Have Progressive Mormon Women Ever Read “The False Gods We Worship”?

At the Washington Post website, self-styled Mormon Girl Joanna Brooks has a piece on what progressive Mormon women want in context of the upcoming presidential contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. (link) She pulls into it a First Presidency Message by Spencer Kimball, “The False Gods We Worship,” which appeared in the Ensign 36 years ago:

Progressive Mormon women remember that in 1976, LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball warned members of the church that Americans had become a “warlike people” who “idolized” military and industrial power at the expense of human welfare.

President Kimball did address idolatrous militarism in three striking paragraphs which have been much repeated in the decades since. I wasn’t quite sure, though, what Sister Brooks was referring to regarding “the expense of human welfare.” President Kimball wanted idolatry to be replaced by the preaching of the gospel, service, repentance, baptism, and eternal life—probably not the sort of human welfare that Brooks’ readers would have understand her to be alluding to.

Militarism wasn’t the only of the “dark and miserable practices of men” that President Kimball preached against in that June 1976 Ensign:

The Brethren constantly cry out against that which is intolerable in the sight of the Lord: against pollution of mind, body, and our surroundings; against vulgarity, stealing, lying, pride, and blasphemy; against fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and all other abuses of the sacred power to create; against murder and all that is like unto it; against all manner of desecration.

That such a cry should be necessary among a people so blessed is amazing to me. And that such things should be found even among the Saints to some degree is scarcely believable, for these are a people who are in possession of many gifts of the Spirit, who have knowledge that puts the eternities into perspective, who have been shown the way to eternal life.

[Also posted at Junior Ganymede.]

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About John Mansfield

Mansfield in the desertA third-generation southern Nevadan, I have lived in exile most of my life in such places as Los Alamos, Baltimore, Los Angeles, the western suburbs of Detroit, and currently the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C. I work as a fluid dynamics engineer. I was baptized at age twelve in the font of the Las Vegas Nevada Central Stake Center, and on my nineteenth birthday I received the endowment in the St. George Temple. I served as a missionary mostly in the Patagonia of Argentina from 1985 to 1987. My true calling in the Church seems to be working with Cub Scouts, whom I have served in different capacities in four states most years since 1992. (My oldest boy turned eight in 2004.) I also currently teach Sunday School to the thirteen-year-olds. I hold degrees from two universities named for men who died in the 1870s, the Brigham Young University and the Johns Hopkins University. My wife is Elizabeth Pack Mansfield, who comes from New Mexico's north central mountains and studied molecular biology at the same two schools I attended. We have four sons, whose care and admonition, along with care of my aged father, require much of Elizabeth's time. She currently serves the Church as Mia-Maid advisor, ward music chairman, and choir director, and plays violin whenever she can. One day, I would like to make shoes.

41 thoughts on “Have Progressive Mormon Women Ever Read “The False Gods We Worship”?

  1. Pingback: Have Progressive Mormon Women Ever Read “The False Gods We Worship”? | Junior Ganymede

  2. Well Progressive Mormons™ have pretty much established that they are willing to pick and choose which prophetic utterances or scriptural writings they want to ignore. She pretty much demonstrates in a couple areas that with the piece she wrote.

  3. Isn’t caring for human welfare now one of the missions of the Church? Have I misunderstood what “To care for the poor and needy” means?

  4. Another thing not noted is Pres Kimball’s successful fight against the Equal Rights Amendment – a very important issue for progressive women in the 1970s.

    Perhaps Joanna would do better to quote someone else, or at least note that Pres Kimball taught things that would not sit well with most progressives today (just read Miracle of Forgiveness regarding homosexuality, etc).

  5. I think that most if us have some degree of pickiness in following our leaders. It’s our human tendency.

  6. I would agree with Ms. Brooks on the warning on us becoming a war-like people, but it is also true that she has apparently forgotten or chosen to ignore the many, many teachings of the prophet that she constantly disagrees with (homosexuality, birth control, opposition to the ERA, just to name a few). I guess all of us pick and choose the things we want to concentrate on, but some people pick and choose a bit more than others. I agree with nearly every word of the prophet’s talk. I don’t think she can say the same thing.

