First thing in the morning on April 5, before a meeting chaired by Representative John Shimkus and another with the Solar Energy Industry Association, Energy Secretary Rick Perry headed to the Department of Health and Human Services, according to a copy of Perry’s schedule obtained by Fusion. There, Perry was scheduled to meet for an hour-long “Cabinet Member Bible Study.” The schedule does not list who attended that session, but Ralph Drollinger, a right-wing pastor with a long history of ties to Perry and other Trump Administration officials, claims on his web site to be running weekly Bible sessions specially for the Trump Cabinet. He has praised the new administration for its power to “change the course of America in ways that are biblical.”
A former college basketball star turned evangelical Christian whose own church disavowed him over his bigotry and radical theology, Drollinger has variously proclaimed that Catholicism is “the world’s largest false religion,” that female legislators who continue working after having children are sinners, and that homosexuality is an “abomination.” He has also written that social welfare programs are un-Christian. “It is safe to say that God is a Capitalist,” Drollinger once wrote, “not a Communist.” In a January radio interview, Drollinger praised then-senator Jeff Sessions, who “hungers and thirsts for the Scripture,” for his performance during his confirmation hearing, when he provided a Biblical justification for his draconian views on immigration. “I’ve had the distinct honor of teaching him on this subject, and many others,” Drollinger said. “There’s nothing more exciting, when you’re a Bible teacher, to see one of the guys you’re working with—to see him or her articulate something you’ve taught them when they’re under the gun.”
Vice President Mike Pence, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, nominee for Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, HHS Secretary Tom Price, and Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, have all sponsored the Capitol Ministries Cabinet Bible study, according to literature put out by Capitol Ministries.
The Cabinet Bible study is the just newest piece of what Drollinger has described as a “para-church ministry” with a “target audience” of political members. In a September 2015 interview, Drollinger described his mission as creating a “factory” to mass-produce politicians like Michele Bachmann, who is on the Capitol Ministries board. “She thinks Biblically,” Drollinger said. “She doesn’t need a whole lot of time to figure out how to vote because she sees the world through a scriptural lens. We need more men and women like her in office.”
He established a presence on Capitol Hill back in 2010, when Drollinger and his wife, Danielle, began holding weekly sessions for members of Congress. For an outside group to hold an event in a Congressional building, they must be sponsored by a senator or representative; dozens of Members of Congress sponsored Drollinger’s group, including Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Tom Price, and Sessions while they were all still on Capitol Hill. Rep. Mike Conaway, who recently took over the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election from Devin Nunes, is also a Capitol Ministries sponsor.
Now, Capitol Ministries holds three separate Bible Studies each week which it describes in its literature: one for Cabinet members (“7:00 am Wednesdays Mornings. Location Undisclosed. Light Refreshments Served.”); one for the Senate (“8:00 am Tuesdays, Rotating Offices of Senators. Hot Breakfast Served.”); and one for members of the House (“Capitol H324: Monday or Tuesday Evenings after First Votes Back. Dinner Served.”) In an interview in January, Drollinger described the House study as feeling like a truck stop and the Senate study feeling like a country club.
Multiple documents posted on the Capitol Ministries website, including blog posts, essays, and pamphlets outlining the agenda for several recent study sessions provide some idea of the worldview being communicated and reinforced in these Cabinet Bible-study sessions. Drollinger’s recent book, Rebuilding America: The Biblical Blueprint, purports to answer the question, “What is the biblical prescription to Making America Great Again?” Financial records are instructive as well: Capitol Ministries received $276,800 in funding between 2013 and 2015 from the National Christian Foundation, which distributes, at its anonymous contributors’ direction, hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to religious organizations (especially anti-LGBT rights groups) around the world.
