What I learned from Pres Oaks

Amazed at the talks so far. President Oaks’ talk on loving one another touched me deeply.

Discussing the turmoils of our times, especially here in the United States, he noted that the Savior has called upon us to love all people. Pres Oaks noted this includes those who disagree with us on politics, policies and important issues of the day.

First, he encouraged us to love our political opponents. We should speak with love and civility towards those we disagree with. Given the incivility of the day – for example the presidential debate was filled with it from both major parties – it is time we begin to replace contention with love. The first thing Jesus taught the Nephites is that contention is of the devil, and we should instead emulate the Savior and Father (3 Nephi 11). I hope in the coming month, as we approach the election, we can all speak kind words to each other, even in discussing politics and politicians.

2nd, Pres Oaks discussed our Constitutional freedoms and responsibilities. We have freedoms given us in the First Amendment of speech and assembly. Government must respect these freedoms. At the same time, these freedoms do not allow us to riot nor rampage.

3rd, We are duty bound to obey the laws of the land. Christ told us to render the things of Caesar unto Caesar, and the things of God to God. We are to work within the boundaries of the law to seek redress and fix bad laws.

4th, The Constitution is inspired of God to bless people in all lands. It is not a perfect document, and so we’ve amended it to better perfect it, such as giving women the vote and ending slavery. The American ideal is found in the Declaration of Independence, which notes we are all equal under our Creator and given inalienable rights. That ideal is enshrined in the Constitution’s powers to protect individual rights, and seeks to increase and improve those rights as we go along.

5th, Racism still exists. Not only is there racism towards black people, but also Latinos and Asians, among others. We cannot be passive in regards to this racism. We must actively, but peaceably, seek to overcome such things. This includes ending bad laws that place both police and minorities in a bad place – in contention against one another.

6th, Mob rule, or anarchy, is bad. We cannot abide by it, as we cannot abide by tyranny of government. As we seek to have Christ like love, we will seek righteous laws that will allow all peoples to enjoy the good portions of their cultures, while encouraging us to leave behind those portions that harm.

7th, True patriotism is about the Constitution and freedom. Any other form of national pride cannot bring freedom and unity. We need to focus ourselves politically through the prism of the Constitution.

Pres Oaks found the true middle ground between the contention and division. He condemned the mob riots, but also condemned racism. He encouraged us to obey the law, while seeking peacefully to end bad laws that harm minorities. He encouraged us to refocus on the Constitution as the inspired document we should hold up. Most importantly, he explained that all our problems can only be solved through Christ-like Love.

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About rameumptom

Gerald (Rameumptom) Smith is a student of the gospel. Joining the Church of Jesus Christ when he was 16, he served a mission in Santa Cruz Bolivia (1978=1980). He is married to Ramona, has 3 stepchildren and 7 grandchildren. Retired Air Force (Aim High!). He has been on the Internet since 1986 when only colleges and military were online. Gerald has defended the gospel since the 1980s, and was on the first Latter-Day Saint email lists, including the late Bill Hamblin's Morm-Ant. Gerald has worked with FairMormon, More Good Foundation, LDS.Net and other pro-LDS online groups. He has blogged on the scriptures for over a decade at his site: Joel's Monastery (joelsmonastery.blogspot.com). He has the following degrees: AAS Computer Management, BS Resource Mgmt, MA Teaching/History. Gerald was the leader for the Tuskegee Alabama group, prior to it becoming a branch. He opened the door for missionary work to African Americans in Montgomery Alabama in the 1980s. He's served in two bishoprics, stake clerk, high council, HP group leader and several other callings over the years. While on his mission, he served as a counselor in a branch Relief Society presidency.

29 thoughts on “What I learned from Pres Oaks

  1. Gerald,
    Beautiful post. You take excellent notes! President Oaks’ talk really was stellar for me as well—for all seven points you well describe.

    Btw, I was on my mission in the Louisiana-Baton Rouge Mission in 1978 when the awful ban was banned! We all cried and wept and walked around like euphoric zombies for days. All our best, smartest, and most teachable investigators then were blacks. We deeply loved them. Cheers to you, cherished brother! 🙂

  2. Well written Gerald. I am grateful for your clear-eyed response to President Oaks great talk!

  3. Nice summary, Gerald.

    With no intention of being controversial, I would like to note that leadership matters. I am dating myself to say I remember with clarity the days when Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill were friends. I believe that they jokingly referred to their relationship as “friends after 6 pm.” There are other examples I can cite, but political confrontation on volatile issues does not necessitate animosity on the personal level.