  7. I just don’t get Joanna Brooks and her progressive friends.

    Why oh why do they continually nag the Church, openly and passivly, about issues the Church has not addresed, or not addressed to their liking?

    When will they learn, it’s the Lord’s church, not the church of “whatever is popular at the moment”. And no ammount of snarking on their part will change that. The Church has made a stand on issues, and changes are made at the direction of the leadership, which we sustain. We have to have faith that as members that even if everything does not appear to be “fair” or what we think is right, that in the end, the Lord will make things right.

    I have full confidence that Mitt Romeny will do a good job as president if elected — he will be honest and work hard to fix the economy, because when it comes down to it Ms Brooks, that’s what most people Mormon and otherwise care about right now. Mitt Romney is member of the church, and while he and all of us who are members are representatives of the Church, he does not Represent the Church.

  8. Joyce, I think you are being unfair to Joanna. While it might be frustrating that a progressive Mormon has such a prominent voice, (especially when her personal views do not represent the majority view of active LDS women) Joanna is careful to distinguish between LDS women in general, and “progressive” LDS women, who hold views outside the mainstream of Mormonism.

    In Joanna’s postings, I’ve seen her articulate conservative Mormonism fairly and coherently, without passing judgement on it. But I haven’t sensed a strong agenda to make the church more progressive. She is writing directly to non-Mormons, not Mormons, and educating them about what Mormonism means to her. While it’s obvious that she herself is a progressive, she seems to have little interest in attacking conservative Mormonism. She only wishes to show that Mormonism is more diverse than outsiders typically assume.

    If you can find me a Joanna posting where she has any “snark” or where there is a agenda to attack or demean conservative Mormonism, I would love to see it. I have never read any such thing from her. Her articulation of progressive Mormonism is not meant to attack conservative Mormonism, but to demonstrate that there is diversity withing the community to the outside world.

    Conservatives should be glad that Joanna’s articulation of diversified Mormonism has helped calm media frenzy about Mormons being a monolithic voting block kowtowing to SLC.

  9. Well, Nate you and I will have to agree to disagree about Joanna Brooks….and last I checked SLC was telling me how to vote. Out here in “the mission field” where I live, the political leanings of my ward are diverse….very diverse. So much so, that we avoid politcs on Sunday, unlike so many Utah/Arizona wards I’ve been a member of.

  10. Nate, I would agree with you that Joanna has written some good things explaining the Church to outsiders, and she also does a lot of very good work correcting really stupid mistakes made by the media. But I have to disagree with the overall tenor or your comment. She has indeed set herself up as a “spokesperson” for the Church and does indeed want to change it to her image. I find this highly objectionable. The Lord sets the direction of the Church, not Joanna Brooks or anybody else on this earth. Just to cite one example (and there have been many), read the attached where she creates a church where gay people are not accepted (this is the implied criticism — if only everybody were as progressive and advanced as she is, the Church would be more accepting).

    http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/joannabrooks/6018/mormons_prepare_to_march_in_lgbt_pride_parades_nationwide/

    As has been written and spoken about endlessly on the blogs and even by some GAs, the Church is open and welcome to gay people (although it is probably true — I have never witnessed it myself — that individual members may not be).

    Once again, SS attraction is not a sin. SS activity is. Having sex before you are married is a sin. Although individual members may fall short, the official Church position is to love everybody as Christ would and *to encourage them to sin no more.* You may not like this position of the Church (and most progressives do not), but this is the official Church position, and it is extremely unlikely to change. So, sniping about how gay people don’t feel accepted at church does nothing to build up the church but undermines it in very subtle and, in my opinion, evil ways. So, yes, I have a big problem with Brooks’ position on this issue.

  11. “Once again, SS attraction is not a sin. SS activity is.”

    That’s not what President Kimball taught, Geoff. Just sayin’.

  12. Kristine, reading Pres. Kimball, I completely disagree. Take a look at this:

    http://northstarlds.org/general-authority-articles/the-teachings-of-spencer-w-kimball/

    He talks about “conduct” and “practices” and implies that homosexuals can change their behavior. If they could not change their behavior and were therefore condemned just because of their attractions, his teachings would be different. Reading his position on this subject in context (and not just taking out a stray quote here and there), it is clear that his position is compatible with “SS attraction is not a sin. SS activity is.” He expresses his position in language different than Pres. Hinckley and Elder Oaks, but the sentiment is the same.

