Apparently, some people are convinced that the Covid-19 pandemic is not the result of a rampaging virus but is God’s punishment of America for the sins of “those who worship the ‘religion of environmentalism’ and express ‘proclivity toward lesbianism and homosexuality.’”
This is not the bizarre hypothesis of just any wild-eyed would-be prophet — although he’s certainly all that — but of a hard-core conservative Christian evangelical who has the ear of the nation’s high and mighty in Washington, D.C.
I’m talking about Ralph Drollinger, whose Capitol Ministries holds weekly Bible study gatherings for members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet and separate such meetings for 52 Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including one of my own South Dakota senators, John Thune, coincidentally one of the U.S. Senate’s top power brokers.
That elected officials are devout Christians and like to attend Bible studies is not, in itself, necessarily disconcerting. After all, it’s a (religiously) free country, and people can believe what they want and express it as they will, no matter how unsubstantiated. But the cozy official relationship between this Christian evangelical organization and U.S. government is at best inappropriate, and at worst a violation of constitutionally mandated church-state separation.
The church-state interlock here is obvious. The official Capitol Ministries guide for the Bible study meetings lists as “sponsors” Vice President Mike Pence and 11 cabinet members, including secretaries Mike Pompeo (State), Ben Carson (Housing and Urban Development), Secretary Betsy DeVos (Education), and Alex Azar (Health and Human Services), plus the 52 senators and representatives. If that’s not a government “establishment of religion,” as the Constitution forbids, what is?
These Capitol Ministries sponsors “notably [are] all members of the coronavirus task force guiding the federal government responce to the pandemic,” according to an article in the online news site The Intercept, titled “Trump Cabinet Bible Teacher Blames Coronavirus Pandemic On God’s Wrath — Somehow It Involves China, Gay People, And Environmentalists.”
It matters that a science-rejecting religious organization is collaborating hand-in-glove with tippy-top U.S. government officials who are leading the nation’s defense against a deadly virus that requires full-on science acceptance to be successful. This, aside from the fact that religion and government are constitutionally prohibited from coordinating in such activities as planning religious events that government members will also participate in.
The whole arrangement stinks to high heaven of religious encroachment into government, and government’s welcoming embrace when it gets there.
Forget for second that the good Rev. Drollinger is spoon feeding to top government leaders his crackpot Christian Right “theories” that groundlessly contend human social behavior and protection of the environment provoke God’s wrath and cause viruses. By being sponsoring members of Capitol Ministries, those officials are not only accepting these ideas, but demonstrably endorsing them up.
The debilitating nexus between Christian Right bigotry and the U.S. federal government in subverting U.S. response to the coronavirus, is fulsomely explained in author Katherine Stewart’s March 27 op-ed in The New York Times, titled “The Religious Right’s Hostility to Science Is Crippling Our Coronavirus Response: Trump’s response to the pandemic has been haunted by the science denialism of his ultraconservative religious allies.”
“Donald Trump rose to power with the determined assistance of a movement that denies science, bashes government and prioritized loyalty over professional expertise. In the current crisis, we are all reaping what that movement has sown,” Stewart writes. “At least since the 19th century, when the proslavery theologian Robert Lewis Dabney attacked the physical sciences as ‘theories of unbelief,’ hostility to science has characterized the more extreme forms of religious nationalism in the United States.
Now such ideological naysayers are running our government. Badly.
“This denial of science and critical thinking among religious ultraconservatives now haunts the American response to the coronavirus crisis,” Stewart asserts, pointing to the president, who “actively disdains and contradicts the messages coming from his own experts and touts as yet uproven cures.”
When experts started projecting more than a million deaths from the virus in America if strong social distancing and other rigorous mitigation efforts weren’t universally employed, the president started to listen. A million deaths, as even he could envision, could challenge anyone’s chances for re-election.
Stewart also pointed to Guillermo Maldonado, a pastor who refers to himself as an “apostle” of Trump and has hosted him at his Miami megachurch has strongly urged members of his congregation to attend mass services during the pandemic, as the death toll exponentially mounts.
“Do you believe God would bring his people to his house to be contagious with the virus? Of course not,” he said.
“Pansies” is what another pastor called worshippers who stayed away.
Such faith is actually something quite different: delusion.
Meanwhile, as late as March 15, the president was still spewing self-serving conspiracy theories about the virus.
“You know, impeachment didn’t work, and the Mueller report didn’t work, and Article 25 didn’t work,” he said, “and so maybe now [the coronavirus “hoax”] is their next, ah, their next attempt to get Trump.”
In an attempt at damage control lately, however, the president has tried to distance himself form Rev. Drollinger’s absurd comments, having his press staff call them “disgusting.” In any event, he said, he himself doesn’t attend the Bible studies, also noting that they are not held in the White House.
Drollinger himself has employed alternative facts in trying to hit back against detractors, insisting he never said homosexuality caused coronavirus.
Some Trump “apostles” might actually believe him.