  4. Oaks’ talk was a miss. Too vague to be of any use. What racism is he talking about? The anti-racism movement finds “racism” fundamentally embedded in all facets of western civilization — Christianity, the family, free enterprise, and English common law to name a few. Is President Oaks rallying members to join the revolution? Or does fighting racism demand vocally opposing the anti-racists, whose open displays of anti-white hatred are vile and unapologetic? President Oaks didn’t elaborate. The “racism bad” message misses the mark when the definition of racism is so hotly contested. As is, President Oaks wasted his opportunity to provide the world with prophetic guidance on one of the most important issues of our day. He’ll have another, I hope he uses it more wisely.

  5. Old Man: That model is also perfectly descriptive in describing our highest Church quorums. Reports from faithful, reliable sources have said that give-and-take in their councils can be highly spirited, but after concluding prayers at adjourning, good feelings and love are beautifully dominant again among them.
    Thanks for shaft-of-light insight! 🙂

  6. B, I spent 17 years in Montgomery Al in the Air Force. During that time, I was deeply involved in bringing the gospel to the black community. I was group leader in Tuskegee. Later years, I spent six years serving in the Spanish branch in Indianapolis.
    I’ve seen first hand the racism these groups have experienced. I’ve worked hard to help members overcome racism and racist tendencies. I still do.
    Pres Oaks was talking to a world wide church. He spoke about key principles that would apply not only in Utah or the USA, but in England, Brazil, Kenya, and elsewhere that struggle with racist, ethnic and cultural hatred.
    It was not a miss. My friends on a FB black LDS page were thrilled. One complained that Pres Nelson should have given the talk, that’s it. To him I noted that Pres Oaks and Elder Cook are experts on law and Constitution, while President Nelson is a doctor, so he focused on Covid.
    Had Pres Oaks mentioned specific cases, someone else would complain he didn’t address their local case. So, he spoke of principles – love your enemy, racism is evil, the Constitution is inspired, etc. These apply globally to a global Church.

  7. That talk by Sister Sharon Eubank on unity! The piercing analogy of ‘swing’ of the crew team rowers captures with rapture. The talk, to me, is already the crowning experience in this #Gencon.
    🙂

  8. I agree that President Oaks’s comments were outstanding. Though I have ancestors amongst the Pilgrims and American forces at Concord, I am half Asian and have been reviled for being a foreigner. As someone who worked in a Navy Equal Employment Office as a teen, I was aware of instances of brutal and even murderous violence on the part of those who suggested America was supposed to only be for whites.

    I can hope that those who believe yet needed to hear this talk are swayed to a better Christianity thereby.

  9. Hey B,
    I do not think that it was a miss. Remember Doctrine and Covenants 50? When it is preached and received with the spirit, then both will rejoice. This was preached with the spirit. Nothing that the General Authorities preach is without it. Sometimes we are not ready or willing to listen to what is preached, we as the listeners need to have the spirit too.

  10. Although I agree that Pres. Oaks’ talk was not a miss, I think I get B’s drift. “Racism” is perhaps the most hotly contested term on the planet today. Everybody agrees that racism = bad, but not body agrees what racism means. By discussing racism without defining it, President Oaks invites a misread of his comments.

    You and I “get” what he meant. But the postmodernist progressive preaching critical race theory also “gets” what he meant. That same vague take on social issues and school shootings from Elder Holland last spring that had our progressive wing convinced he’d gone woke. It’s that same vagueness from Elder Uchdorf and on a lot of lower tiers that has the LGBT movement convinced that gay sealings are only a matter of time.

  11. Bro Oaks talk was excellent and interesting stating the USA was chosen as the host nation for the gospel restoration. That was a very refreshing way to state your role in that endeavor without the past referrings that USA was blessed(more) above others. Also president Nelson’ s statement about racism had no place in our lives and church very direct and close to a ‘ lord saith’

  12. After listening to Oaks’ talk again, I am even more sour on it. He alleges that the BLM/Antifa narrative is correct, their anger justified, only the violence is unacceptable.

