Opinion

Donald Trump’s favorite televangelist

Paula White speaks at her church, New Destiny Christian Center, on Jan. 1, 2017, in Apopka, Fla. RNS photo by Sarah M. Brown

APOPKA, Fla. (RNS) On New Year’s Day, the colorful and controversial televangelist Paula White faced her congregation at New Destiny Christian Center and predicted the changes coming to society in 2017 — to the church, the economy, the government.

Near the end of the litany, she told her predominantly African-American megachurch members just outside Orlando: “God is not going to change the government. He’s going to send someone to do it.”

From White’s perspective, that may already be underway, a prophecy fulfilled.

For most people in America, including most churchgoers, Paula White is not yet a familiar name. That may change Jan. 20, when she delivers an invocation at the inauguration of Donald Trump.

“I will be humbled to stand shoulder to shoulder on stage with the new administration, other distinguished men and women of faith, and with the great sea of witnesses watching around the country and around the world who continue to pray for God to bless America,” she said in a statement last week.

“On that sacred day, we will ask God to guide our leaders with wisdom and strength and that He would richly bless our extraordinary home, the United States of America.”

White, an early and enthusiastic Trump backer, organized national gatherings of evangelical leaders on his behalf and spoke at a Trump rally on the campus of the University of Central Florida. She also delivered the benediction on the first night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

White will be only the second woman to pray at an inauguration. And, together with Bishop Wayne T. Jackson of Great Faith Ministries International, who will deliver another of the inaugural benedictions, she will be among the few outspoken advocates of the “prosperity gospel” to appear at an inaugural in recent memory.

The prosperity gospel is a controversial theology that views the cosmos as the equivalent of a divine slot machine, but with a guaranteed payoff. That is, you contribute a “seed offering” to the church and the pastor, and riches follow. If the giving is sometimes “sacrificial” — more than you can afford — so be it.

As recently as last week, White sent an email appeal to ministry supporters, asking them to contribute some “first fruits” of their harvest.

“God is speaking clearly to someone right now. Do not hesitate. Your sacrificial offering will be a seed for blessings for the remainder of the year. According to Ezekiel 44, when you present your First Fruits offering, it will cause a blessing to rest upon your house!”

White has drawn strong criticism within the evangelical community. Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore has denounced her as a “charlatan” and a “heretic” for endorsing the prosperity gospel.

Evangelical blogger Erick Erickson wrote, “I’d rather a Hindu pray on Inauguration Day and not risk the souls of men, than one whose heresy lures in souls with promises of comfort only to damn them in eternity.”

In an aside, perhaps responding to such criticism, White told some 400 New Destiny worshippers in the cavernous sanctuary Sunday (Jan. 1), “I don’t believe prosperity is money.” Rather, she says, it is well-being.

White differs fundamentally from other prominent evangelical Trump backers, such as Jerry Falwell Jr., of Liberty University; Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas; and Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C.

Although Politico magazine described her as Trump’s “God whisperer,” White has thus far shown no interest in power or political influence, no desire to set social policy or pick future Supreme Court justices.

What she does care about is flash, and her long-standing personal connection to the president-elect.

But the main thing White shares with Trump – apart from faith, which some in the religious community doubt – is the celebrity gene.

She came to Trump’s attention 14 years ago when he saw her television talk show, “Paula White Today,” on a religious network. One academic researcher dubbed her “the ‘Oprah’ of the evangelical world.” Trump was later invited to appear on White’s show to plug one of his books, and he returned the favor by contributing an effusive blurb to one of hers, which is featured on her website.

There are other similarities between the televangelist and the president-elect, which may account for their mutual affinity. White, too, has been married three times, and several of her ministries have gone bankrupt.

Her high-rolling lifestyle enabled her to buy an apartment at Trump Tower; a $2.2 million bay-front home in Tampa, Fla.; and, for a time, a private jet. In 2007, she reported an income of $80,000 a week.

White’s fundraising practices have been the subject of a U.S. Senate investigation. And at one point she landed on the cover of the National Enquirer, which published a photo of her holding hands with fellow televangelist Benny Hinn on the front steps of a Rome hotel, where he was registered as “David Solomon.” White denied that there had been a tryst, and Hinn, who was separated but still married, insisted that nothing improper occurred. He later acknowledged that there had been “an inappropriate relationship” with White.

