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Anthony Thompson and Denise George: Charleston church shooting and what forgiveness can offer a city, a nation

Westlake Legal Group ap18254859937839 Anthony Thompson and Denise George: Charleston church shooting and what forgiveness can offer a city, a nation fox-news/us/religion/christianity fox-news/opinion fox-news/faith-values/faith fox news fnc/opinion fnc e01348cb-c27c-5219-ab04-62d9fc3ae16d Denise George article Anthony Thompson

On Wednesday evening, June 17, 2015, a young white supremacist named Dylann Roof wandered inside the Bible study at the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. During the closing prayer, Dylann pulled out a hidden Glock .45 from his fanny pack, shot and killed my wife, Myra, and eight other church members. When I heard the news of my wife’s tragic death, I raced to the church, fell down on the sidewalk, and cried aloud.

Forty-eight hours later, during Dylann’s bond hearing, I stood in the courtroom and spoke directly to Roof via a video monitor from the Charleston detention center where he was being held.

“I forgive you,” I told him. “And my family forgives you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the One who matters the most: Jesus Christ, so that He can change it and change your attitude.”

CHRISTEN LIMBAUGH BLOOM: WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE GOD IS MAD AT YOU

Several other family members also publicly forgave Roof in the courtroom that day.

Four years have passed since the shooting, and people still ask me: “Anthony, why in the world did you choose to forgive the man who murdered Myra?”

Each year Charleston holds a time of special remembrances to commemorate the tragedy on June 17, 2015. This year the city will come together for the fourth anniversary, and will once again respond to Dylann Roof’s hateful, violent murders with visible love, affection, and forgiveness.

My answer to them is always the same. I chose to forgive the racist killer because I believe and trust God’s Word when He tells me that vengeance is His to repay, not mine (Deuteronomy 32:35 NIV). I need not avenge the vile deeds of Dylann Roof myself. “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” Scripture promises me.

As a Christian, a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, I obeyed God’s Word, as difficult as it proved to be, making the decision to forgive the evil man who deliberately took away my lovely wife.

Scripture tells me that I am forgiven by Christ, and I am therefore obliged to forgive others who hurt me and take from me those I dearly love. In the Bible, Jesus Himself teaches His followers to pray: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 NIV).

My forgiveness did nothing for Dylann Roof, who later claimed he was not sorry for the deaths he caused, and did not regret what he had done. He held onto his anger and his hatred for black people. He now lives inside a closet-size cell at the U.S. federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, awaiting his execution.

But my forgiveness of the unrepentant young racist changed me. I refused to harbor the anger, hatred, and other negative emotions of un-forgiveness, refusing to allow it to rob me of my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being.

Had I chosen not to forgive Dylann, I, too, would live inside my own dark, self-made prison cell. The choice I made to forgive him has opened wide my own prison doors and has allowed me emotional freedom.

Why must we as a nation choose forgiveness? I saw firsthand how forgiveness healed a city and nation. After the shooting, Charleston prepared for the inevitable riots, violence, and bloodshed that always followed racially-motivated crimes in our nation.

After hearing the heartfelt statements of expressed forgiveness, the people of Charleston responded to the white-on-black murders not with violence, but with grace. I watched as more than 15,000 people of all colors and faiths joined hands, creating a human chain of love that stretched for two miles across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. They bypassed the expected destructive mayhem, and responded instead with unexpected love, kindness, and forgiveness. Charleston became a shining example of brotherly love, uniting hearts, races, and faiths. An entire nation observed the welcomed benefits, the peace and healing brought about by Christian forgiveness.

And, as the years pass, the benefits of our forgiveness continues to amaze me. The large Confederate flag — a source of racial tension and division for decades — was removed from the South Carolina State House grounds in Columbia, S.C. Three years later, on June 19, 2018, the 153rd anniversary of the ending of slavery in the United States, the city of Charleston — the nation’s very “cradle of slavery” — officially apologized for its role in regulating, supporting, and fostering slavery.

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Each year Charleston holds a time of special remembrances to commemorate the tragedy on June 17, 2015. This year the city will come together for the fourth anniversary, and will once again respond to Dylann Roof’s hateful, violent murders with visible love, affection, and forgiveness.

That’s what forgiveness can do for an individual, a city, and a nation.

NOTE: The nine slain were the Reverend Clementa Pinckney (Emanuel’s pastor), Cynthia Hurd, the Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Depayne Middleton Doctor, the Reverend Daniel Simmons, and Myra Thompson.

Westlake Legal Group ap18254859937839 Anthony Thompson and Denise George: Charleston church shooting and what forgiveness can offer a city, a nation fox-news/us/religion/christianity fox-news/opinion fox-news/faith-values/faith fox news fnc/opinion fnc e01348cb-c27c-5219-ab04-62d9fc3ae16d Denise George article Anthony Thompson   Westlake Legal Group ap18254859937839 Anthony Thompson and Denise George: Charleston church shooting and what forgiveness can offer a city, a nation fox-news/us/religion/christianity fox-news/opinion fox-news/faith-values/faith fox news fnc/opinion fnc e01348cb-c27c-5219-ab04-62d9fc3ae16d Denise George article Anthony Thompson

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Texas pastor who backed bill criminalizing abortion arrested

Westlake Legal Group og-fox-news Texas pastor who backed bill criminalizing abortion arrested Houston fox-news/us/religion/christianity fox-news/us/crime fnc/us fnc Associated Press article 3e892124-fe8f-5bc6-a2cd-6b1463e45601

A former Southern Baptist pastor who supported legislation in Texas that would have criminalized abortions has been arrested on charges of child sex abuse, accused of repeatedly molesting a teenage relative over the course of two years.

Stephen Bratton is accused of subjecting the relative to inappropriate touching that escalated to “sexual intercourse multiple times a day or several times a week” from 2013 to 2015, according to Thomas Gilliland, a spokesman with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

Court records show Bratton, 43, posted a $50,000 bond Saturday, The Houston Chronicle reported .

Bratton told his wife about the abuse in May, and admitted to his co-pastors at Grace Family Baptist Church that same day that he had “sinned in grievous ways,” according to court documents.

