Monday, December 21, 2020

The Sacrilege Of Syncretism: Why We Cannot Confuse The Kingdom With The Empire

I’m writing about something that I never dreamed would be an issue with which American Evangelicals would wrestle: should we or should we not promote or even join an insurrection if President Trump does not stay in office? Should we perhaps even join a movement for conservative states to secede from the United States, even if the cost is a violent uprising that could turn into a modern Civil War?

 Lest you think I am exaggerating about this being a viable option right now, allow me to point toward a few conservative politicians and prominent evangelical leaders whose voices represent millions[1] before I move on to some pastoral observations.


Rick Joyner, well-known figure in the New Apostolic Reformation: 

"We're in time for war. We need to recognize that. We need to mobilize. We need to get ready," Joyner said during the show. He went on to discuss "our civil war," saying that he'd seen in a dream that "militias would pop up like mushrooms" and they would be backed by God. "Jesus himself said, 'There's gonna be a time when you need to sell your coat and buy a sword.' Now that was a physical weapon of their day, and we're in that time here. We need to realize that," he said… The pastor went on to say that God had "seeded" the U.S. with veterans of recent wars who "know how to fight in urban warfare." He said that these veterans would "be a part of the leadership of these militias and help us in what's about to unfold in our own country." Joyner described them as "patriots."

Rush Limbaugh floated the idea of secession on his show, though he later clarified that he wasn’t advocating, just observing…which seems like a fine line, considering how Limbaugh’s observations carry a lot of weight with his audience. 


The Chairman of the Texas Republican Party, Alan West, tweeted after the Supreme Court tossed out a Trump administration lawsuit: “"Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the constitution.” He claims to be baffled that people would interpret it as promoting secession, but you can see for yourself how you feel about his explanation. 

Milo Yiannopoulos wrote on Parler, “BURN THE REPUBLICAN PARTY TO THE FUCKING GROUND...There are only two options now. Secession or war. . . Secession is preferable.”


Congressman Randy Weber has made his desire for secession very clear on his Facebook page,  as have TV hosts on The Blaze. 


A militia group[3] called the Three Percenters posted this recently: “We stand ready and are standing by to answer the call from our President should the need arise that We The People are needed to take back our country from the pure evil that is conspiring to steal our country away from the American people. We are ready to enter into battle with General Flynn leading the charge. We will not act unless we are told to. And we will not act on our own as TTPO, but rather as a united body of American patriots. It is our hope and prayer the states that have had sufficient evidence of election fraud make a stand by doing what is just: by having their electors cast their vote for Donald Trump. If they fail to do this we urge Vice President Pence to refuse the electoral count in order to enable a contingent election, for House GOP members to object on the floor for the electors being untrue, or for President Trump to use the military to enforce 2018 Executive Order 13848 and to commence military tribunals for those who staged a coup of a sitting US president. Should all of these avenues of approach fail, and in order to prevent a second civil war, we urge all conservative states to join together to secede from the Union in order to form a more perfect Union so that our values of freedom, liberty, and our American way of life may be preserved. United we stand, divided we fall, and we are clearly no longer unified as a nation.”

This scattered coalition was brought together quite publicly at  the Jericho March in Washington, D.C. this month. Rod Dreher, a Christian author and Senior Editor at the American Conservative, compiled a list of observations while watching it. 

