Denison Forum – The death of Judge Ken Starr and traits that “were once considered normal”

Kenneth W. Starr, a former federal judge and US Solicitor General, died yesterday of complications from surgery. Judge Starr served as president and chancellor of Baylor University and dean of the Pepperdine Law School. He argued thirty-six cases before the US Supreme Court and served as Independent Counsel for five investigations, including Whitewater and President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.

I was honored to be his friend. We met when he came to his post at Baylor in 2010 and stayed in contact across the years after. He was gracious to appear on our Denison Forum podcast; I was privileged to interview him for an Institute for Global Engagement event earlier this year at Dallas Baptist University.

He combined brilliance, sincerity, transparency, and humility like few people I have ever known. In my review of his 2021 book, Religious Liberty in Crisis: Exercising Your Faith in an Age of Uncertainty, I called his work “an indispensable guide to defending religious freedom.”

Judge Starr is survived by his beloved and brilliant wife, Alice Mendell Starr, to whom he was married for fifty-two years, and by their three children and their families.

“The rock on which modern Britain was built”

History is often made by exceptional people like Judge Ken Starr whose names are known to history.

More than twenty-six thousand people filed by Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin in Scotland yesterday before it was transported to London and spent last night in Buckingham Palace. A procession including King Charles III, Prince William, and Prince Harry will accompany it today as it travels to Westminster Hall, where it will lie in state for four days ahead of the queen’s state funeral on Monday, September 19.

The reason for such a national outpouring of grief and affection is simple: as Prime Minister Liz Truss observed, the queen was “the rock on which modern Britain was built.”

In other historic news, Francis Scott Key penned the words of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on this day in 1814. Two years earlier on this day, Napoleon entered Moscow in an invasion that eventually failed and cost his army more than four hundred thousand men.

On a happier note, after Albert Pujols hit his 697th home run, moving into sole possession of fourth place on Major League Baseball’s all-time home runs list, he gifted the ball to the fan who caught it and then signed two more balls for him. In other sports news, baseball great Ty Cobb’s dentures are going for more than $11,000 at auction. Neither Pujols’s home run ball nor Ty Cobb’s false teeth would be valuable if they were not associated with such historic figures.

However, history can also be made by people whose names are unknown to history.

The US has reached the historic milestone of one million organ transplants; each donor, while unknown to the rest of us, changed a life with their gift. A political leader in Idaho protested a planned “Drag Kids” performance including children “from ages 11–18,” leading to the event’s eventual cancelation. And a nurse saved a three-month-old baby who had stopped breathing during a flight Thursday night. Whatever the little girl grows up to accomplish will be an extension of that nurse’s compassion.

Traits that “were once considered normal”

Watching news coverage of the death of the queen, syndicated columnist Cal Thomas observed: “One is struck by the adjectives used by reporters, commentators and people interviewed outside Balmoral Castle and Buckingham Palace: sense of duty, virtue, integrity, service. What astounds is that these and other character traits the late Queen exhibited were once considered normal and worthy of being taught to children, but today stand in sharp contrast to what is modeled and accepted.”

He added: “One commentator said the Queen’s death is the symbolic end of the Greatest Generation. We pay lip service to the virtues that made the greatest generation great, but no longer promote them, whether it is in public schools, social media, or the wider culture.”

What is being said of Queen Elizabeth II could be said of Judge Ken Starr as well: both were known publicly for traits that were deeply personal. Their exemplary character and humble commitment to service were grounded in the sincerity and depth of their faith.

The queen was tutored as a young girl by the Archbishop of Canterbury and called Jesus “an inspiration and an anchor in my life.” Ken Starr’s father was a Congregationalist minister; the judge’s often-repeated maxim, “Truth is a bedrock concept in morality and law,” came from his family and from his personal faith.

“The true measure of all our actions”

C. S. Lewis noted, “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” But here’s the point: someone is watching.

Our names may never be known to history like the queen and the judge, but someone knows us as personally as anyone knew them. The people we live, work, and go to school with matter just as much to eternity as a queen or a federal judge. If they do not follow Jesus, we are the only Bible they may read, the only sermon they may hear.

This makes our personal integrity, or lack thereof, a kingdom issue of eternal consequence.

We cannot expect the people who know us to follow Christ if we do not. We cannot expect them to embrace biblical morality if they do not see that morality reflected in our daily decisions and actions.

By contrast, if Jesus is our first love, the passion of our hearts and king of our days, those who know us will see him in us and be drawn to his transforming love.

The writer of Hebrews encouraged his readers to “remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7). When those who know you “consider the outcome” of your way of life, will they want to imitate your faith?

Queen Elizabeth II said, “The true measure of all our actions is how long the good in them lasts.”

What will be the “true measure” of your actions today?

Denison Forum

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