Evangelical minister Ralph Drollinger leads weekly Bible studies that are frequently attended by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and other members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, as well as dozens of members of Congress.
Such high-level visibility makes Drollinger a lightning rod for Trump criticism, but it usually doesn’t involve White House spokesmen, as happened earlier this week when deputy press secretary Judson Deere responded to an NBC reporter’s claim that the minister teaches that the CCP virus is linked to homosexuality and divine judgment of America.
Deere’s searing response to NBC’s Brooke Sopelsa sparked an uproar among LGBT community advocates and a flood of highly unflattering stories elsewhere in the national news media suggesting Drollinger was guilty of homophobia.
For his part, Drollinger insisted he was being unjustly accused of holding beliefs that aren’t his.
“I do not believe the coronavirus is God’s judgment on homosexuals, environmentalists, or any other group of people, and have never said that it is,” Drollinger told The Epoch Times on March 27.
“Considering Nicholas Sandmann’s success in the courts against this kind of irresponsible journalism, it is especially disappointing to see it happening again.”
He was referring to the $800 million libel litigation launched in 2019 by lawyers for Nicholas Sandmann, one of a group of high school students from Kentucky who were widely but inaccurately reported for weeks as having mocked a Native American political activist with racist taunts at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
Sandmann reached a settlement with CNN recently for an undisclosed amount after asking the court to award him $275 million. Sandmann has continuing litigation with NBC and The Washington Post.
The uproar began March 25 when Sopelsa’s story appeared with the headline “Trump Cabinet’s Bible Teacher Says Gays Cause God’s Wrath in COVID-19 Blog Post.”
The story’s lead states that “in a blog post titled ‘Is God Judging America Today?‘ a pastor who leads a weekly bible study group for members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet appeared to blame the coronavirus pandemic on several groups, including those who have ‘a proclivity toward lesbianism and homosexuality.’”
Sopelsa told readers that in response to Drollinger, Deere “called the implication that homosexuality caused the pandemic ‘disgusting’ and ‘certainly not something the President believes.’”
Sopelsa quoting Deere as saying, “President Trump has no higher priority than the health and safety of all Americans, and ensuring we emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever before.”
Deere also said, “President Trump does not attend Drollinger’s Bible class,” according to Sopelsa.
After the story appeared, Drollinger contacted the reporter via email. Sopelsa added his denial, but no revisions were made to the headline and the lead paragraphs.
Deere and Sopelsa both declined to comment when asked by The Epoch Times about the controversy, so it couldn’t be learned whether Sopelsa apprised Deere of Drollinger’s denial. Sopelsa is described on NBC’s website as “editorial director of NBC Out, NBC News’ LGBTQ digital destination.”
The eight-page Bible study cited by Sopelsa focused on what Drollinger described as five kinds of divine “wrath” found in scripture. But one of his primary points in the admittedly complicated study is that divine wrath against nations in the Old Testament ended with the coming of Jesus and the New Testament.
“Again, God judged nations under the Old Covenant and will do so again at His Second Coming, but there is no New Testament indication that He judges nations presently during the Church Age,” Drollinger wrote in the study.
Drollinger also noted in the study: “If God judges nations during the Church Age, why did the New Testament writers fail to mention it? Specifically, and illustratively, would it not have been appropriate for Christ to warn Pilate or Paul to warn Caesar of impending national judgment?”
Asked March 27 by The Epoch Times about potential parallels between the Sandmann case and Drollinger’s, Charles Glasser, professor of media law and ethics at New York University and City University of New York, said: “The tricky part is whether or not the story contained a defamatory statement. It may be erroneous or not, only Drollinger and the reporter, and of course reviewing her notes, could determine that.”
Glasser also said accusing a minister of extreme theological views is not necessarily defamatory. He said CNN settled the Sandmann case when the court rejected the network’s claim regarding facts and opinion.
“This is part of the problem we’re going to experience with ‘woke’ or ‘PC’ culture,” Glasser said. “On the one hand, calling somebody a racist is clearly opprobrium and something the ordinary person should be ashamed of, so it becomes difficult to have it both ways, like CNN tried to say that ‘when we say it in the news, it’s a fact, but when we’re sued for it in court, it’s an opinion.’”
Before his professorships, Glasser was global media counsel for Bloomberg News for 14 years. He also was a law school clerk at NBC early in his career.
Contact Mark Tapscott at Mark.Tapscott@epochtimes.nyc