  • Eric Metaxas (the emcee): ““Everybody who is not hopped up about this [election being stolen] … you are the Germans that looked the other way when Hitler was preparing to do what he was preparing to do. Unfortunately, I don’t see how you can see it any other way…We need to fight to the death, to the last drop of blood, because it’s worth it… If we don’t get our people in … we go over the cliff, and we don’t come back.”  In an earlier interview with President Trump, Metaxas, referring to the attempts to overturn the election result, said, “I’d be happy to die in this fight. This is a fight for everythingGod is with us. Jesus is with us in this fight for liberty.”  Metaxas noted close to the beginning of the Jericho March, “‘Hallelujah’ is American for ‘Praise the Lord!'” When the president’s helicopter, Marine One, hovered over the crowd, he said, “Praise God! Thank you Jesus! God bless America! … That’s not the Messiah, that’s just the President.”  It seems fitting that he also blew a red, white and blue shofar.
  • Alex Jones, Sandy Hook truther and conspiracy theorist who compared what’s happening now to what happened in 1776, was also featured at the Jericho March: “Humanity is awakening! Jesus Christ is King…This is the beginning of the Great Revival before the Antichrist comes! … Revelation is fulfilled… “GOD IS ON OUR SIDE! We will never bow down to the Satanic pedophile New World Order…Joe Biden is a globalist, and Joe Biden will be removed, one way or another!” His final comment has received quite a reaction, including speculation about the nature of his threat. 
  • General Flynn, one of the central figures at the rally, had recently endorsed a call for Donald Trump to declare martial law, temporarily suspend the Constitution, and arrest his political enemies. 
  • Then there was “Lin Wood, a… lawyer who was quoted in a recent lawsuit… [as saying] ‘by the time I am through with Taylor Wilson, he’s going to wish all I had done was f**k his wife,’ up there on the stage at the Stop the Steal rally, putting on his very best TV evangelist, name-dropping Jesus and various Biblical figures, all in service of very specific and, I fear, questionable political aims.” 
  • A pastor speaking at the Jericho March “announced ‘the final mission to ending this high treason.’” He likened the crowd to soldiers preparing for war to restore Eden. “We are here to save Earth and its inhabitants,” he said. 
  • Then, says Dreher,[2] “came a pastor with an outfit called the Black Robe Regiment. He compared Trump supporters to the Israelites about to cross the Red Sea. Pharaoh’s army is coming, he said, but just you wait. ‘God is about to do something in this country that is going to take the threats we’re dealing with and put it [sic] down.’ Real pastors, he said, lead their flock into battle. He wasn’t speaking metaphorically. The pastor denounced separation of church and state (‘What is this separation of church and state?’ he sneered). This was truly extraordinary: the conflation of shedding blood, seizing the government, and serving God. This was a great gift to the Left, this speech. The entire day was. A very conservative Christian friend e-mailed me during all this to say, ‘My God, this is the kind of stuff that drove me away from Christianity for 25 years!’ Another speaker, a man wearing a black cowboy hat, called on Trump to ‘invoke the Insurrection Act’ to ‘drop the hammer’ on “traitors.” He said that Trump should know that the ‘militia’ is with him. ‘Let’s get it on now, while [Trump] is still the commander in chief,’ said the speaker.”
  • Ali Alexander, who runs the Stop The Steal protests and helped make the Jericho March happen, posted on his Twitter on December 21:How far shall we go? However necessary.” On the 20th, he posted: “Republicans need to understand what time it is. It’s 11:59. They want us dead. #StopTheSteal... by any means necessary. Then, #CancelTheCoup.”
  • Katrina Pierson, who works for the current administration, added this: "We will utilize that system to the very end. And if that does not work -- we will take our country back ... if you think, for one second, that sleepy Joe Biden is going to fake his way into the White House, then you have not been paying attention!" 
  •  Rob Weaver, co-founder of the Jericho March, has been tweeting some interesting things on his Twitter feed: “1776 Again.” (Re-tweeted from General Flynn).  “There are but two parties now: traitors and patriots.” (Retweeted from Sidney Powell). He retweeted a tweet from Lin Wood in favor of placing seven states under martial law. “Stop the coup” shows up numerous times.
  • The hashtag #crosstherubicon is trending. You can see on this Twitter thread what that looks like, and what they mean.  