It isn’t clear whether Bratton has an attorney who can comment on his behalf. The Associated Press couldn’t locate a phone number for him Sunday.

Southern Baptist church leaders last week outlined a plan to address sex abuse in the largest U.S. protestant denomination. Aaron Wright, another pastor at the Grace Family Baptist Church, told the newspaper that Bratton has been excommunicated.

“This person’s life is in such a contradiction to the faith that we see no evidence that they are a Christian,” Wright said.

Bratton, who is a father of seven, was outspoken in support of a bill that would have abolished abortions in Texas and threatened to punish women who undergo the procedure with homicide. That level of offense can be punishable by the death penalty under Texas law.

Bratton publicly testified in support of the bill in April. The measure never got a vote.

“Whoever authorizes or commits murder is guilty,” Bratton said at the hearing. “They’re guilty already in a court that is far more weighty than what is here in Texas.”

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Bishops meeting on sex abuse clouded by state investigations

Hundreds of boxes. Millions of records. From Michigan to New Mexico this month, attorneys general are sifting through files on clergy sex abuse, seized through search warrants and subpoenas at dozens of archdioceses.

They’re looking to prosecute, and not just priests. If the boxes lining the hallways of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s offices contain enough evidence, she said, she is considering using state racketeering laws usually reserved for organized crime. Prosecutors in Michigan are even volunteering on weekends to get through all the documents as quickly as possible.

For decades, leaders of the Roman Catholic Church were largely left to police their own. But now, as American bishops gather for a conference to confront the reignited sex-abuse crisis this week, they’re facing the most scrutiny ever from secular law enforcement.

A nationwide Associated Press query of more than 20 state and federal prosecutors last week found they are looking for legal means to hold higher ups in the church accountable for sex abuse. They have raided diocesan offices, subpoenaed files, set up victim tip lines and launched sweeping investigations into decades-old allegations. Thousands of people have called hotlines nationwide, and five priests have recently been arrested.

“Some of the things I’ve seen in the files makes your blood boil, to be honest with you,” Nessel said. “When you’re investigating gangs or the Mafia, we would call some of this conduct a criminal enterprise.”

If a prosecutor applies racketeering laws, also known as RICO, against church leaders, bishops and other church officials could face criminal consequences for enabling predator priests, experts say. Such a move by Michigan or one of the other law enforcement agencies would mark the first known time that actions by a diocese or church leader were branded a criminal enterprise akin to organized crime.

“That would be an important step because it would set the standard for pursuing justice in these cases,” said Marci Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and CEO of CHILD USA, a Philadelphia-based think tank that tracks statute of limitations reforms.

Monsignor G. Michael Bugarin, who handles sex abuse accusations for the Detroit Archdiocese, said they too are committed to ending abuse and cover-ups. Bugarin said they cooperate with law enforcement, and that won’t change if the attorney general is considering organized crime charges.

“The law is the law, so I think we just have to respect what the current law is,” he said.

Some defenders of the church bristle at the notion of increased legal action, saying the Catholic institution is being singled out by overzealous prosecutors. A spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not respond to requests for an interview Monday. The church has said it is already taking steps to address clergy abuse.

Seventeen years after U.S. bishops passed a “zero tolerance” policy against sexually abusive priests, they will consider new measures for accountability over abuse at their gathering this week in Baltimore. The meeting follows a global order issued by Pope Francis last month requiring all Catholic priests and nuns around the world to report clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups by their superiors to church authorities.

The meeting also follows a grand jury report that documented decades of clergy abuse and cover-ups in Pennsylvania, which thrust the Catholic Church’s sex assault scandal back into the mainstream last fall and spurred prosecutors across the U.S. to launch investigations of their hometown dioceses.

Since then, many states have launched telephone hotlines or online questionnaires for confidential complaints including Virginia, Nebraska and California.

Pennsylvania has been flooded with calls, some 1,800 from victims and families over the last three years. In Iowa, 11 people who identified themselves as victims and their relatives came forward in the hotline and questionnaire’s first three days. New Jersey and Michigan’s tip lines have received about 500 calls each, while Illinois has received nearly 400 calls and emails, including 160 from survivors.

In contrast, Delaware’s attorney general tip line has had four calls since November, 2018, a spokesperson said. Officials in Vermont say they can’t comment because the investigation is ongoing, but that they are aware of dozens of victims of alleged criminal misconduct.

While priests have been prosecuted in the past, top law enforcement scrutiny of church authorities has been relatively rare. In 2012, Bishop Robert Finn of the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese in Missouri was the first and only American prelate convicted for his role in aiding a priest, when he was found guilty of failing to report child pornography on a cleric’s laptop to authorities.

AP reached out to attorneys general in 18 states, federal prosecutors in three jurisdictions and the U.S. Justice Department to learn more about the new round of investigations. Some of the accused priests in Pennsylvania had ties to other states, prompting those attorneys general, such as New Mexico, for example, to take a fresh look.

Before Pennsylvania’s attorney general got involved, cases against predator priests were largely the purview of local police and prosecutors, or private attorneys bringing lawsuits and civil claims. Although Pennsylvania’s attorney general office says prosecutors have spoken with their counterparts from almost every state, most attorneys general in the U.S. have not taken public action.

In Kentucky, Attorney General Andy Beshear wanted to investigate but lacked jurisdiction. He worked to change state law, but the bill failed to make it through the legislature.

Attorneys general who are investigating are using a range of tools. Michigan executed search warrants, which means police show up and raid the offices. Delaware, West Virginia and Nebraska have issued subpoenas, which is a less assertive approach, making a legal request for the records. New Jersey officials have started to make arrests, while Washington D.C.’s attorney general is weighing civil charges.

Asked whether the office would consider charges under Iowa’s far-reaching RICO statute, Attorney General spokesman Lynn Hicks said that nothing is off the table but that it’s premature to say. And in Virginia, spokesman Michael K. Kelly said they are using “every tool, authority, and resource” to investigate not only priests, but also “whether leadership in the dioceses may have covered up or abetted any such crimes.”