    Here is a FAIR article that backs up my point.

    http://www.fairlds.org/authors/byrd-dean/homosexuality-and-the-church-of-jesus-christ

  13. Line upon line…

    President Monson is more right than President Kimball.

  14. Geoff, thanks for forwarding the article she wrote on the gay pride parade.

    What makes Joanna special, is that her implied criticism is never spoken outright, unlike the vast majority of other progressive bloggers. I see her being extremely careful in trying not to be perceived as attacking the church. That is not her agenda. Sure, criticism can be implied. But one can imply criticism from the articulation of any belief that varies in any way from the “official” belief. The only agenda is to demonstrate diversity within the LDS community.

    Joyce says: “Last time I checked, SLC was telling me how to vote.” I don’t follow. The only thing I’ve ever heard from SLC on how to vote was an insistent and steady stream official statements regarding political neutrality. I guess that means I can vote for Romney in spite of his pro-abortion and pro-gay rights past.

  15. Geoff–that piece represents some pretty serious cherry-picking of a few quotes that can be interpreted to support current teachings. The fact is that our understanding and teaching on this subject has changed dramatically (thank God!). You can’t read Miracle of Forgiveness and think that President Kimball and, say, Elder Wickman and Elder Oaks believe the same things about homosexuality.

  16. Kristine…
    Fortuneately, we conservatives don’t believe we read other people’s minds. It’s what defines us as sane…

  17. Kristine, do you have any examples of statements from President Kimball that say homosexual inclinations (not actions) are in themselves a sin?

  18. There is simply no distinction in The Miracle of Forgiveness between inclination and action. Moreover, it’s assumed throughout that certain sinful actions (particularly masturbation) _cause_ homosexuality, that homosexual orientation is a result of sin, not an inborn inclination.

    I don’t think that’s terribly surprising, given what most people believed at the time; I just think we shouldn’t claim that the teaching has not changed.

  19. Possible, yes. But it’s a stretch. He just doesn’t make the orientation/action distinction on which our contemporary discourse rests.

  20. H_nu, I don’t know if you have commented here before, but we do not post personal attacks on people. Express an opinion, make an argument, don’t attack commenters or the people posting. Thanks.

  21. It’s been several years since I read “Miracle of Forgiveness,” and I definitely need to give it another read, but it is difficult for me to respond to a claim based on an entire book without any quotations to go find to see the context.

    I would point out that the link I reference in comment #11 is from the Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball and is deliberately meant to be representative of his writings on the subject of homosexuality. Notice how many times he distinguishes between actions and feelings in those writings. To wit:

    “Homosexual conduct is serious sin. The unholy transgression of homosexuality is either rapidly growing or tolerance is giving it wider publicity. If one has such desires and tendencies, he overcomes them the same as if he had the urge toward petting or fornication or adultery.” Again, the language is a bit politically incorrect (more than a bit!!!), but the point is, “hate the sin, love the sinner, the sinner can change.” This is precisely what is taught today.

  22. It is my opnion, Geoff, that some of the things Kristine says against President Kimball would constitute a personal attack…

  23. I have to agree with John C. We can disagree amicably here. We can express our thoughts forcefully on what we think is right.

    Kristine (and Joanna) are great people and worthy LDS members. We just disagree on certain concepts. I know I’ve had great conversations online with both, on things we both agree and disagree upon. Heck, I disagree with some things I personally believed 5 years ago! H_nu needs to defend his views without being judgmental of how others view an issue. Otherwise, he is not adding to the conversation, but is simply seeking a flame war.

  24. In the end, don’t we all have to wrestle with our own false gods, regardless of what a particular prophet said and when he said it? Money, guns, politics, power…they’re all false gods to me.

  25. h_nu, if you are still reading this, we welcome people commenting. Here is the thing: Kristine did not write anything disparaging about Pres. Kimball. She interpreted things he has written/said. This is a valid point, and is part of the normal back and forth of Mormon blogging. Just to use an example, if she had written, “Pres. Kimball was not sane” we would have deleted it because it is an attack on a prophet of the Lord. But she didn’t write anything close to this.