None of this has affected her survival as a minister, although until recently she has been a marginal figure on the national scene.

Like other Pentecostals, White speaks in tongues, prophesies and lays on healing hands. White’s message, in church and on camera, is standard-issue Christian uplift and self-help.

In her wrenching, frequently recounted personal testimony, she tells worshippers that if she was able to rise from poverty, physical and sexual abuse, promiscuity and drug abuse, so can they.

Yet White is anything but a standard-issue Pentecostal preacher.

On stage Sunday, the svelte blonde stalked the stage in her trademark thigh-high, suede boots with 4-inch stiletto heels. She demonstrated an ability to turn her delivery on a dime, nimbly shifting from the sassy to the scholarly. She compared the Bible’s Joseph to Nelson Mandela. To make her points, she stamped her foot, wagged her finger and chopped the air with her hand – an energetic preaching style that sometimes leaves her literally out of breath.

White does not hesitate to employ – or cultivate – her physicality and even sensuality, either in tight-fitting exercise wear on her television show, or in the pulpit. A Facebook fan described her as a “smokin’ Barbie,” a description she has come to embrace.

“Inside this little blond Barbie package is a pit bull!” she told the New Destiny congregation several months ago. In fact, she tells revivals, “I work my hips and lips.”

On Sunday, she made the same point.

“I don’t apologize for my lips and my heels,” she said from the pulpit.

For those New Destiny members who watch their pastor pray at the inaugural, it may be the first time they hear White actually say the words “Donald Trump.”

This Sunday, as at previous services and church events, she scrupulously avoided mentioning his name, as she has on her ministry’s official website, apart from the book blurb.

It could be a wise, tactical decision. According to exit polls, it’s unlikely that many of her African-American congregants shared her presidential choice.

(Orlando-based religion writer Mark I. Pinsky has covered Paula White since 2012. He is the author of the forthcoming ebook “The Gospel According to The Simpsons: A Newer Testament.”)

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Mark I. Pinsky

39 Comments

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  • I think it highly appropriate that a bible bashing pole dancer ‘pray’ at the fiasco.

    As Donna Summer sang – ‘She works hard for the money’. ONLY in America.

    You lot are complete nutters.

  • “I think it highly appropriate that a bible bashing pole dancer ‘pray’ at the fiasco.” lol That is an absolutely perfect comment.
    In probably aiming for political correctness, Trump is letting himself, and his country down. She is the perfect example of why women should not be in authority over men.

  • Is there a televangelist who is not greedy predatory scum? It pretty much is a requirement for the job.

    She is no different from Jim Bakker shilling for emergency food that refugees would reject, Pat Robertson and his pretensions of political power, or the dozens of preachers covering payments on gulfstream jets and luxury homes by browbeating poor, old and desperate people to fork over their money.

    There is nothing new under the sun.

  • Of course, Paula white is right there. Like her hero, she’s a scam artist. From Christian News Service:

    “Longtime televangelist and senior Pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Florida, Paula White offered her followers an Easter Sunday deliverance from a spiritual death sentence for a $1,144 “resurrection seed” she says was set by God.

    Preaching the story of Lazarus who Jesus resurrected from the dead in John 11:38-44, White promised believers in a video appeal that if they would sow the seed and have faith, she believed deliverance would come.”

    If you can’t afford 1144, she’ll take less. All in the name of god, of course.

    But equally of course, her god is mammon.

  • It is a coup for the women’s movement – she is only the second woman to lead prayer at a presidential inauguration.

  • What does it say about Trump’s supposed born-again status that the woman who supposedly converted him is Paula White?