Iowa’s Attorney General Tom Miller said that he took action late last month after his office met with abuse survivors, including some whose stories have never become public.

Tim Lennon, who grew up in Sioux City, Iowa, said he was among the survivors who corresponded with Miller’s office and in recent months sent over new material about priests accused of abuse.

“The priest who had raped and abused me when I was 12 had gotten caught at three parishes before they moved him to my parish. The bishop knew and kept moving him along,” said Lennon, the president of the board of directors for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who now lives in Arizona.

Statute of limitation rules differ, and are being tested, in different states. In Michigan, for example, the clock stops if a priest moved out of state for a period.

New York, California and Florida refused to comment, citing ongoing investigations.

In recent years, civil lawsuits have used racketeering laws leading to large settlements. Delaware-based attorney Stephen Neuberger, who has successfully sued the church on behalf of clergy abuse victims, said questions inevitably arise about church authorities covering up and facilitating for accused priests. He said organized crime statutes seem appropriate.

“It’s not piling on,” he said. “In fact I think it’s long overdue.”

Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington; Reese Dunklin in Dallas; Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia; Lisa Rathke in Burlington, Vermont; Grant Schulte in Lincoln, Nebraska; Ryan Foley in Iowa City, Iowa; Anthony Izaguirre in Charleston, West Virginia; Matt Sedensky in New York; Alan Suderman in Richmond, Virginia; Jim Salter in St. Louis; Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia and Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-c1b0f812b1b34e2082cf549ee6106444 Bishops meeting on sex abuse clouded by state investigations JULIET LINDERMAN GARANCE BURKE AND MARTHA MENDOZA fox-news/us/religion/christianity fox-news/us/crime fnc/us fnc Associated Press article 3d4f4964-b05d-5312-a2c0-91a74a3494c6   Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-c1b0f812b1b34e2082cf549ee6106444 Bishops meeting on sex abuse clouded by state investigations JULIET LINDERMAN GARANCE BURKE AND MARTHA MENDOZA fox-news/us/religion/christianity fox-news/us/crime fnc/us fnc Associated Press article 3d4f4964-b05d-5312-a2c0-91a74a3494c6

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Sex abuse crisis tops agenda as Southern Baptists convene

The Southern Baptist Convention gathers for its annual national meeting Tuesday with one sobering topic — sex abuse by clergy and staff — overshadowing all others.

Inside the meeting hall in Birmingham, Alabama, delegates representing the nation’s largest Protestant denomination will likely vote on establishing criteria for expelling churches that mishandle or cover up abuse allegations. They also may vote to establish a new committee which would review how member churches handle claims of abuse.

Outside the convention center, abuse survivors and other activists plan a protest rally Tuesday evening, demanding that the SBC move faster to require sex-abuse training for all pastors, staff and volunteers, and to create a database of credibly accused abusers that could be shared among its more than 47,000 churches. They will also be urging the church, which espouses all-male leadership, to be more respectful of women’s roles — a volatile topic that’s sparked online debate over whether women should preach to men.

Sex abuse already was a high-profile issue at the 2018 national meeting in Dallas, following revelations about several sexual misconduct cases. Soon after his election as SBC president at that meeting, the Rev. J.D. Greear formed an advisory group to draft recommendations on how to confront the problem.

However, pressure on the church has intensified in recent months, due in part to articles by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News asserting that hundreds of Southern Baptist clergy and staff have been accused of sexual misconduct over the past 20 years, including dozens who returned to church duties, while leaving more than 700 victims with little in the way of justice or apologies.

“For years, there were people who assumed abuse was simply a Roman Catholic problem,” said the Rev. Russell Moore, who heads the SBC’s public policy arm. “I see that mentality dissipating. There seems to be a growing sense of vulnerability and a willingness to address this crisis.”

As evidence of that willingness, Greear’s advisory group issued a detailed report Saturday about sexual abuse within the SBC.

It contained several first-person stories by sexual abuse survivors, and acknowledged a variety of failures in how the SBC has responded to abuse — including inadequate training of staff, failure to believe and support victims, failure to report abuse to law enforcement, and recommending suspected perpetrators to new employment.

The scandals have created a major distraction at a time when recent political events have thrilled many Southern Baptist members. The convention is happening in the state that passed the strictest abortion ban in the country, an issue near and dear to many Baptists. And President Donald Trump has advanced an agenda that has pleased many conservative Christians, including a remade U.S. Supreme Court.

With the abuse scandal spreading, Greear’s study committee issued 10 recommendations, and some action has been taken.

For example, a nine-member team has been developing a training curriculum to be used by churches and seminaries to improve responses to abuse. The team includes a psychologist, a former prosecutor, a detective, and attorney and abuse survivor Rachael Denhollander, the first women to go public with charges against sports doctor Larry Nassar ahead of the prosecution that led to a lengthy prison sentence.

The study group also is considering new requirements for background checks of church leaders. And it is assessing options for a database listing abusers, though Baptist leaders say that process has been difficult because of legal issues.

Greear, in an email to The Associated Press, said he was “thankful for the light” that the articles by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News “shined on a dark area of our Convention.”

“Only when sin is exposed to the light of truth, true repentance, healing, and change can begin,” he wrote.

Activist and writer Christa Brown, who says she was abused by a Southern Baptist minister as a child, has been advocating for a database since 2006, and is frustrated by the slow pace. She says any eventual database might be ineffective unless it is run by outsiders, not by SBC officials.

“It has to be independently administered to provide survivors with a safe place to report,” she said.

The study group’s No. 1 recommendation is for Southern Baptists to “enter a season of sorrow and repentance.”

Ahead of next week’s meeting, there’s been a surge of debate — much of it waged on social media — related to the Southern Baptist Convention’s doctrine of “complementarianism” that calls for male leadership in the home and the church.

Particularly contentious is a widely observed prohibition on women preaching in Southern Baptist churches. Those recently defying that policy include Beth Moore, a prominent author and evangelist who runs a Houston-based ministry for women.

Beth Moore hinted on Twitter in April that she was preaching a Mother’s Day sermon at a Southern Baptist church, which drew rebukes from some SBC theologians.