    The BLM protests are built on a foundation of lies. There are no race-based laws in America, and disparate impact does not imply a law is unjust. Even the protests’ proximate causes are nonsense. There was never any evidence that the cops in the George Floyd incident had racial animus, and plenty of evidence that the cops acted reasonably and by-the-book. Same for Breonna Taylor. Racism is not the greatest challenge facing our country. Not even close.

    So what is Oaks talking about? How does marching alongside marxists and atheists for a cause built on sand contribute to the building of Zion? Elder Christofferson’s talk was much more on point. Only by focusing our minds and hearts on Christ and His gospel can we build sustainably peaceful and prosperous societies. That requires rejecting “anti-racism” and all other movements that seek to immanentize the eschaton through the arm of flesh.

  13. B, pres Oaks did not say the things you accuse him of. He condemned riots and violence. He promoted the Constitution. He never told us to march with Marxists.
    That said, your grievances suggest prejudice on your part. You don’t have to agree with the prophets, but don’t be surprised when we see you as part of the problem President Oaks warns us about. Especially when you are using logical fallacies, such as strawman arguments, to justify your stance.
    Perhaps we could use B’s statements as an example of hoe racism is justified, instead of repenting.

  14. How am I justifying racism? By requesting evidence of racism from those who allege it? Of what am I supposed to repent? Advocating for truth and a gospel-centered worldview?

    Oaks spoke approvingly of the peaceful protests as “the authorized way to raise public awareness and to focus on injustices in the content or administration of the laws.” This wasn’t just a principled stand on the right to protest, he agrees with BLM that “there have been injustices. In public actions and in our personal attitudes, we have had racism and related grievances.”

    Clearly, Oaks believes the peaceful protests are a valid way to fix what he believes are serious problems, but does he hope saints will join the fray? It appears so. Oaks admonished, “as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we must do better to help root out racism” in America and quoted an NAACP leader’s op-ed in Deseret News that “racism thrives on […] passivity, indifference and silence.” In other words, silence is violence.

    For my part, I won’t be silent. I will continue to raise my voice against the “anti-racism” movement. A movement that makes evidence-free accusations of racism to create moral panic. A movement that has inspired the riots that have ruined and taken innocent lives. A movement that demands whites feel contrition for their whiteness. A movement that demands your total allegiance, lest they label you with a scarlet R.

    My allegiance is to the Lord and his Kingdom. Until someone can explain how allying with race-hustling demagogues is the Lord’s will, I will continue to consider them my enemy.

  15. Pres Oaks also taught us to love our enemies.

    As it is, you may not have experienced the racism many if us have seen, both in the Church and out. I spent 17 years serving in callings in Tuskegee and Montgomery ‘s inner city and six in a Spanish branch. Racism is alive and well and found in many bad laws, ad Pres Oaks noted and I’ve seen.

    It isn’t just Pres Oaks. Presidents Nelson, Monson and Hinckley spoke out against racism. Because many Mormons are tone deaf, Pres Oaks spelled it out clearer.
    Your choice, our choice is to listen and seek guidance thru the Spirit on where we must repent and change, and how to be a voice of Christ like love, or we can choose another path.

    I learned a long time ago to earnestly listen to the prophets and follow their counsel. I hope you and others will heed this guidance. We all have room to repent and change. Let’s hope as a people, we will follow God’s counsel thru the prophets.

  16. The divergent reactions to President Oaks’ talk reminds me of the reactions to President Hinckley’s April 2003 talk at height of the Gulf War entitled “War and Peace”.

    I heard reactions from both extremes: “See, President Hinckley condemns the war in Iraq!”, but also “The Mormons will one day regret being so supportive of this awful war.”

    How two diametrically opposed interpretations could result from one set of remarks goes to support the age old observation that the message received depends what the hearer wants to hear.

    For my part, I loved President Oaks comments. Forego anger in politics, love our ideological adversaries, obey the laws of the land, etc.

    What’s there to not like?

    Cheers.

  17. Yah, John, and it seems the responses have been at about the same ratio as the Ten Virgins parable — approx 50% wise, 50% foolish. Interesting.