  • Something’s really off here, possibly fake-newsy even, I don’t know.  I mean, if, as Mark I. Pinsky cautions, Paula “White has drawn strong criticism within the evangelical community”, within which “it’s unlikely that many of her African-American congregants shared her presidential choice” – why not also warn about Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Rabbi Marvin Hier, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, and Rev. Franklin Graham?  Aren’t existing reports out there saying they’re all as controversial & critique-deserving figures as Paula White anyway?  So why pick only on her or, for that matter, even scapegoat anybody at all?!  Let me guess: Maybe the PaulaWhiteGate scandalizer-wannabes have only come from the pro-Hillary or anti-Trump voting Evangelical population in good ol’ America, who – God forbid – have been using conservative Christianity for liberal political ends? No wonder the likes of Washington Post, Huffington Post and Salon are just loving this politically exploitable, anti-Trump situation stirring up within the conservative Christian communities, the majority of whom booted out Hillary Clinton. Hoping to divide & conquer them, maybe? – so as to avenge her pathetic electoral defeat & delegitimize PEOTUS.  Between the lines, isn’t this what this “(COMMENTARY)” is actually all about?

  • Perfect!

    These demonically greedy ‘Christian’ politicians, preachers – Satanic trash all – and their duped, babbling supporters are knowingly or unknowingly the antichrists that their Bible speaks of. Those in place of Christ, claiming or representing Christ while intentionally confusing, deluding, deceiving, manipulating, exploiting…betraying and working evil on the world …not some fantasized, comic-book-like, delusional bs about a magic man giving everyone a 666 while blowing up tanks with lightning bolts coming from his fingertips.
    They prey on the ignorant and simple minded, intentionally using faith and God for political/monetary gain, which is abominable, blasphemous and satanic! I won’t even go into the Catholic church’s chronic pedophilia, bath houses, mafia money laundering, etc.
    They are about as ‘spirit led’ as trump’s pe nis – about as inquisitive as a hammer. They’ve regressed to a paranoid Religion, a delusional cult fantasizing in primitive, dreamy, hair-splittin ‘theological’ bs, detached from truth/God, drivin by fear and hate, politicized and nationalized, motivated by rhetoric and propaganda. The average one would support a filthy rich, tax-dodging, “two” Corinthians, puzzy grabbin, blasphemous sexual predator – a real anti-christ who says “I don’t need much forgiveness b/c I don’t make mistakes”, while their bible explicitly describes him and their eventual following! Most of the spiritually dead priests and preachers supporting him share his characteristics of sexual prowess and greed of money.
    And they will be mindlessly worshiping and glorifying him soon, when a do-nothing congress finally writes an infrastructure bill creating millions of blue and white collar ‘jobs’ that they callously refused to do when their “Obama is not one of us, no birth certificate, antichrist, sharia law, undercover moo’slum mole is gonna take our guns and destroy our country and take our wealth to Kenya” – intentional lies, slander, mockery, condemnation, ridicule, deception, manipulation, distraction – exploitation and betrayal started. The architects of ‘Fake News’.
    And while these spiritually dead, self righteous pharisees gleefully worship him, they will continue exploiting God as their global destruction and genocidal horror for wealth continues. “..he makes war with peace …he destroys wonderfully with peace”.

  • Given his past history Trump’s attraction to Paula White was probably initiated by a visceral male response to her feminine pulchritude. Likewise her style of “preaching” appeals to the entrepreneur in him. Anyone truly serious abought gaining insight to the Christian faith would pass over Ms. White rather quickly.

  • The same could be said for Rodriguez who was accused of throwing his people under the bus in supporting Trump. Given that they are all more similar than different in certain ways to each other and to Trump and definitely not representative of the average minister/pastor, I think Paula White is the focus with her long term relationship with Trump as his spiritual advisor carrying inferences about Trump’s faith and weakening the evangelical narrative that Trump won by the hand of God.