“For a woman to teach and preach to adult men is to defy God’s Word,” wrote Owen Strachan, a professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “Elders must not allow such a sinful practice.”

Beth Moore responded with a series of tweets on May 11, questioning the motives of SBC leaders seeking to limit women’s roles.

“All these years I’d given the benefit of the doubt that these men were the way they were because they were trying to be obedient to Scripture,” Beth Moore tweeted.

“Then I realized it was not over Scripture at all. It was over sin…. It was over misogyny. Sexism. It was about arrogance. About protecting systems. It involved covering abuses & misuses of power.”

Several male Southern Baptist pastors have aligned themselves with activist women in decrying sex abuse and limits on women’s leadership roles.

Among them is Wade Burleson, a pastor from Enid, Oklahoma, who contends that gifted women should be encouraged to serve in the ministry on an equal basis with men.

“The sooner we learn that men can learn spiritual truths from women, the better off we are,” Burleson wrote on his blog, adding that he would welcome Beth Moore preaching at his church.

The Rev. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says SBC leaders will not soften the prohibition on women serving as pastors.

“When it comes to questions short of that, there’s going to be a robust Southern Baptist discussion,” he said.

Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-5085f6af1ab34a51b4d4b3ba0c863a1a Sex abuse crisis tops agenda as Southern Baptists convene fox-news/us/religion/christianity fox-news/us/crime fnc/us fnc ed600fb4-73fe-5202-a6ab-b870cdbfdfdd DAVID CRARY Associated Press article   Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-5085f6af1ab34a51b4d4b3ba0c863a1a Sex abuse crisis tops agenda as Southern Baptists convene fox-news/us/religion/christianity fox-news/us/crime fnc/us fnc ed600fb4-73fe-5202-a6ab-b870cdbfdfdd DAVID CRARY Associated Press article

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Laurie Crouch: We really are better together, ladies — Thank God for female friendships

Sociologists have devoted many hours and words to detangling the mysteries of female friendships. As a wife, mother, daughter and friend that’s been on this earth for a few decades now and participated in many successful — and maaaybe a few possible failed — friendships, there’s a thing or two I could share to save them some time and energy.

Sometimes we make friendship way more difficult than it needs to be.

We avoid confrontation at all costs.

AMERICAN WOMAN, 21, BECOMES YOUNGEST PERSON TO VISIT EVERY COUNTRY

And yes, we always to go the restroom in pairs because that short trip really is better with a friend in tow.

One thing that always remains are the girlfriends God gives you to help you walk through these seasons. We need each other. 

But above all, the one thing about women that I believe more than anything else is this: we’re better together.

We’re better when we listen without an agenda.

We’re better when we support instead of compete with each other.

We’re better when we lock arms and stand up for each other’s children.

We’re better when we do whatever it takes to point each other to Christ.

Westlake Legal Group Laurie-Crouch Laurie Crouch: We really are better together, ladies -- Thank God for female friendships Laurie Crouch fox-news/us/religion/christianity fox-news/opinion fox-news/faith-values/family fox-news/faith-values/faith fox news fnc/opinion fnc article 1a68f846-c5d4-503c-bf14-9e7d79ef1c54

Jenn Johnson, Christine Caine, Laurie Crouch, Dianna Nepstad, and Alex Seeley on the set of Better Together. (Pictured left to right.)

As one author found, women, though thought to be less competitive than men, really just compete with a different currency: we value the degree to which one is privy to the details of her friends’ lives—which is what makes us so prone to gossip.

But the other side of that coin is that women are relational. We care — deeply. And while there might be an underlying drive tinged with a hint of competition, overall, women tend to love each other well. (And mostly hold close each other’s confidences!)

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-06-06-at-10.54.09-PM Laurie Crouch: We really are better together, ladies -- Thank God for female friendships Laurie Crouch fox-news/us/religion/christianity fox-news/opinion fox-news/faith-values/family fox-news/faith-values/faith fox news fnc/opinion fnc article 1a68f846-c5d4-503c-bf14-9e7d79ef1c54

Laurie Crouch (TBN © 2019)

I am fortunate to be surrounded by a group of women who are committed to being there for each other. We’re all different ages and in different stages of life, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t relate. It does mean, however, that sometimes friendship might look a little different or require a bit more effort for one of us than it does for another. But thankfully, there is much love and grace for each other on our journey.

Here are a few ways these women make me better.

They challenge me. As a follower of Christ, I am called to be in relationship with others. The other women in my close circle are Christians, too, and not only challenge me to be a better Christian by reflecting Christ in our personal relationships, but also by reaching out to those who don’t share our faith. They challenge me to be a better mother, a better servant, and a better friend, oftentimes by doing nothing more than being an excellent model of each of these things.

They support me. These women know what’s going on in my life and are my go-to support system. They send me quick text messages to check in on me. They lend a helping hand when they’re able. They pray for me and let me know when they’re thinking about me. They don’t let me walk through this life alone.

They love me. Love can look like many things. For these women, it looks like forgiving me for my shortcomings. It looks like showing up during a stormy season. It looks like holding my hand while I mourn a loss. It looks like giving me their honest opinion and wise advice. These women are Jesus in the flesh when I need Him most.

They encourage me in the Lord. These women know me and they know my heart, therefore, they also know when I need to be reminded of what the Word says about my situation. Their friendship not only makes me a better friend — it makes me a better follower of Christ.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-06-06-at-10.55.46-PM Laurie Crouch: We really are better together, ladies -- Thank God for female friendships Laurie Crouch fox-news/us/religion/christianity fox-news/opinion fox-news/faith-values/family fox-news/faith-values/faith fox news fnc/opinion fnc article 1a68f846-c5d4-503c-bf14-9e7d79ef1c54

On “Better Together,” Laurie Crouch gathers her friends for uplifting conversations (TBN © 2019)

These women do these things for me, and it’s my joy and privilege to do the same for them. We’re meant to walk through this life in community, sharing in each other’s joy and sorrows. We’re meant to be better together.

And as summertime is upon is, mamas with school-aged children will revel in more quality time with their children. I was one of those that was always so excited for summer to start, anticipating the many adventures awaiting us over those special days.