  18. B, President Oaks and Elder Cristofferson’s talks are ultimately complementary. It is through living a virtuous life and following the commandments of the Savior that we root out the selfishness, pride and hatred that fuel racism in ourselves (removing the beam from our own eyes), and allow us to, with kindness, wisdom, courage and humility to point out the motes in the eyes of others.

    The building of Zion requires many things, and just because every talk doesn’t hammer home on the exact same message doesn’t mean that those messages are inherently contradictory.

    Furthermore, if you’re reading into his talk that Pres. Oaks expects us to join rioters in violence and terror, then you’re not reading very carefully. He explicitly denounced violence and lawbreaking.

    Yes, there have been extremist elements in the social justice movements currently speaking out across this nation, and we should indeed avoid giving support to the voices raised only in anger and contention. But admitting that there has been injustice does not have to be the first step to anarchy, it can be the first step to a more just society. Pres. Oaks didn’t ask you to back BLM or Antifa, what he asked you to do is consider that the current way policing interacts with African Americans is not just and can be improved, and that reacting to protests, even violent protests, by forming armed militias and engaging in violence ourselves is harmful to our nation, its laws and its freedoms.

    This was a mild rebuke, the fact that you’re reacting so violently to it says more about you than about Pres. Oaks.

  19. Sydney, I don’t see a violent reaction at all from B. I’d love to see someone— anyone— address his actual points. As a big Oaks fan, I don’t generally find myself in this position. But I don’t feel right about dismissing B’s take so readily.

  20. Tossman, I agree with thee about B; he makes excellent sense to me. And for that matter, you do as well.
    Cheers, brother of wise whisper, dog with bountiful bark. 🙂

  21. Ok Tossman, I’ll give a crack at it.

    1. Pres. Oaks “…alleges that the BLM/Antifa narrative is correct, their anger justified, only the violence is unacceptable.”

    If you interpret President Oaks statement that racial injustice has been done, and that people engaging in peaceful protest against these injustices as supporting the “BLM/Antifa narrative” then I suppose B has a point. However, I don’t see a single instance in Pres. Oaks talk where he argues that the Police need defunding, that the overall arc of our nation’s history has been inherently and irredeemably racist, or that violence is in any justified as a form of protest or resistance to injustice. In fact, Pres. Oaks goes out of his way in his talk to condemn violent uprisings as unlawful and unconstitutional. So I’m not sure that B has a leg to stand on there.

    2. “Oaks spoke approvingly of the peaceful protests as “the authorized way to raise public awareness and to focus on injustices in the content or administration of the laws.” This wasn’t just a principled stand on the right to protest, he agrees with BLM that “there have been injustices. In public actions and in our personal attitudes, we have had racism and related grievances.”

    How exactly are peaceful protests not the authorized way to raise public awareness and to focus on injustices in the content or administration of the laws? The First Amendment and over 200 years of American History tend to uphold that precedent.

    As to B’s argument that Pres. Oaks agrees with BLM that “there have been injustices. In public actions, and in our personal attitudes, we have had racism and related grievances” I fail to see the issue here. The fact the Pres. Oaks happens to agree with one aspect of BLM’s arguments hardly makes him a raving radical.

    3. “…Oaks believes the peaceful protests are a valid way to fix what he believes are serious problems, but does he hope saints will join the fray? It appears so. Oaks admonished, “as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we must do better to help root out racism” in America and quoted an NAACP leader’s op-ed in Deseret News that “racism thrives on […] passivity, indifference and silence.” In other words, silence is violence.”

    Once again, what’s the problem with peaceful protests, surely they are preferable to riots and mob violence on the one hand, or sullen acceptance of injustice on the other.

    Does Pres. Oaks hope saints will “join the fray?” That probably depends what “the fray” consists of. If it involves the peaceful protest and petition of the people for redress of grievances and reform of injustices, I imagine the answer is yes. If it involves the armed intimidation of elected officials, the destruction of property and a sustained state of lawlessness, then Pres. Oaks own words speak for themselves, so no.

    As to how we are to oppose racism as Latter-day Saints, Pres. Oaks does not provide a single answer, because there isn’t one. In some cases, when the cause is just, protest may be justified. In other cases contact with our elected officials may be necessary, or we may need to consider who we are voting for. On the most basic level, every Saint should give heed to the Prophet’s counsel to banish hateful rhetoric from our tongues and hateful ideas from our minds. Does this mean becoming a sanctimonious uber-woke liberal? Of course not. It means practicing what we preach, loving our neighbor, loving our enemies and emulating the Savior in all we do, and particularly in our interactions with those of different backgrounds.