  • Yes-this article is another “Hit Piece” sadly,equating Trump with her,even though she is 1 of 7 pastors to pray.Has any President ever been this “inclusive” to have 7 Faith leaders?And the 1st Catholic Bishop in 40 years.Trump’s faith is authentic and believe it or not Paula’s is too.Not that that is a defense for “Prosperity Gospel”.It’s unimaginable that any person anywhere falls for the “Sow a seed” BS.Benny is scum of the earth,I’m not sure if Paula at least does charity work,I bet she at least does some in the midst of making a personal fortune.All Christians know,if they study,that people through time have worshiped 3 false gods in place of the Holy Trinity-Money,Sex,and Power.Mammon is a demon-and a strong one.But DJT has real Faith and does have hands laid on him-and prayer,even from scoundrel’s is still prayer.The last Repub to run was a High-Ranking Mormon-satanic at the highest levels.Before that Bush’s who are Mason’s.It’s not like our country has had many prayerful leaders.Jimmy Carter was the only “Real” Christian that I know of.Trump may become the 2nd as funny as that sounds and Pence has absolute authentic Faith.Pence lays hands on DJT’s shoulders and they pray with groups all the time-100’s of times according to witnesses and film,so that is a huge deal.The surprise is Jerry Falwell Jr.-he is a really good and decent man and True Shepherd-not an Opportunist.This administration will pray and do some of God’s Inspired work.And guess what dishonest writer(s)?A lot of black people voted for Trump.What has Obama done for them?Nothing-not for his hometown especially.Trump won 83% of the Precincts in the US….you won’t hear that reported unless you read the news from Great Britain!!!

  • Or anyone who actually reads and believes the Bible’s promise about asking and receiving might be set up to fall for her nonsense. The one way to inoculate people against such nonsense is to get them to realize that nearly all of it is nonsense.

  • QUESTION: At the end of the day, on November 8, 2016, which from among many, many an “evangelical narrative” out there – including the one about Paula White and her Prosperity Gospel heresies – finally and decisively clinched it for Donald Trump in terms of an overall, state-by-state popular vote victory?

    ANSWER: The one “evangelical narrative” that really mattered and impacted wasn’t even religiously sectarian in nature.  It says that 81% of the Evangelical population in the States all “regarded him as the lesser of two evils” (ABC News Australia, Nov. 16, 2016).  And even if that wasn’t the real stat figure, still, “the majority voted for Trump because they did not like Clinton” (The Gospel Coalition, November 15, 2016).

    MEANING: Despising Paula White isn’t going to stop Evangelicals from despising Hillary Clinton!  It just isn’t enough for them even to now start hating Trump!  Not going to happen, but nice try, though, Mark I. Pinsky, HuffPo, WaPo and the rest of you anti-Trump MSM!

  • At least 3 of the 6 clergy to bray — er, pray — at the Trumpfest are awful. Graham is a sleaze, White is a con artist, and Dolan has done much to have his church avoid compensating the victims of the clergy sexual,abuse of minors.

  • In general Christian pastors of all denominations don’t have that great a track record.Same with teachers to a lesser degree and politicians to far more a degree.All Prosperity Gospel is ridiculous-anyone should know better.But that does not mean some of them are not “Believers”.People have all kinds of weaknesses and most of them “Fall” when it comes to money.I’m Catholic and have been in Healing and Deliverance Ministry for over 20 years.Laying Hands is good-taking money is not.All churches need some donations.As far as the Catholic Church (which is not just the Roman or Western Rite,but there are Orthodox and many branches of Eastern Rites which are technically Catholic) believe it or not they have had LESS Sexual Predators than Jews,Teachers,many protestant branches and even possibly Buddhists.But there WERE far more serial predators-and the Hierarchy covered for them,and reassigned them.Many or most were homosexual men and the minors they “molested” were young homosexuals who at times co-operated.This is called Pederasty as opposed to being a pedophile (like it appears John Podesta may be).I have never seen any evidence Cardinal Dolan was involved in any cover-ups.The last 2 Popes have cleaned things up considerably,but sadly by having a Celibate Priesthood it attracts homosexuals.Eastern Rite priests can marry.All Sexual Deviates want a younger person to defile sadly.There is no excuse for anyone of any Job Description doing this,and there is no excuse for people ripping off the flock.Despite this I don’t think Accusations against Dolan or Graham are fair.Paula is an open target for sure just by her friendship with Benny but I think she does do some good work.The important thing about Trump is he is willing to have so many types of pastors there and the Lying Narrative is that he is Prejudiced which is total BS.He has stuck up for women and minorities his whole life and there is mountains of evidence to back that up.Pence has real Deep Faith and Trump is getting there.As Billionaires go he is really not that bad a guy or arrogant despite his mouth at times.All Prosperity Gospel is bad news of course,but people should be smart enough to know better.People idolize other people too much and this is especially true of Religious people.But just look at all the young girls who look up to Rappers in our time.The girls will “Let Them” do anything because they are rich and famous-just like Trump said on the infamous audiotape.