I think if we could just remember to view these days as fresh opportunities to make lasting memories with our kids, it will help you get through the full and sometimes stressful moments that can come along with all the free time they have! Just soak it all up because in the blink of an eye, they’re grown and getting married and out of your house!

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One thing that always remains through these changes are the girlfriends God gives you to help you walk through these seasons. We need each other.

Take a minute to identify the women in your life who make you better. Whether they’re mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, or all of the above, these women have shaped us into who we are today and will help us make it through to tomorrow (judgment free!). Don’t let today go by without thanking your tribe for doing life with you. We’re really better together.

Westlake Legal Group Laurie-Crouch Laurie Crouch: We really are better together, ladies -- Thank God for female friendships Laurie Crouch fox-news/us/religion/christianity fox-news/opinion fox-news/faith-values/family fox-news/faith-values/faith fox news fnc/opinion fnc article 1a68f846-c5d4-503c-bf14-9e7d79ef1c54   Westlake Legal Group Laurie-Crouch Laurie Crouch: We really are better together, ladies -- Thank God for female friendships Laurie Crouch fox-news/us/religion/christianity fox-news/opinion fox-news/faith-values/family fox-news/faith-values/faith fox news fnc/opinion fnc article 1a68f846-c5d4-503c-bf14-9e7d79ef1c54

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Mexican church leader still its ‘apostle’ after rape arrest

The Mexico-based La Luz del Mundo church said Wednesday that its leader and “apostle” Naasón Joaquín García, who was arrested in California on charges of human trafficking and child rape, remains the spiritual leader of the group, which claims 5 million followers in 58 countries. It also strongly denied the charges.

“We believe these accusations are defamation and slander of our international director, the apostle of Jesus Christ,” said church spokesman Silem García, who is not related to Joaquín García. “His position as apostle of Jesus Christ was given to him by God, and for life, and he continues to lead the church.”

Joaquín García, 50, and a follower of the church, Susana Medina Oaxaca, 24, were arrested Monday after their chartered flight from Mexico landed at Los Angeles International Airport.

A third defendant, Alondra Ocampo, 36, was arrested in Los Angeles County and a fourth, Azalea Rangel Melendez, remains at large.

The group faces a 26-count felony complaint with allegations that range from human trafficking and production of child pornography to rape of a minor. The charges detail allegations involving three girls and one woman between 2015 and 2018 in Los Angeles County.

A judge raised Joaquín García’s bail Tuesday from $25 million to $50 million after investigators conducted additional search warrants.

His attorney, Dmitry Gorin, said he’s had murder cases with lower bail and called the figure “outrageous” and “unreasonable” Wednesday at Joaquín García’s arraignment in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The defendants’ arraignment was extended to next Monday. They did not enter pleas at the hearing, where family members — including Joaquín García’s wife and three children — and more than a dozen congregants were in the audience.

Joaquín García answered Judge Francis Bennett’s questions through a Spanish interpreter while his co-defendants responded softly in English. His family waved as he walked out of the courtroom before a bailiff admonished them.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra scheduled a news conference in Sacramento on Thursday to urge additional victims to come forward.

The fundamentalist Christian church, whose name translates to The Light of the World, was founded in 1926 by Joaquin García’s grandfather. His father also led the church and was the subject of child sex abuse allegations in 1997, but authorities in Mexico never filed criminal charges.

The accusations were particularly painful for a church that has tried to cultivate an image for its law-abiding, hard-working, conservatively-dressing people in Mexico — a country where it claims about 1.8 million followers. Its male members favor suits and short hair, and female members wear veils that cover their hair and modest dresses. There are about 1 million U.S. members.

“We have always encouraged prayer, honesty,” said Mexico City church member Ruben Barrera. “Look at the way we dress, it is very honest, the haircuts, the way the women dress. We practice what we preach.”

Barrera said that based on his knowledge of Joaquín García’s life, he believes the accusations are “categorically” false.

The church has itself been the subject of discrimination in Mexico, in part because it has recruited significantly from Mexico’s lower classes and because many in the predominantly Roman Catholic Country are suspicious of religious minorities.

But in the western city of Guadalajara where it is based, housewives seek out Luz del Mundo followers to work as maids, because of their reputation for honesty. When asked why the church has so many well-appointed temples in Mexico, García, the spokesman said “that is because the faithful” — many of whom are construction workers — “are the ones who do the construction.”

Around 1,000 worshippers gathered at the headquarters of La Luz del beginning in Guadalajara beginning Tuesday evening to pray for Joaquín García as he was held in Los Angeles. Religious services were held hourly in its white, wedding cake-like cathedral.

Nicolás Menchaca, another spokesman, said the church trusts the justice system in California: “We believe they will do their job and that they will arrive at a favorable conclusion.”

Joaquín Garcia is named in 14 counts and Ocampo in 21. Oaxaca and Melendez are each named in two counts.

Joaquín García — who was a minister in Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California before becoming the church’s leader — coerced the victims into performing sex acts by telling them that refusing would be going against God, authorities said.

He allegedly forced the victims, who were members of the church, to sexually touch themselves and each other. One of his co-defendants also allegedly took nude photographs of the victims and sent the pictures to García, the criminal complaint said.

Joaquín García told one of the victims and others in 2017, after they had completed a “flirty” dance wearing “as little clothing as possible,” that kings can have mistresses and an apostle of God cannot be judged for his actions, the complaint stated.

“Crimes like those alleged in this complaint have no place in our society. Period,” Becerra, the California attorney general, said in a statement. “We must not turn a blind eye to sexual violence and trafficking in our state.”

The attorney general’s investigation began in 2018, prompted in part by a tip to the California Department of Justice through an online clergy abuse complaint form.

The arrest is sure to prove an embarrassment for Mexico, in part because similar allegations have never resulted in charges there and in part because the church has long had political influence.

“It shows the enormous difference between the quality of law enforcement in Mexico and the United States,” said sociologist Bernardo Barranco of the Center for the Study of Religions in Mexico. “In Mexico, unfortunately, there is an innate protection for clergy, not just for the Luz del Mundo.”