    Here are some general rules if you would like to comment here.

    1)Be respectful of the Brethren in general. We build up the Church, don’t tear it down.
    2)You can disagree with me and other commenters, but do so by creating an argument. Saying somebody is not sane is not an argument. Saying “I disagree because…” and then making some kind of argument is OK.
    3)You can insult what we would call non-Church “public figures.” I think Obama “Choomwagon” is a horrible president, and I think Sean Hannity is an idiot. See, I just did it! But if you are going to insult them, please do so on an appropriate thread, don’t just throw out random insults like “Choomwagon.” Oops, did it again!

  26. Kristine,
    There is no doubt in my mind that dwelling on and frequently returning mentally to “inclinations” is a sin. This is all done without “action” but it should be rather clear if you know the Saviors teachings or have felt and lost the presence of the spirit that it’s a sin.

    I am more than inclined to give Pres. Kimball the benefit of the doubt, seeing as he is not here to speak up, that he was not railing against someone who might have some feeling arise internally that they quickly turn away from or try to focus mentally on something uplifting. And there is also no doubt in my mind that self-gratification for many of these individuals that Pres. Kimball dealt with lead to them more fully “embracing” feelings they once had and continued to dwell on rather than struggle to put aside and overcome.

    And there is the difficult dichotomy I see. Some people staunchly believe that a feeling can be resisted of overcome, others believe it must always be there and either the individual made miserable unless they give into it, or the individual is fulfilled once they give into it. To the extent that society increasingly advocates the latter arguments, faithful church members and prior prophets and apostles will look out of touch.

    But I don’t believe it to be so just because some say it’s so. I find truth where the spirit testifies of it, and when I read many of the “progressive” posts on this issue and others I do get a spiritual confirmation of truth about the hurt and the sincerity of charity that we should have toward each other, but most definitely that spiritual witness does not extend to condoning the reality of the sin of homosexual activity, etc.

    I’m not suggesting that my spiritual witness trumps anyone elses, but giving perhaps a foundational reason why I can’t accept the end-arguments of others. I’m capable of judging truth by the power of the spirit and being accountable for that judgement. Only the apostles and prophets can make claim to a spiritual witness to which we all can receive independent confirmation of. On this issue, as a matter of fact, they have.

  27. “SS attraction is not a sin” is very recent doctrine, and even now, it doesn’t seem to be agreed upon by all the brethren. President Packer recently indicated that he believes a loving God would never create someone with SS attraction, implying that SS attraction must come about through sin, or some kind of evil influence, but obviously not from God. That’s very close to saying “SS attraction is a sin.”

    I don’t blame the brethren for this internal conflict. It strikes at the very core of our metaphysical philosophy of who God is. Do we believe in a God who would create someone “that way?” Or is this “blasphemy,” as President Kimball called it. President Packer and President Kimball believed in a compassionate God, a true Father, who would never do such a terrible thing to His children. Those who embrace the idea of God-created SS attraction must embrace a more mysterious God, one whose ways are sometimes incomprehensible. In a church that believes “This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God” it is very difficult to believe in this kind of God.

    This debate is much larger than the science behind the origin of SS attraction. Like Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail, contemplating the darkest mysteries of God, today’s apostles I’m sure wrestle with this issue. Joseph wrote in Liberty Jail, “Thy mind oh man, if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and reach into, and contemplate the darkest abyss.” All of us are mere mortals, trying to understand things beyond our comprehension.

  28. The Savior clearly says we must work on our thoughts because we are the subjects/things we spending our time thinking about. This is a scary thought for highly imperfect people like myself. Like many people, I find myself going throughout my day pushing away a lot of thoughts (“the bank teller is an idiot — why is she taking so long”), etc. When it comes to sexual things, we are clearly told to push away the thoughts that would have us contemplate actions things that break the law of chastity. There is really no doubt about this. At the same time, it is important to note that Heavenly Father knows our struggles and knows some people have been dealt a more difficult hand than others. I believe fully in His justice at the end of the day. I believe it is the wrong approach, however, to just give up and ignore what prophets and the scriptures have said about this subject. The admonition is for all of us to keep on trying to be better, and that includes people with sexual proclivities that prophets have made clear are sinful.