  • Actually Trump’s biggest demographic win over Clinton compared to prior election outcomes by party was the white, non college-educated group and then whites in general – Republicans take the white vote anyway by a small to larger margin. And when you look at voting by faith, there is only a white evangelical category. But even in that group, 1 in 5 evangelicals still voted Hilary. Women were also more likely to vote Hilary over Trump. So, no, not all white Evangelicals ‘despised’ (your terminology suggests you are projecting your own feelings) Hilary – particularly if they had a college degree or were female. And some Evangelical leaders equally despised Trump. So perhaps, it is pick on Paula now because it is the white (male, non college educated evangelical) voters that this story would resonate the strongest with – and most likely to see her as an inappropriate religious representative at the inauguration.

  • Paula White is just another wolf in sheep’s clothing. But the sheep don’t have to follow her. There is nothing in the law requiring it. Their following is their choice.

  • Sorry to disappoint and sadden you, but nothing in the following profiling on this Last Great “white (male, non college educated evangelical)” Hope of yours would come close to suggesting that they’ll ever be swayed to renege on their PEOTUS & soon POTUS by the Paula White scandal-mongering, fake news being dumped & drain-flushed by both the now officially dead legacy mainstream media as well as their Evangelical echo chamber choir:

    “(Only) 41% of white evangelicals thought Trump was ‘a good role model’ …  55% thought he was ‘hard to like’ …  (Although) Trump’s shaky background on pro-life issues, awkward articulation of his personal faith, and reputation around women would turn away conservative Christians … party loyalty outweighed those concerns.” (Christianity Today, November 9, 2016)

    “A prominent evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem endorsed Trump, pulled back his endorsement after the video tapes (of Trump’s crude comments toward women) came out, then re-endorsed him.” (Washington Post, November 9, 2016)

    “Despite misgivings about Mr. Trump’s character, more than 75% of white evangelical women voted for him, according to the exit polls.” (Wall Street Journal, November 9, 2016)

    “… if we are seeking a fair and accurate representation of actual evangelicals, it’s important to distinguish them from those who do not truly subscribe to evangelical beliefs and practices” (Christian Post, November 16, 2016)

  • My mistake – changed part of a sentence without taking it through – I should have said least likely rather than most likely.

  • Enjoy your prosperity now, Sweetheart, because if you don’t repent, God will not be mocked. And God will judge harshly those who take His Word and use it to make themselves rich.

  • If one reads the full Holy Bible, one would realize that Christ and the disciples were not rich and did not strive to be rich.

  • I know nobody here does, not even his Christian Right exploiters out there, but I for one more than respect Donald J. Trump’s religious beliefs, which he has expressed in his own way in what follows (sorry for the length).  And I would love to share my Jesus-Save testimony personally with this POTUS one day, in return for what he has shared in public.

    “Paula White … has a significant message to offer anyone who will tune in and pay attention. …  Read this (All That: Understanding God’s Design for Your Life) and you’ll be ready for great success.” (CNN, Nov 26, 2007)

    “I believe in God. I am Christian. I think the Bible is certainly … ‘the’ book. …  I’m a Protestant, I’m a Presbyterian. …  I think religion is a wonderful thing. I think my religion is a wonderful religion.  …  we keep all of the Bibles …  I’m a Sunday church person. I’ll go when I can.” (Christian Today, 12 April 2011)

    “Mr. Trump will tell you, ‘I’m … a firm believer in the power of positive thinking. …  I refused to be sucked into negative thinking on any level, even when the indications weren’t great.'” (Ken McElroy, The Sleeping Giant, RDA, 2011)

    “I love God …  I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.  … When I drink my little wine (‘in Holy Communion’) — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed'” (CNN, July 18, 2015)

    “(As to) favorite book of all time …  Do you know what my first is? The Bible! Nothing beats the Bible.” (Washington Post, August 11, 2015)

    “I’m not sure the number of times going to church …  My schedule is a killer. But I go as often as possible. …  I grew up in Sunday school …  I’m a big believer in the Bible. …  There’s an assault on anything having to do with Christianity …  I will go so strongly against so many of the things, when they take away the word Christmas.” (The Hill, August 21, 2015)

