News from the Christian Broadcasting Network that members of President Trump's Cabinet are attending Bible study sessions together didn't come as such a shock in Washington.
The shock was who is teaching them.
That teacher, Pastor Ralph Drollinger, is well known to some members in the California congressional delegation — and not just because he is a 7-foot-1 former UCLA basketball star. He is the evangelical spiritual leader who once counseled a group of Sacramento lawmakers that female politicians with young children have no business serving in the Legislature. In fact, he called them sinners.
Drollinger also declared that Roman Catholicism "is one of the primary false religions in the world" — precipitating his Bible study group's move out of a suite of offices controlled by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Catholic.
But it was the remark about female politicians, made in a written Bible lesson distributed to his study group in 2004, that stoked the most controversy.
"It is one thing for a mother to work out of her home while her children are in school," wrote Drollinger, a Californian who created a group called Capitol Ministries to teach evangelical interpretations of the Bible to politicians. "It is quite another matter to have children in the home and 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."
At the time, the commentary caught the attention of the legislative women's caucus, where several members expressed mortification at what they flatly labeled Drollinger's misogynistic teachings. State lawmakers protested by wearing aprons in chambers.
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park), who was serving in the state Legislature at the time, said in an email Wednesday that she is alarmed to see Drollinger is now counseling the most powerful people in the Trump administration.
"I was a member of the California Assembly when Mr. Drollinger told the women legislators with children at home that they were sinners, and I remember the disbelief we had that someone would say such a thing in the modern era," Chu wrote. "This administration already has a deeply troubling record of policy and speech that harms women, and so it's concerning that this is the ideology the president and vice president hand-picked to help influence the thinking of the heads of our government."
The group boasts that it "has planted biblical ministries of evangelism and discipleship" in 40 state capitols and established a study group in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010. By last year, Drollinger and his associates also had a presence in the U.S. Senate, and counted 68 lawmakers on Capitol Hill as members.
Drollinger was already familiar to Californians before his controversial remarks about female lawmakers. He helped lead the UCLA basketball team to four NCAA tournaments while he played center in the 1970s under coach John Wooden. He played on America's World Cup basketball team, and passed up opportunities to join the NBA so he could tour the globe with Athletes in Action, an evangelical basketball team that preached gospel during halftime.
The CBN report says the Trump administration study group includes Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
The offices of the Cabinet members who Drollinger told CBN are part of his Bible study did not respond to requests for comment or declined to comment. Trump has not yet attended a session but he receives a copy of Drollinger's teaching weekly, and Vice President Mike Pence, who is serving a sponsor of the group, plans to attend when his schedule allows, according to CBN.
Drollinger could not be reached for comment. A staffer at Capitol Ministries said in an email that the pastor is on his annual 200-mile hike of the John Muir Trail.
The goal of his two-decade-old ministry, according to its website, is to bring Jesus Christ to politicians "at every stop along their career paths, beginning with their first local elected or appointed positions and following as they ascend to higher office. By doing so, the impact of the Gospel will be increased in every strata of government as public servants who have been immersed in the word of God move from tier to tier."
Drollinger spoke to the Los Angeles Times in 2004, as the controversy around his writings on female legislators erupted. Acknowledging he frequently did not see his own young children while traveling for work, Drollinger expressed no regrets about his remarks back then and saw no double standard in not labeling fathers of young children serving in Sacramento sinners. He said his belief was that husbands are free to serve leadership roles outside the home but should be "extra sensitive" about being away too long.
Drollinger did at the time have some misgivings about his remarks about Roman Catholicism, which he said were grounded in a centuries-old dispute about the relationship between church and Scripture. "I wasn't trying to say something about Maria Shriver or anything," he said in 2004, referring to Schwarzenegger's wife at the time. But, he added, "I could see where that caused problems."
Drollinger's Bible study with Trump Cabinet officials comes after many women have been rankled by Pence's long-standing, faith-based policy of refusing to dine alone with any woman other than his wife, in a town where so much business happens at power lunches and dinners.
Trump, whose 24-member Cabinet includes just four women, has struggled to garner support from female voters. During the campaign he apologized after a decade-old videotape surfaced in which he boasted of groping women.
A new Quinnipiac poll finds just 27% of women support how Trump is handling the presidency.
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1:30 p.m.: This article was updated with details about Drollinger's history on the UCLA basketball team.