    4. “For my part, I won’t be silent. I will continue to raise my voice against the “anti-racism” movement. A movement that makes evidence-free accusations of racism to create moral panic. A movement that has inspired the riots that have ruined and taken innocent lives. A movement that demands whites feel contrition for their whiteness. A movement that demands your total allegiance, lest they label you with a scarlet R.”

    There’s a lot to unpack here. No one is asking B to be silent, they are asking him to consider his words and if they are motivated by the Holy Spirit or the spirt of contention. We are being asked to consider our ways and be mindful of how they might contradict with the Commandments of the Lord. The only way this differs from any one of a hundred other Conference talks given in my lifetime is the fact that it hits on a politically charged topic, and doesn’t come from the reliably Conservative political position we’ve become used to hearing the Brethren speak from.

    As to B’s criticism’s of the “moral panic” of the anti-racist movement, I frankly agree, this is a serious problem. But as I have point out above, Pres. Oaks is no more asking us to align ourselves with the hysterical elements out there finding “racists” under every rock, than he is asking us to support the bombing of Abortion clinics when he speaks in opposition to Abortion. Acceptance of the existence of racism in modern American culture and the need to rectify injustices does not immediately translate to a clarion call to revolutionary terror.

    5. “My allegiance is to the Lord and his Kingdom. Until someone can explain how allying with race-hustling demagogues is the Lord’s will, I will continue to consider them my enemy.”

    If B’s allegiance is to the Lord and his Kingdom, why is he attacking one of the Lord’s anointed servants? Seriously, if B’s allegiance to the Lord’s Kingdom is contingent on that Kingdom subscribing to the same political positions he holds, then his allegiance is shallow indeed.

  22. Sincere questions: did the Brethren teach during GC (and in other messages) that only white people are racist? Is there such a thing as reverse racism, and should this be condemned also? If a person of color hates a white person for being white, isn’t that also about hate, and shouldn’t that be condemned? Critical race theory (inspired by the Marxist Frankfurt school) teaches (among many other things) that the only racism that matters is white racism and that white people must be constantly attacked in every setting and every institution for ALL being inherently racist. How does that fit in (if at all) with the messages from General Conference?

    For the record, I think this post from Rame is quite good, and I am not attacking Rame or any other commenter here in any way. I am asking sincere questions because one of the themes of General Conference was racism.

    And also for the record, my grandparents grew up in LDS culture in the West, and they were definitely racist by any standard. (This does not mean I don’t love them and honor them). I applaud Church leaders for condemning cultural habits among latter-day Saints that have, in the past and probably today, winked at racism. But I still remain a bit perplexed by the questions I state above.

  23. My concern with B’s statements, he made claims not supported by Pres Oaks’ talk. There has to be a level of reasonable consideration to what is said. When B claimed Oaks was encouraging us to join BLM and Antifa and support Marxism, he was looking WAY beyond the mark. Oaks condemned violence and pointed us towards Christ like love and Constitution.
    Just show me where his statements are logical and actually apply to what Pres Oaks actually said, ThEN we can have a reasoned discussion. In the meanwhile, I’ll do what Pres Oaks taught and actively seek to root out racism, which seems to be threaded throughout B’s statements.

  24. Geoff you make some excellent points. Critical Race Theory is seriously flawed, particularly in the way that it breaks the world into the oppressors and the oppressed and absolves the oppressed of any flaws, while attributing all societal flaws to the oppressor. It massively oversimplifies history, society and thus is extremely appealing to people looking for a simple worldview that breaks the world into “good people” and “bad people” based on an easily identifiable chararcteristic, and then makes “goodness” determined solely by wholehearted and uncritical acceptance of whatever pronouncement the “good people” make.

    Having said all that I don’t think Pres. Nelson, Pres. Oaks or Elder Cook’s remarks in any way embraced the ideas of Critical Race Theory. In fact, Elder Cook explicitly talked about clan-based bigotry, which is a serious problem in various parts of the non-Western world where the Church operates.