In May, an opera concert at Palacio de Bellas Artes, the main cultural venue in Mexico, generated controversy because in some places it was presented as a tribute to Joaquin García. Critics said a secular state such as Mexico should not use a public place for that purpose.

The work, “The Guardian of the Mirror,” was broadcast on social networks and screened outside the Palace, with the church’s followers in the audience.

La Luz del Mundo denied that it was an homage and said the opinions expressed in social networks were not promoted by the institution.

Mexico’s former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI, long supported Luz del Mundo as a counterweight to the Roman Catholic Church, whose followers led an armed uprising against anti-clerical laws in the 1920s.

That relationship cooled after the PRI became friendlier with the Catholic church between 2012 and 2018, but new leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has shown more openness to protestant and evangelical churches than his predecessors. He took office late last year.

Asked about the arrest on Wednesday, Lopez Obrador said “we didn’t know, or at least authorities didn’t have information, about what was made public yesterday,” adding “my conscience is clear.”

___

Dazio reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writer Rogelio Navarro in Guadalajara, Mexico, contributed to this report.

Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-fcb187c0ad6e4016bdf1b60bf543112d Mexican church leader still its 'apostle' after rape arrest MARK STEVENSON and STEFANIE DAZIO fox-news/us/religion/christianity fox-news/us/crime fnc/us fnc Associated Press article 54107442-9511-5d28-92b1-34fc6b09f572   Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-fcb187c0ad6e4016bdf1b60bf543112d Mexican church leader still its 'apostle' after rape arrest MARK STEVENSON and STEFANIE DAZIO fox-news/us/religion/christianity fox-news/us/crime fnc/us fnc Associated Press article 54107442-9511-5d28-92b1-34fc6b09f572

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Federal lawsuit filed against Arizona anti-immigrant groups

Members of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim groups known to protest and harass Christian Arizona churches that aid immigrant families on behalf of the federal government were sued Tuesday by a national organization that monitors extremist and hate groups.

The lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center against several members of Patriot Movement AZ and AZ Patriots seeks unspecified punitive damages and asks a federal judge to order them to stop their practices. The lawsuit says the groups conspired to violate the churches’ civil rights, defamed the pastors and trespassed on private property.

The SPLC and pastors from various Phoenix-area churches say members of the group accused church leaders of human and sex trafficking, trespassed on private property and refused to leave until police arrived. It also claims they secretly recorded immigrant children who were playing outside.

They contend the groups’ actions made it more difficult to recruit volunteers and led to some churches to cut back on helping.

Angel Campos, pastor at Iglesia Monte Vista in Phoenix, said he’s had to buy surveillance video equipment and walkie-talkies to keep himself and his volunteers safe. Campos said he is afraid and frustrated when the groups show up to his church to film government buses dropping off migrants. Some of them are visibly armed, he said.

“As a human being, it’s horrible to go to sleep and to keep one eye open because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Campos said.

Patriot Movement AZ told The Associated Press it has no comment “on frivolous lawsuits filed by illegitimate groups such as SPLC.”

AZ Patriots, an offshoot of the group that formed earlier this year, did not respond to messages sent via email and Facebook.

Most of the recent videos the groups posted on their public Facebook accounts show them at the border or in Mexico. The last video that was posted of them at a church appears to be in March.

In one video from January, Patriot Movement AZ members at first refused to leave church property as a bus dropped off migrant families. They then backed away but yelled at the church members, claiming they were breaking the law and should be ashamed of themselves.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement asked the churches to step in as its resources were strained because of a soaring number of largely Central American families arriving at the border. ICE drops the families off at various churches and nonprofit groups, which then provide temporary shelter, help with travel arrangements, food, diapers and clothing.

The families pass through Arizona but most have final destinations elsewhere.

The churches and volunteer groups have a capacity to shelter around 700 people a week in the Phoenix area. When the groups are at capacity, ICE drops migrant families off at the bus station, where they must fend for themselves.

The Border Patrol arrested over 248,000 families with children from October through April, the last available data. That’s a 400% increase over the same time last year.

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Bishop faces backlash after tweet about Pride Month

Rhode Island’s Roman Catholic bishop on Sunday defended a tweet urging Catholics to not support or attend LGBTQ Pride Month events, saying it was his obligation to teach the faith “clearly and compassionately, even on very difficult and sensitive issues.”

Diocese of Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin sparked a backlash beginning Saturday when he tweeted, “A reminder that Catholics should not support or attend LGBTQ ‘Pride Month’ events held in June. They promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Catholic faith and morals. They are especially harmful for children.”

The posting spurred rebukes by thousands of people who replied on Twitter, including actresses Mia Farrow and Patricia Arquette. Many invoked the scandals of clergy sexual abuse of children in the church.

“This is pure ignorance & bigotry,” Farrow wrote. “Ignore this hate-filled hypocrite. His mind set leads only to suffering. He brings to mind those priests who molested my brothers. Of COURSE we should embrace our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and children. Jesus spoke of love.”

Arquette tweeted, “Shame on you. LGBT kids are thrown out on the streets and abandoned because of poisonous thinking like yours.”

The diocese on Sunday released a statement by Tobin.

“I regret that my comments yesterday about Pride Month have turned out to be so controversial in our community, and offensive to some, especially the gay community,” Tobin said. “That certainly was not my intention, but I understand why a good number of individuals have taken offense. I also acknowledge and appreciate the widespread support I have received on this matter.”

Tobin added that he and the Catholic Church have “respect and love for members of the gay community.”

“As a Catholic Bishop, however, my obligation before God is to lead the faithful entrusted to my care and to teach the faith, clearly and compassionately, even on very difficult and sensitive issues,” he said.

As of Sunday afternoon, 69,000 people had replied to the tweet, about 15,800 liked it and nearly 4,700 retweeted it. Many of those who replied supported the bishop.

The LGBTQ group Rhode Island Pride held a rally outside the diocese’s headquarters in Providence on Sunday evening.

