New Mexico Congressman Helps Build Evangelical Links in Belarus

From the Albuquerque Journal, at the end of May:

Rep. Steve Pearce… flew alone to Belarus on a mission trip paid for by Capitol Ministries, a Washington-based evangelical group whose website says it “provides Bible studies, evangelism and discipleship to political leaders.”

…Capitol Ministries was founded in 1996 and has started ministries in over 37 state capitals, including Santa Fe. Pearce now holds the distinction of being the first member of the U.S. Congress to address the Belarusian Parliament.

In a telephone interview, Pearce said Belarus is eager to improve relations with the U.S. and had extended an invitation to Capitol Ministries for a member of Congress to address the country’s leadership. Pearce, whom Capitol Ministries describes “as a leading congressional sponsor,” got the nod.

“Generations have grown up with no belief in God,” he said. “They wanted to explore that a bit and they want to become closer to the U.S. They were amazed about the part in my speech about the Founding Fathers and the role freedom of religion played and that it basically drove people to this country and to set up the government.

“They were interested in the whole concept,” he added. “I talked to them about truth and trust and those basically come from the Ten Commandments.”

Capitol Ministries was profiled by Right Wing Watch in 2011; the organization is headed by Ralph Drollinger and his wife Danielle, and its sponsors include “Todd Akin, Michele Bachmann, Paul Broun, Trent Franks, Louie Gohmert, Sue Myrick, Mike Pence, Tom Price, Lamar Smith, Joe Wilson and various others”. The Drollingers are also long-time associates of James Dobson, and RWW notes Ralph’s enthusiasm for Tea Party politics.

Pearce’s visit – which the Congressman has since described as a “missions trip” – was also covered by state media in Belarus; Minsk Capital Television writes:

Belarus is interested in maintaining a full partnership with the United States. This was said on May 28 at a meeting of the Council of the Republic Chairman Mikhail Myasnikovich with a US delegation.

It included representatives of the US Congress, the fund “Spiritual Diplomacy” and ex-players of the National Basketball Association.

Michael Morgulis, fund manager of Spiritual Diplomacy, Appointed Honorary Consul of the Republic of Belarus in the State of Florida

A new relationship between the United States and Belarus have begun. We have been working on this for many years and, as we say, step by step, have got many political leaders to reconsider their position. Now they consider Belarus as a perfect and loyal friend, as I wrote in one of my articles.

I previously wrote about Morgulis in 2008, and I noted his enthusiasm for President Lukashenko,* as expressed on the Spiritual Diplomacy website:

I also met with President Lukashenko several times and discussed spiritual subjects with him. He is nothing like the media wants us to believe. He has a capacity for making deep judgments.

Pearce himself is of the view that the notoriously authoritarian country is improving; as he told the Journal:

“I didn’t find the State Department’s perceptions to be accurate,” he said. “They had told me there is no freedom of religion yet the pastors I met with over there said it is a little tedious to get registered but once you’re registered they let you do what you want and don’t break you up or anything like that.”

“I understand they are doing things that are atrocious – and they would admit it,” Pearce said. “But they say they can’t change overnight and I was pretty sympathetic to that…”

Pearce and Drollinger have also now spoken about the visit in an interview with CBN:

In Washington, Pearce attends weekly Bible studies hosted by Ralph and Danielle Drollinger, the founders of Capitol Ministries.

…The Drollingers are Californians who nearly 20 years ago determined that the best way to change policy is to win the hearts of lawmakers for Christ. Since then, they’ve started Christian ministries in 40 state capitals and Washington.

…The Drollingers pushed to get Pearce into Parliament to spark a flame they pray turns into a regular Bible study… They’re also pushing the Belorussian education minister to adopt a curriculum that teaches the Bible as literature to high school students.

…One day after their presentation, the Drollingers received a letter saying the Lukashenko administration is very interested.

“They want to see if we’re trying to lead them down the evangelical road or a certain religion and it’s really not. It’s really written from the perspective of literature,” Danielle Drollinger explained.

The curriculum has been developed by the Museum of the Bible, which is a project under the chairmanship of Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby. Green is well-known as a patron of religious right causes, as noted by Salon last year.

This is a somewhat unexpected turn of events: although Belarus–Russia relations are at times rocky, Lukashenko has close links with the Patriarch of Moscow, and he has expressed his support for Orthodoxy in terms of a contrast with “alien” influences. The situation is very different from Ukraine, where David Barton has recently been making evangelical inroads.

Ukraine has also come under the attention of “the Fellowship” (also known as “the Family”), a discreet American religious group that also operates internationally through bi-partisan political networks. However, Drollinger has expressed a scathing opinion of the Fellowship, published in the form of an Amazon review of Jeff Sharlet’s magisterial investigation The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. Drollinger writes:

The Fellowship, if Sharlet’s internal descriptions are correct (and I believe they are from my more than 30 years of interactions with the group), is anything but a Protestant fundamentalist group. Even if his labeling is off, however, his book serves a tremendous purpose in outing a potentially heretical organization that appears to pimp Jesus to politicians throughout the world. In this sense, Sharlet may be right on target.

UPDATE: Pearce’s visit was condemned by Andrei Sannikov, who is Belarus’ “most high-profile opposition figure” and a former prisoner of conscience under the Lukashenko regime:

*Footnote

A US Embassy cable from 2006 describes a press conference with Lukashenko:

His curt answers to Western journalists and scolding of Belarusian correspondents only helped to show the world his bizarre behavior, yet he still received healthy applause from his well-chosen audience and foreign lackeys Q including American citizen Michael Margulis, whom Lukashenko repeatedly mentioned during his remarks as representing the real American people.

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