    The Prophet’s remarks were clear, that we should realize that the favor of God falls upon those who obey his commandments, and that anyone in any group who assumes that their particular racial/ethnic/etc… category sets them up for special consideration, worthiness or value in the sight of God are in error and need to repent.

    I think the Brethren have noted the heightened racial tensions and violence, particularly in the United States, and have seen some of those tensions apparent even among the ranks of the Saints. As contention and division are tools of the Adversary the Brethren have sought to act in their role as “watchmen on the tower” to warn us away from voices we may find seductive in distracting us from the work of the Lord, and toward a spiritually destructive hatred of our neighbor.

  25. Sydney, I recommend review send. Reflect, re-check. President Oaks is speaking of *principles.* He has no interest to evaluating malevolent political entities. Re-read, I plead. There are no veiled references in his address; no undercurrents, no subtle hinting. To second-guess creates mess. I suggest to pray. Invite light. That is the miracle resource we have available to us: we can talk with God about things that seem to baffle.
    Cheers to you!

  26. Geoff, I agree with you regarding CRT. Racism occurs whenever any group with power uses that power against another race. So, when I was church group leader in Tuskegee Alabama 35 years ago, and had local people call me “honky” as I walked across the campus, they were displaying racism towards me.

    As Pres Oaks emphasized, the solution is Christ-like love. It erases racism and other hatred (cultural, religious, ethnic, etc).

  27. I think we can distill this debate down to context. Would B or I have received this talk differently in any other time or context? If it had been delivered last April– or in 2010? I can’t speak for B, but it would not have given me pause at all.

    This is a global church. We’re taking huge strides to appeal to a global membership. The recent changes to the church magazines are a big step in that direction. And yet racism being a major theme of this conference happens to coincide with an uproar taking place primarily in the US. “We interrupt this increasingly global movement to laser focus on a locally hot topic.”

    Racism has always been a problem and will be for the foreseeable future, but the current uproar isn’t about racism in a general sense. It’s selective. It’s not about the dissolution of the black family or black-on-black crime that accounts for so much of the unfortunate circumstances the black community finds itself in. No, it’s selectively about an overarching CRT-stemmed “institutional” racism, the existence of which is debatable at best. It’s selectively about a perceived lop-sidedness in law enforcement that frankly isn’t supported by the stats.

    Racism is a hot topic right now not because it exists and is ugly. It’s a hot topic right now because debatable aspects of it happen to coincide with popular movements. Every business and corporation under the sun feels compelled to chime in on the topic (for marketing reasons). Every celebrity feels compelled to make a video on it. Every sport feels compelled to make it a centerpiece. And apparently, the brethren didn’t want to miss the bandwagon.

    I’ll be honest– I’m having a rough time with this being a theme of conference right now. I’ll pray about it and probably fall in line as I pretty much have with illegal immigration (I thought it to be immoral but the brethren seem to have zero issue with it, and I’ve softened my stance significantly). There are plenty of topics and doctrines I’ve needed to change my perspective on, and I imagine that will happen here, too.

    Another peeve: there is a perception among progressive members that the church will respond and in some ways “bend the knee” if they make a big enough stink about it. Appearing to jump on the anti-racism bandwagon only fuels their fire. (Seriously, watch Twitter during conference).

    This uproar isn’t about racism. It’s about CRT and dubious cases. Racism is indeed an evil that needs to be vanquished It’s the timing of this suddenly being an urgent churchwide concern is I take issue with. Why do we feel the need to respond to every American cultural zeitgeist? What did my family back in Samoa get from this talk? The families my son taught in Brazil?

  28. I see I’m in moderation now, so while I wait for my previous comment to appear (or not), I’d like to address a couple of other comments.

    Gerald Smith said: “In the meanwhile, I’ll do what Pres Oaks taught and actively seek to root out racism, which seems to be threaded throughout B’s statements.”

    Please point out those threads, Gerald. I see no racism there.

    Rameumptom said “Geoff, I agree with you regarding CRT. Racism occurs whenever any group with power uses that power against another race.”

    A central tenet of CRT is the “power” clause. Prior to CRT, racism universally meant discrimination or hatred based on race. Are you saying that the epithet that was used against you in AL was only racist because you were a minority in that community? If somebody called you that in West Jordan, UT, would it still be racist?

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