“Jesus never said a word about homosexuality, about Pride, or the Queer community,” the group’s president, Joe Lazzerini, said in a statement. “Rhode Island Pride respectfully calls on Bishop Tobin to do some self-reflection as the majority of Catholic Rhode Islanders in this state reject the idea that to be Catholic is to be complicit to intolerance, bigotry, and fear.

“Bishop Tobin doesn’t represent the majority of Rhode Island Catholics who support the LGBTQIA+ community in Rhode Island,” he wrote.

Tobin is a conservative bishop who has said that he was aware of incidents of sexual abuse reported to church officials while working in Pennsylvania, but that it wasn’t his job to deal with them. He was auxiliary bishop of Pittsburgh from 1992 until 1996. A Pennsylvania grand jury report last year detailed decades of abuse and cover-up in six dioceses, including the Pittsburgh diocese.

In July 2018, Tobin deleted his Twitter account, calling it a major distraction, an obstacle to his spiritual life and an “occasion of sin” for himself and others. But he resumed tweeting in January, according to his current Twitter account.

Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-58f929191f8a49fba998e132bc30b8d8 Bishop faces backlash after tweet about Pride Month PROVIDENCE, R.I. fox-news/us/religion/christianity fox-news/us/crime fnc/us fnc Associated Press article 84f83061-ec3e-50fc-ae9a-4e7ec78c67aa   Westlake Legal Group ContentBroker_contentid-58f929191f8a49fba998e132bc30b8d8 Bishop faces backlash after tweet about Pride Month PROVIDENCE, R.I. fox-news/us/religion/christianity fox-news/us/crime fnc/us fnc Associated Press article 84f83061-ec3e-50fc-ae9a-4e7ec78c67aa

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The Latest: Alabama inmate executed for killing preacher

The Latest on the scheduled execution of an Alabama inmate (all times local):

7:35 p.m.

A man convicted of using a sword and knife to kill a country preacher during a robbery has been executed in Alabama, weeks after he was initially scheduled to die.

Christopher Lee Price was killed by lethal injection on Thursday night.

The 46-year-old Price was nearly put to death in April before an execution warrant expired. He had sought a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court based on a challenge to Alabama’s method of using three drugs during lethal injections.

Price was convicted of killing Bill Lynn, a Church of Christ minister in rural Fayette County, on Dec. 22, 1991. Lynn’s wife testified she looked out a window and saw someone dressed in black holding a sword above her husband’s head.

Price becomes the second Alabama inmate executed in two weeks.

___

6:35 p.m.

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to block the execution of an Alabama inmate.

The decision means the state can proceed with the execution of 46-year-old Christopher Lee Price. But the execution is being temporarily delayed anyway.

Prison spokesman Bob Horton says officers are taking longer than expected to prepare 46-year-old Christopher Lee Price for a lethal injection on Thursday night.

The preparation includes strapping the inmate to a gurney and inserting a needle into one of his arms for the delivery of three chemicals.

Price was condemned for the 1991 slaying of a pastor.

___

5:15 p.m.

An Alabama inmate set to die for a 1991 slaying has apologized to the victim’s relatives hours before his scheduled execution.

A lawyer for Christopher Lee Price, Aaron Katz, released a statement from Price saying he was “so terribly sorry” for killing minister Bill Lynn. The statement ends with: “Nobody deserves that.”

The 46-year-old Price was convicted of using a sword and knife to kill Lynn during a robbery. Another man who pleaded guilty in the slaying is serving a life sentence.

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering Price’s request for a delay, but the state is asking to proceed with the execution.

Officials say relatives of both Price and Lynn plan to witness his lethal injection, but they will be inside separate viewing rooms at Holman Prison.

___

5 p.m.

An Alabama death row inmate is visiting with relatives hours before his scheduled execution.

Department of Corrections spokesman Bob Horton says 46-year-old Christopher Lee Price was visited by his wife, uncle and an attorney before he was scheduled to receive a lethal injection at Holman prison on Thursday night.

Horton says those three plan to witness the execution, plus two cousins of Price.

Relatives of Price’s victim, Church of Christ pastor Bill Lynn, also plan to attend. Their relationship to Lynn wasn’t disclosed.

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a stay request from Price, who was nearly executed last month before the execution warrant expired. The state is asking the court to let the execution go forward.

Horton says Price requested a final meal of four pints of ice cream.

___

12:05 p.m.

The state of Alabama is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to let it proceed with an execution scheduled for Thursday night.

State attorneys argue in court papers that Christopher Lee Price is bringing up issues that have already been decided as he tries to block his lethal injection.

Price narrowly missed being executed last month before the death warrant expired amid court reviews. The state says what it calls “delay tactics” shouldn’t be rewarded again.

The 46-year-old Price was convicted of using a sword and knife to kill minister Bill Lynn during a 1991 Christmastime robbery.

___

7:45 a.m.

An Alabama inmate is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to delay his execution set for Thursday night.

Attorneys for Christopher Lee Price are seeking a stay by arguing that his federal lawsuit challenging Alabama’s lethal injection method is set for trial on June 10.

They say the trial should be allowed to happen and would probably end in Price’s favor.

The state contends Price is raising issues that have already been decided, and lower courts have refused to postpone the execution.

The 46-year-old Price was convicted of using a sword and knife to kill country preacher Bill Lynn during a 1991 Christmastime robbery.

Price would become the second inmate put to death in Alabama in two weeks.

___

12:15 a.m.

A man who was nearly put to death before an execution warrant expired last month is again set to die by lethal injection in Alabama.

The execution of 46-year-old Christopher Lee Price is scheduled for Thursday night.

He was convicted of using a sword and knife to kill a country preacher during a Christmastime robbery almost three decades ago.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused a stay on Wednesday for Price, who is challenging the state’s method of using three drugs during lethal injections. He could again ask the Supreme Court to intervene.

Price was convicted of killing of Bill Lynn, a Church of Christ minister in rural Fayette County, on Dec. 22, 1991.

Price would become the second Alabama inmate executed in two weeks.