If you read Dreher's article (as well as the others to which I link in the endnotes), he has some pretty strong feelings about this blending of Christian faith and secular politics. So does theologian Michael Horton, who wrote just this week: 

“The “Jericho March” was a blip in the news cycle, but maybe it can be a wakeup call for Christ’s body. What we’re witnessing on the national stage right now is disgraceful. In fact, the only word for it is blasphemy—the sacrilege not of secularists marching on Washington to take away religious freedom but of evangelicals marching on Washington to perpetuate a cult. We might have ignored this as a spectacle, a performance by a handful of voices in opposition to the Constitutional system of our republic. But I feel conscience-bound as a minister of the Word to warn against what can only be considered a heresy—indeed, a cult within a certain segment of evangelicalism." 


* * * * * * * * * *

So, the ideas of insurrection or potentially even secession are both being taken seriously, and it’s gaining momentum. A recent poll done by Hofstra University found that around 40% of both Republicans and Democrats would be at lest somewhat in favor of states secession of the opposition’s candidate won. The violence that one might expect to follow this kind of rhetoric is already flaring up.  It sounds like both protestors and counter-protestors are contributing, but…. here we go.


If I understand correctly, secessionists have concluded that it’s time to geographically separate the sheep from the goats, if you will – and who exactly deserves each of those labels depends a lot on which side of the political aisle you land. No matter how you apply the labels, it certainly intends to separate the Left from the Right, conservative from liberal, and Republican from Democrat. 


I was going to say it also intends to separate Christians from non-Christians, but after seeing the mix of speakers at the Jericho March and groups like the Proud Boys marching in the streets to Stop The Steal, I don’t think that’s fair. Even the Jericho March's promotion says it was for “patriots and people of faith” that “blends the political and spiritual aspects of the fight for election integrity.”


The coherence comes through ideological and political positions, not spiritual ones. In that sense, it’s a big tent. Secessionists aren’t looking to start a Christian utopia; they are looking to start a political one. Religious beliefs will overlap political ideologies in some places to be sure, but they are not the same. 


The bottom line is that they would agree with Rush: the chasm between our worldviews has made it impossible to do life together. This difference is so sharp that we are functionally two different nations. The nation on the Left offers such a moral, political and existential threat to human flourishing that a formal separation is worth possible civil war and bloodshed. 


I don’t disagree at all that we are a deeply divided nation. People have been decrying the potential for electronic voting to be compromised since 2004, when Democrats are convinced the Republicans stole the election. It’s not a new issue. Contesting the election on these grounds appears to be the new normal. Our ideological differences are as stark as they have ever been (or at least the 24/7 news cycle makes it appear so). Studies would show that Purple America is disappearing as we cluster in Red and Blue havens, a move which has escalated dramatically in the past 20 years. The Wall Street Journal noted this past November: 

“If it feels like Republicans and Democrats are living in different worlds, it’s because they are. There are few places left in America where one tribe of voters is likely to encounter the other. Predominantly white, rural areas are solid Republican; urban areas are dominated by Democrats…In 2016, voters in these landslide counties accounted for 30% of all votes nationwide, up from about 4% in 1980. It was the first time that number surpassed the share of votes cast in closely contested counties (those within five points of the national vote). In 2020, the share from landslide counties grew to 35%.” 


So, the observations about our growing polarization are really not debatable. Meanwhile, the implications for public policy (abortion, immigration, health care, education, pandemic responses, economic and foreign policy) and private freedom (the clash between religious freedom and LGBTQ rights when it comes to weddings has been a volatile example) are significant. 


What is debatable is at what point those difference are a just cause for secession, and perhaps even war. What is even more debatable –and of primary importance for the purposes of this article –is if there is a biblical foundation for Christ-followers to secede and perhaps even go to war because of the current political divisions we face.[4]


How we Christians are called to respond as Christians must be considered first and foremost. How we respond as citizens of the United States matters only after we have established what the King in our primary Kingdom has to say.    


