should submit to his decisions, unless he is asking her to be unbiblical.”
Dollinger has preached that God is a capitalist, that welfare programs are un-Christian, and that climate change is “impossible.”
Bringing politicians to Jesus hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Dollinger, particularly in California, where his career began. In 2004, he was kicked out of Governor Arnold Schwartznegger’s office, where he had been leading staffers and state legislators in Bible study, after stating that Catholicism “is one of the primary false religions of the world.”
Both Schwartznegger and his then-wife Maria Shriver, are Catholics, and many present took offense and found the pastor's words, “divisive and unnecessary,” according to the governor's communications director.
After the Bible sessions were moved from the governor’s offices to the legislature, controversy erupted again when Dollinger published in his study guide that it was a sin for women with young children at home to serve as legislators. “It is one thing for a mother to work out of her home while her children are in school,” he wrote,” but another to have children at home and [to] live away, in Sacramento, for four days a week. "Whereas the former could be in keeping with the spirit of Proverbs 31, the latter is sinful.”
Female California legislators were “deeply offended, insulted, mortified” said the chair of the women’s caucus at the time. Some legislators donned aprons to protest the clergyman's statements.
In 2008, controversy erupted again after he wrote a blog post complaining about resistance from legislators whom he was attempting to “lead to Christ,” who preferred a more open-minded interpretation of the Bible.
“In the past several weeks I have visited with a Jewish legislator, a Catholic legislator and a liberal Protestant legislator – all of whom reject the Jesus of Scripture,” wrote Dollinger.
More recently, in a Bible study guide dated July 10, Dollinger wrote that “Scripture is clear; those who are at enmity with Him – who passively or actively reject the Son of God – their prayers are worthless and go unheard.”
He stressed that “God only hears the prayers of leaders and citizens who are upright, who live righteously through faith in Jesus Christ.”
Big evangelical presence
Indeed, the Trump cabinet contains an unprecedented number of members with strong evangelical backgrounds. While the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush cultivated that community and the religious right, the actual presence of such people in positions of power was far more limited.
Trump’s reliance on an evangelical Christian base during his presidential campaign, however, has brought them into the national spotlight. This was evident early on, in 2015, when a group of 40 evangelical leaders and televangelists – including a pastor affiliated with Jews for Jesus – blessed Trump and disseminated a video of their prayer session.
In June, a photo made its way around social media featuring members of the Trump administration’s Faith Advisory board “laying hands” on the president and praying for him.
While private Bible study is not new to legislators in Washington or to White House officials, in the past, it has been conducted in a quiet and discreet way, unlike the public displays of piety emerging from the Trump White House. The oldest and most powerful such group is called the Fellowship, and it is best known for its annual ecumenical National Prayer Breakfast.
After Hillary Clinton first arrived in Washington in 1993 and throughout her tenure as New York senator, she participated in Fellowship Bible study sessions, which are so secretive they are called “cells.”
In the past, when word spread of Christian religious activity at the cabinet level, there was a backlash against it due to concerns that it violates the separation of church and state, and that it is discriminatory and could lead to preferential treatment for federal employees who participate in such gatherings.
In 2001, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft came under fire when he held daily Bible study sessions in the Department of Justice. Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office at the time, said that, “Ashcroft has a right to pray in office, but he does not have a right to implicitly or explicitly force others into praying with him. Ashcroft is the chief defender of the nation’s civil liberties. He can’t pretend to be just another citizen leading prayers.”