    “Donald Trump: ‘… God is the ultimate. I mean God created … and here’s the Pacific Ocean right behind us. So … there’s nothing like God.'” (CBN News, 09-23-2015)

    “I still remember (Norman Vincent Peale’s) sermons …  He was the greatest guy.” (Politico, October 06, 2015)

    “I am a religious person …  (People) see me with all the surroundings of wealth, so they sometimes don’t associate that with being religious. That’s not accurate.  … He (Norman Vincent Peale) would instill a very positive feeling about God that also made me feel positive about myself” (Great Again, Threshold, 2016)

    “(Norman Vincent) Peale ‘… was an amazing public speaker,’ Trump said.  ‘He thought I was his greatest student of all time.'” (Michael Kranish & Marc Fisher, Trump Revealed, Scribner, 2016)

    “I like to be good. I don’t like to have to ask for forgiveness. …  (So) I try to do nothing that is bad.” (Business Insider, Jan. 17, 2016)

    “I hear this (at Liberty University) is a major theme right here, Two Corinthians, 3:17 …  I think that’s the one you like, because I loved it. … ‘Now the Lord is the Spirit.'” (Telegraph, 18 Jan 2016)

    “Jesus to me is somebody I can think about for security and confidence. Somebody I can revere in terms of bravery and in terms of courage and, because I consider the Christian religion so important, somebody I can totally rely on in my own mind.” (Cal Thomas, Trump Interview – The Transcript, Tribune Content Agency, 6/8/2016)

  • A lot of these abuse cases date back to the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Obviously, you don’t think victims of abuse by teachers in public schools–which is also a problem–should be allowed to sue for stuff that happened decades ago.

    I’m guessing you don’t think that psychiatrists and psychiatric journals that often asserted that sex offenders, including pedophiles, could be successfully treated with therapy should be sued for malpractice.

  • ALL sexual abusers of minors should be prosecuted and statutes of limitations should not stand in the way. Clergy abuse is far more common than that in public schools. Mr Cavalli should read the two books by Spanish psychologist on The Sex Life of the Clergy and the clerical pedophilia scandals, if he can read Spanish, that is.

  • Criminal prosecution and filing suit against an institution are two different things.

    I don’t read Spanish, but I do read Italian.

    You offer no evidence to back up your claim that clergy abuse is more common than in public schools or in the entertainment industry, in British boarding schools, the military, U.S. peacekeepers, in the Jewish community.

  • From around 1970 until 1994, the sponsors of the New York City Gay Pride Parade permitted NAMBLA to march in the parade. It was finally booted after gay leaders recognized that its presence was hurting its political aims.

    If a NAMBAler who came to New York to march in the parade abused someone, should the victim sue the sponsors of the parade?

  • I don’t understand Christian females who dress like hos or just wear tight and/or low cut or short clothing. The Bible states that women should dress moderately. It also says that the tempter is worse than the temptee, because the tempter KNOWS what they are doing. Most females, even very young ones, now days, know what men like, and how it makes them feel, and makes them do, but they dress that way anyway. The Bible says not to tempt your fellow man and cause him to fall. We all know males are visual, and sexual, since WAY back. So to dress and act the way females do is just invitng males to think or do something sexual. They will not look at your face, or eyes, or probably even hear the gospel from you. I honestly do not think Jesus would come here and say, “Nice crotch floss, and cleavage! I like that.” With all the bad sex things going on now, you would think females would want to “cover their shame” (what use to be private parts & still is according to the Bible). I see naked boobies, bellies and almost butts in church. It’s a shame. Now days they call hos & sluts ladies. Definitely not! I wonder if they will appear before God Almighty & still push their chest out, all proud & half or totally naked like some, like they are “all that”? God help us all! Why don’t pastors preach Proverbs about the harlots?! And the parts about how women should dress and be?! I was surprised Paula was there, I don’t like the clothes or the type of preaching. I was NOT surprised Trump liked her. A lot of Pastors and Christians are very liberal in things now days. I prefer conservative like the Bible & God. But God said it would be this way. And then the end.

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