  29. On Chris’ dichotomy, I can’t help but think about my own family. I come from a long line of alcoholics. Just as many homosexuals believe, I’m convinced it is now genetically a part of our DNA in the family. I have no doubt that if I were to drink, I would be an alcoholic. I occasionally feel the draw towards it, especially when I’m stressed. Yet, in the 37 years I’ve been a member of the Church, I have not drunk alcohol. It’s a choice I’ve made against my natural man. With the dichotomy Chris notes, you would think I had chosen the path of misery. I haven’t. In the long run, this path has provided me many wonderful experiences and blessings, even though I’ve had to give up the family escape-in-a-bottle. Homosexuals may also find great joy in life without SSM or relationships. It won’t be a life without temptation or struggle, as we all have some struggles or temptations to go through. But it can be a fulfilling one, nonetheless. To insist they can only be happy under one set of circumstances is to insist that they are perpetual victims and have no power over their own lives, whatsoever. I reject that. I’ve seen some homosexuals choose to abstain, be chaste, and some even happily marry women, and find other ways to a fulfilling life.

  30. Thank you Chris and Rameumptom for articulating so well what I feel and believe.

  31. The thing that disturbed me about Ms. Brooks article is that though nobody comes right out and says it the message is implicit in the piece that she is speaking for a majority of Mormon women; or at least a significant minority. I suspect she is not. She has a tendency to damn with faint praise. She is exceptionally skilled at what she does. Though her words were presented as though they were aimed at candidate Romney I had the feeling they were not. It is not very likely at he does not know which Mormon women will vote for him and what they will want him to do if elected. I admire her ability to express herself and the way that she has found an audience. I have mixed feelings about her writings because deep down I just don’t trust her.

  32. Nate,

    You do realize that what President Packer said about SS attraction being sinful is not the doctrine of the church, right?

    You’ll also notice that his comments about SS attraction being sinful were quickly scrubbed (supposedly by him himself) from his conference talk on the subject. I’m sure you’ll be able to find the original talk somewhere on the internet, but the version you find at lds.org is substantially different in that it does not state that SS attraction is sinful.

  33. Nate and Tim, I think you guys have a very different take on Elder Packer’s remarks than I do. He has made the distinction between inclinations and attractions in other addresses, so if his wording is ambiguous in the address you refer to, it seems sensible to assume it meant what he has always meant in the past.

  34. Nathan00000 and Tim, it’s true that Elder Packer has spoken of “inclinations and attractions” not being sins, and I know that his talk was scrubbed immediately after, because it didn’t conform to the official rhetoric.

    But I was glad to hear Elder Packer say what he did, because it gave some insight into the root of the conflict, which I believe is theological, and specifically concerns the nature of God.

    The theological question is: would God create a homosexual? Because this is a difficult theological question, officially, the church has adopted a rhetoric that minimizes the gravity of homosexual identity, calling it an “inclination, an attraction, and we all have temptations of one sort or another.”

    But to a homosexual, his sexual orientation is not an “inclination.” It is something he feels is a deep part of his God-given identity. It is as unimaginable for him to be attracted to, or marry someone of the opposite sex, as it is for a very straight person to imagine having to marry and have sex with someone of the same gender.

    This “inclination” rhetoric postpones what I believe is the inevitable theological discussion that needs to be had regarding the nature of God. Theologically Mormons believe in a God who asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, Emma to practice polygamy or be damned, Peter and the other apostles to be tortured and put to death. There is nothing strange about this type of God creating a homosexual, and then asking that homosexual to live a martyrs life. But we don’t accept the gravity of what God asks of the homosexuals He has created. We don’t believe it is an Abrahamic sacrifice. Rather, we see it on the same level as typical “inclinations and temptations of one sort or another which we all have.” When we recognize that we ask homosexuals to live a martyr’s life, then I think our theology becomes Biblical. Then we are talking about a God of obedience and sacrifice. But we should all be prepared to make similar sacrifices if called upon. Would we pass the polygamy test for example? Would we give our wife to the prophet if asked? Embracing homosexuality for what it truly is, allows us to ask ourselves these deep questions.

  35. Nate, you overspeak yourself. You do not speak for all people with SSA. Not everyone accepts sexuality, homosexuality, as part of their identity. Not everyone drinks that kool-aid.

