The California chapter of Capitol Ministries, the Christian group led for years by pastor Ralph Drollinger, has dissolved to join a new organization.
Drollinger, known for controversial statements about religion and the role of women in public life, continues to run what remains of his ministry from his home in Santa Clarita.
On Oct. 12, the leader of the Sacramento chapter, Frank Erb, sent a letter to several legislators who had participated in the Bible study sessions run by the group, saying he had “sad news.”
“As of last week, I have resigned from my position as the California State Director for Capitol Ministries,” Erb wrote. “This decision was not a pleasant one, but I believe it was necessary in light of concerns about the ministry’s leadership…Furthermore, almost everyone else who was serving in the ministry when I started last December has also resigned for similar reasons, including nearly all state directors, board members, and other staff.
“I believe God would like me to carry on with my ministry in the California State Capitol,” Erb continued, before introducing a new group, Capitol Commission. The Commission consists of chapters in 16 state Capitols—all former affiliates of Capitol Ministries. Many of these state chapters are in southern states; the overall organization is led by pastor Jim Young in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“There was a decision I made for personal reasons to move on from Capitol Ministries, but to continue my ministry in the Capitol,” Erb told the Capitol Weekly. He added, “It was an internal discussion [among Capitol Ministry participants]. It’s not something I wanted to do publically. It was a decision we made carefully and prayerfully.”
Several other people who were active in Capitol Ministries spoke off the record, confirming much of what Erb said. Some said that Drollinger had exhibited “unchristian behavior,” including pride and bullying behavior toward members—though people were clear to point out that this was never physical.
Reached by email, Drollinger offered the following statement: “Scripture commands the believer to “… not speak evil of one another.” (James 4:11) Because I have dedicated my life to proclaiming the truth of the Word of God and have attempted to live by it in everything that I do, I have chosen to obey Scripture and to remain silent on this matter. Rather than become embroiled in accusations, I have chosen to be obedient to 1 Corinthians 6:6-7. “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?”
He added, “CM is still running and is focusing on planting new ministries in foreign capitols.”
The change appears to have ended Drollinger’s reign as one of the more recognizable figures in the Capitol. At 7’2”, the former UCLA basketball center was hard to miss. After an injury-plagued pro career in which he appeared in only six NBA games, he left basketball in 1981 and was drawn to ministry.
He founded Capitol Ministries in 1997. He travelled to Sacramento to lead weekly Bible study classes in the Capitol. At its height, these sessions would draw up to 20 legislators, mainly Republicans. Within a decade, the group had added chapters in over a dozen other states. The group’s 2009 annual report listed 22 state chapters, and showed the group received nearly $2.3 million in donations last year.
But Drollinger also drew criticism for his outspoken opinions. In 2004, he wrote in his weekly newsletter that “Women with children at home, who either serve in public office, or are employed on the outside, pursue a path that contradicts God’s revealed design for them. It is a sin.” In protest, 15 then senators, including now-Secretary of State Debra Bowen, held a protest where they carried toasters and wore aprons with a scarlet letter “M” on them, for mother.
In other instances, Drollinger reportedly called homosexuality “an abomination.” But he also criticized several Christian legislators for failing to attend his early-morning prayer sessions and for an alleged lack of piety.
In Feb. 2008, he angered many in the Capitol Community with an editorial in the Capitol Morning Report title “A Chaplains Worse Nightmare,” in which he declared that God was “disgusted” with many California legislators. “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,” he wrote.
This prompted an ongoing back and forth between Drollinger, his supporters, and critics who called him “bigoted” and worse. Some questioned holding religious meetings in the Capitol, as well as the $120,000 annual salary Capitol Ministries reportedly paid to Drollinger.
In January, Drollinger handed off the day-to-day operations of the California chapter of Capitol Ministries to Erb. The given reason was Drollinger’s desire to focus on expanding his group in other state Capitols and overseas.
But according to many, it also had to do with the fact that Drollinger was alienating some in the group—even some who were not put off by his stands on faith and gender roles.
The situation came to a head this past spring, when Erb and several others contacted Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, the group which conferred pastor status on Drollinger. On July 17, after a months-long investigation, Grace officials announced that they “agreed to temporarily suspend our affirmation of Ralph Drollinger, pending the resolution of our inquiry into allegations made against him.”
At some point over the summer, five board members resigned from Capitol Ministries. This group included John Anderson, a Grace Church member who is now on the Board of Directors of Capitol Commission. In communication with Erb and others, Grace officials noted on Sept. 24 “It is the estimation of these men that Ralph Drollinger is not biblically qualified for spiritual leadership.” They added, “The attacks Ralph has continued to make on the character and motives of these men, as well as our elders, regrettably affirms to us this determination.”
On Oct. 15, they announced, “Ralph Drollinger no longer has any relationship with Grace Community Church.”
On Oct. 19, Drollinger sent out an upbeat email to those on his list with the headline “Capitol Ministries Set to Expand into Central and South America.” It asked for donations to help the group open ministries across the region. It mentioned two of the few people insiders say are still with the group, including Drollinger’s wife, Danielle Drollinger, and Argentina director, Luciano Bongarra.
According to insiders, Drollinger’s father in law, Dan Madison, still maintains a Nevada chapter affiliated with Capitol Ministries. The front page of Capitol Ministries’ website currently reads: “Under Construction: Retooling for the next decade.”
On Nov. 3, Erb emailed many former Capitol Ministries members with more details about his departure from Capitol Ministries, noting “This decision was necessitated by biblical concerns regarding the conduct of the ministry’s president.” The letter went on to announce Young as the leader of the national organization, and also included a request for donations.