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Paul Batura: Quarterback Bart Starr was humble and meek in an age of oversized egos and misplaced priorities

Westlake Legal Group 694940094001_6041285921001_6041285844001-vs Paul Batura: Quarterback Bart Starr was humble and meek in an age of oversized egos and misplaced priorities Paul Batura fox-news/us/religion/christianity fox-news/sports/nfl fox-news/opinion fox-news/faith-values fox news fnc/opinion fnc b1ab2622-c4fc-587f-9dea-70b9f0e86a53 article

The death Sunday of Bart Starr, the legendary Green Bay Packers quarterback, was met with headlines befitting his Hall of Fame football career. But he was much more than a great football player.

Starr, who was 85 when he died, was an obscure 17th round draft pick out of the University of Alabama in 1956. He went on to lead the Packers to 82 victories, including six division titles and two NFL championships, along with wins in the first two Super Bowls of the modern football era.

In the midst of Starr’s unlikely rise and for decades afterward, the quarterback continuously gave the credit to his coach in Green Bay – the man of near mythological sports stature, Vince Lombardi.

BART STARR, LEGENDARY 1960’S GREEN BAY PACKERS QUARTERBACK, DIES AT 85

“I owe my football life to Coach Lombardi,” Starr said. “He developed me, motivated me, stayed with me, built my confidence.”

Asked at the time of his meteoric rise for the secret to his football success, the son of a World War II veteran downplayed his athletic talents, saying: “One thing I’ve got in my favor is that I never had the natural ability that the others did.”

That wasn’t just false humility, either. From beginning to end, Starr’s life was marked by a belief that wins only came from hard work. Most importantly, though, Starr didn’t only measure success by victories on the gridiron.

A man of deep Christian faith, the quarterback turned commentator and NFL head coach wasn’t shy about sharing his priorities in life.

“Like most kids,” he once wrote, “I idolized one sports figure or another. However, Jesus was the ultimate role model for me. Regardless of the success I have experienced, if my life does not exhibit God’s love, it becomes less meaningful.”

A man of deep Christian faith, the quarterback turned commentator and NFL head coach wasn’t shy about sharing his priorities in life.

In an age of oversized egos and misplaced priorities, Starr’s words fall like a soft rain on a warm summer’s day.

He put principled actions behind his words, helping in 1965 to fund and start the Rawhide Boys Ranch, a non-profit faith-based residential care and outpatient mental health services facility “dedicated to helping at-risk youth and their families lead healthy, responsible lives.”

In a statement upon his death, Starr’s family said: “While he may always be best known for his success as the Packers quarterback for 16 years, his true legacy will always be the respectful manner in which he treated every person he met, his humble demeanor, and his generous spirit.”

Humility, which Starr possessed in spades, is not only in short supply these days, it’s often misunderstood. From politicians to pundits and the boardroom to the Little League ballfield, I get the sense the trait is viewed as something akin to passivity – a negative characteristic denoting weakness.

In other words, humble people may be nice – but nice guys often finish last.

Just this past weekend, a friend with whom I help coach my son’s baseball team asked the opposing manager if it was his son on the mound, who at the time was throwing a good game against our squad.

“What do you think?” he responded tartly, adding, “He’s been recruited since he was 11 – and he’s also a great drummer, just like his dad.”

Clearly, humility isn’t this guy’s strong suit. An inning later the boy was unceremoniously removed from the game after our team began to lengthen its lead.

Bart Starr was very familiar with Jesus’ longest and famous recorded lesson, otherwise known as “The Sermon on the Mount.”  Speaking to both His followers and curious onlookers, Jesus stated: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

In modern parlance, meekness is perceived even more negatively than humility. But taken in its intended biblical context, meekness isn’t defined as weakness – it’s actually strength brought under control.

Meekness is wanting the right thing for the right reasons rather than having to be right. It’s a quiet confidence – a steely resolve and steadfastness that lasts long after the hype and headlines fizzle.

Lest anyone think Starr allowed himself to be rolled, the story is told of the quarterback once addressing his dissatisfaction with a contract offer after the 1962 season. Stepping into Lombardi’s office, Starr got straight to the point.

“Coach,” Starr said, “a couple of years ago I’d have signed just about anything you gave me. But now you’ve taught me to be more aggressive and self‐assertive, and you’ve given me more confidence.”

He received the desired raise.

Eight years later, on September 7, 1970, Starr, along with the royalty of NFL football, sat inside New York City’s famed St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the funeral of the legendary Lombardi.

New York Archbishop Cardinal Terence Cooke remarked that the Bible often speaks of life in athletic terms.

“St. Paul preached the virtues of the athlete – a strong sense of responsibility and integrity, of dedication and teamwork, exemplary conduct and good example, respect for every human being rooted in a firm belief in God‐given values and principles and an unwavering adherence to the ultimate goal,” the cardinal said.

He concluded: “And how important it is for us to have the dynamic Christian spirit of Vince Lombardi in meeting the challenge of our day. How important it is for us today to live these virtues of the athlete in our lives. How important it is for us to teach these virtues by our example, as Vince Lombardi did, to the youth of today who are the men and women of the future.”

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What was said of Lombardi then can be said of Bart Starr now. His long and eventful life has drawn to a close, his journey complete. Most importantly, though, it ends well – not unlike his many victories on the gridiron and the ultimate and eternal one that meant the most to him.

I don’t know what Bart Starr’s last words were, but the apostle Paul’s declaration comes to mind: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

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Westlake Legal Group 694940094001_6041285921001_6041285844001-vs Paul Batura: Quarterback Bart Starr was humble and meek in an age of oversized egos and misplaced priorities Paul Batura fox-news/us/religion/christianity fox-news/sports/nfl fox-news/opinion fox-news/faith-values fox news fnc/opinion fnc b1ab2622-c4fc-587f-9dea-70b9f0e86a53 article   Westlake Legal Group 694940094001_6041285921001_6041285844001-vs Paul Batura: Quarterback Bart Starr was humble and meek in an age of oversized egos and misplaced priorities Paul Batura fox-news/us/religion/christianity fox-news/sports/nfl fox-news/opinion fox-news/faith-values fox news fnc/opinion fnc b1ab2622-c4fc-587f-9dea-70b9f0e86a53 article

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