Drollinger also argues that climate change is impossible because God promised after The Flood never to do anything like that again. Drollinger preaches against “radical environmentalism” and that to believe that human activity could have devastating impact on the environment is not just mistaken, but the result of godless pride: “To think that man can alter the earth’s ecosystem—when God remains omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent in the current affairs of mankind—is to more than subtly espouse an ultra-hubristic, secular worldview relative to the supremacy and importance of man,” Drollinger wrote recently. “It follows that we can all rest assured and wholly rely on God’s aforementioned promises pertaining to His ability and willingness to sustain our world’s ecosystem.”
One Bible study pamphlet from June 2014 highlights Biblical instructions for “Terrorist Sensitivity Training.” (That is: being sensitive to who is a terrorist.) “The sword has always spread Islam, and those leaders intend to continue their armed conquest,” it reads. “There is no way America or Israel should tolerate uranium enrichment programs in any theocratic Muslim country.” It continues: “The greatest anxiety however that should be elicited from modern day terrorism should not be related to how one can spot or protect themselves or society from evildoers, but how one can avoid being labeled a terrorist in God’s eyes.”
Then-Representative and group sponsor Mike Pompeo used similarly apocalyptic language when, in 2014, he told a church group in his home state of Kansas that the greatest threat to America is from Muslims “who deeply believe that Islam is the way and the light and the only answer.” He said, “They abhor Christians, and will continue to press against us until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ is our savior—is truly the only solution for our world.”
When Trump announced the nomination of so many Capitol Ministries students to Cabinet positions, Drollinger was jubilant. “It follows then that the sudden rise of Pence, Sessions, and Pompeo—all men who are disciples of Jesus Christ—serve to vividly illustrate the truth of 1 Timothy 2:1-4!” he said in a blog post. (Drollinger cites this passage, which calls for “kings and all those in authority” to make “entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings,”as justification for his view that politicians need to be made disciples of Jesus Christ and use their political power in accordance with Biblical strictures—the theology some call Dominionism.) [UPDATE: After this story was published, Deborah Mendenhall, a spokesperson for Capitol Ministries, wrote in an email to Fusion that Drollinger “believes in institutional separation, but not influential separation. There is a vast difference.” According to Mendenhall, Drollinger does not consider himself a Christian Dominionist.] He had previously said, of Trump in a December 2015 interview, “I want to win him to Christ....America’s in such desperate straits—especially economically—that if we don’t have almost a benevolent dictator to turn things around I just don’t think it’s gonna happen through our governance system right now.”
In the same blog post praising Trump’s appointments, he wrote, “Suddenly these men who have been discipled by the Church are in prominent positions of authority to change the course of America in ways that are biblical.”
Drollinger, a prolific writer, declined to answer questions about the Cabinet member Bible study: “I would rather keep this a private Bible study with the Members,” he wrote in an email. “Thanks for asking.” He is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and wasn’t available to speak by phone. Earlier this year, Drollinger asked for prayers supporting “new International Ministry opportunities” in Romania, and parts of the Capitol Ministries website have been translated into Russian. Capitol Ministries intends to open hundreds of offices abroad and hopes to use its network of government officials to do so. “We have so many U.S. Senators who love Christ, who are in tow with our ministry, that are saying, ‘I’ll go overseas to use my platform to open doors in foreign, federal capitols,’” Drollinger told the Christian outlet CBN.com.
Just before the Inauguration, then-Rep. Price hosted a breakfast reception to introduce incoming Members of Congress to Drollinger and Capitol Ministries. In a blog post, Drollinger reported that 14 new Members had expressed a desire to attend his Bible study sessions. “I do not say this with aspersion but objectively: generally speaking, those Members coming into office have a far greater desire to be taught the Word of God than did many of those who are leaving,” he said. “This observation tells me that the Holy Spirit is moving. I have never been so encouraged relative to our ministry in D.C.!”
The Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the White House all did not respond to Fusion’s requests for comment.
“We have no response at this time,” a spokesperson for the Department of Justice wrote in an email.
If you know anything about Capitol Ministries, governmental Bible studies, or Dominionism on Capitol Hill or in the White House, please get in touch.
This story was produced by Gizmodo Media Group’s Special Projects Desk.