  36. Nate, I see Elder Packer’s original phrasing, if understood correctly, as being perfectly compatible with doctrine. I think the confusion is in the ambiguity of several terms that keep getting used in different ways by different parties. When Elder Packer spoke of “overcoming tendencies,” based on the context, I assume that he meant “refraining from homosexual actions.” He was saying that God would never make a person destined or irresistibly compelled to engage in homosexual deeds. But since his phrasing was immediately misunderstood (in some cases intentionally, but in other cases I think sincerely) as meaning “ceasing to feel homosexual attractions,” they simply clarified the phrasing. I don’t see a basis for, when given multiple possible interpretations, choosing one which conflicts with his past statements on the topic.

    Nate: To a homosexual, his sexual orientation is not an “inclination.” It is something he feels is a deep part of his God-given identity.

    First, not all homosexuals feel that way. Second, Church leaders have repeatedly warned against this kind of self identity, saying for example that we should make our identity centered in being a child of God, not in our sexual attractions. They’ve also taught that those feelings are part of mortality, not the eternities. However, I know what it’s like to feel “called” in a way to make use of a collection of experiences to empathize with and be a blessing to others. I think it’s possible to feel that God is making good use of one’s accumulated experiences while also acknowledging that I shouldn’t give others the impression that if they’ve ever had anything remotely similar happen, they have the same calling. I think that concerns the Brethren.

    Because sexuality can be so fluid and flexible, even if one person does feel called to play a certain sacrificial role in their life, it’s important they don’t give others the impression that they, too, must inevitably take the same path. Much of the rhetoric around homosexuality does exactly this, conveying the false sense of inevitability and lack of agency. I think that’s one of the things that concerns the Brethren. For example, some people do happily marry the opposite gender. Some do reduce or channel their same-sex attractions. Some people do find that their gender confusion was a passing stage of their adolescence. Many do not feel it is a deep part of their God-given identity, even if they do feel that God can use their experiences in unique ways to bless others.

    Nate: When we recognize that we ask [] homosexuals to live a martyr’s life, then I think our theology becomes Biblical.

    If you add the qualifier “some,” then I think you are spot on. And the Church already does that, frequently. I’ve read numerous statements about how difficult and lonely it can be to be single with little to no prospect of marrying, and some of them specifically acknowledging the unique struggles of same-sex attraction.

  37. Nathan000000, I would certainly agree to add the qualifier “some” to those who hold strong feelings of homosexual identity. But even if sexual identity is fluid for some, the theological conundrum is the same whether it is “some” or “all.” We still have to deal with God creating invariable homosexuals, even if it is fewer than claim to be. The fact that there are many who feel their identity so powerfully that they undergo the most radical sex-change procedures shows just how powerful sexual identity can be.

    You also say “Church leaders have repeatedly warned against this kind of self identity, saying for example that we should make our identity centered in being a child of God, not in our sexual attractions.” But this is only true in the case of homosexual identity. Heterosexuals are encouraged to indulge in their natural masculine or feminine roles, which are specifically referred to as “natural” and “god-given.” But if sometimes “natural and “god-given” is homosexual, then the church has to refocus on the spiritual. They minimize the rule mother nature plays, and encourage people to focus instead on the spiritual, being a “child of God.”

    But the real solution to the conundrum is found in the core Book of Mormon theology: “the natural man is an enemy to God.” This is true for both homosexual and hetrosexual identity. What makes humans divine is not our sexuality, but our ability to control our sexuality, regardless of what it is. Otherwise we are just animals. Sex within a temple marriage can be just as dirty as homosexual sex, if it is done with animalistic indulgence. In fact, there is no difference between it. The only thing divine about sex, in any context, that it is bridled, subject to taboo, and selfless sacrifice.

  38. “What makes humans divine is not our sexuality, but our ability to control our sexuality, regardless of what it is. Otherwise we are just animals.”

    I totally agree with this statement. This aspect of moral mastery is what separates us from the animals. And it is part of the holiness that Christ has called us to partake.

  39. “The only thing divine about sex, in any context, that it is bridled, subject to taboo, and selfless sacrifice.”

    If I understand what you are saying here, I think Elder Holland would disagree with you.

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