Christians do not go to physical war on behalf of the Kingdom of God. We follow the One who insisted His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36); therefore, His servants should not pick up a sword to bring about the kingdom of God on earth. If we believe there is a civil and political argument to make for some kind of revolution, it cannot – cannot – contain any notion that we are fighting with weapons of war for the protection or expansion of the kingdom of God. This is why I am concerned about the blending of Christianity with politics in this movement. They must be separated. If we erase the line between Kingdom and Empire, we are done. Either march in DC for the Kingdom’s gospel, or march for the Empire’s agenda. Please, please, do not confuse them. 


Servants of God wage spiritual war (Ephesians 6:12) through prayer, practicing spiritual disciplines, committing to holy living, and spreading the gospel message.  In so doing, we become the salt in a decaying culture and light in the encroaching darkness (Matthew 5). We have said for 2,000 years that our foes are not flesh and blood. We have said for 2,000 years that our strongest weapon is prayer. The armor we put on the full armor of God. This is the only way to wage war in defense of the Kingdom of God. 


Followers of Jesus overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21); we answer wrath with soft answers (Proverbs 15:1). We do not fight sword with sword, or gun with gun to defend the kingdom of God. We “heap coals” on the heads of enemies, to use a biblical analogy about using kindness and love in response to violence and threats. When our faith is attacked, we stand, but we stand in love. We can use the legal resources at our disposal (like Paul did with his Roman citizenship, and like we can with our constitutional rights), but we use them with love, with the hope that when the dust settles, those with whom we clashed will still have ears to hear the gospel. God save us from plugging their ears with our anger and fear. And if the constitution crumbles, our faith will go on. It’s survived much worse in the history of the world.  David French rightly notes,

“I’ve often thought about what a persecuted first-century Christian would think of the rage and panic of all too many American Evangelicals. They would be stunned at the sheer size of the American church. They’d be in awe of our wealth. They’d be amazed that the most powerful man in the world courted our favor. And then they’d be even more astounded at the fanaticism and fury displayed in the nation’s capital yesterday [referring to the Jericho March]. The disconnect with the teachings of the apostles could not be more profound.”


Jon Jalsevac has pointed out the inevitable conclusion of the line of thinking revealed so boldly in the aforementioned quotes that display the mingling of Christianity, nationalism, and partisan loyalty: 

“If we are in a state of all-out war with Forces of Darkness, then most – or all – of the ordinary rules of engagement are suspended, and almost anything can be justified. War is hell, and anyone who, on the battlefield, starts quoting from Robert’s Rules of Order, or – for that matter – the Sermon on the Mount, needs a good kick in the rear, and a rifle in hand. None of this is Christian, of course. All of it partakes, to one degree or another, of the sin of idolatry. Truth trumps party loyalties, every time. Our political heroes are not the savior. Our political enemies are children of God, whom we are commanded to love as ourselves. Politics, political victory, and political power are not the summa bona of either this life, or the next. And even in war, the Sermon on the Mount still applies.”

In case you are wondering how this kind of syncretism unfolds, check out what was on the agenda for a recent Turning Point USA event. TPUSA’s founder, Charlie Kirk, was given an honorary Doctorate from Liberty University. He also helped found a think tank for Liberty.  This think tank is intended to have a “Gospel driven and Christ-centered cultural influence.”  You can see for yourself how that’s going. 


* * * * *  * *


So, let’s say the reason is more personal. 

Christians are worried that what feels like overwhelming cultural forces opposed to our faith will destroy not only the church but the faith of individual believers. If the state is coming for our children, shouldn’t we be taking them to safety? If the Left wants to strong arm conservative Christians into subservience and even demand some sort of participation in things we believe to be wrong, why wouldn’t we follow Paul’s example and escape the city? (Acts 9:25) Maybe it’s time to “shake the dust off our feet” (Matthew 10:14) and move on to somewhere less hostile, somewhere our time is not wasted.


I get it. I really do. Facing inevitable trials and tribulation are a lot to process when we evangelicals have not been given that burden to bear for hundreds of years here in the United States. However, this kind of societal hostility is not a new problem in the history of the world. As long as there have been people of God, they have lived in or been surrounded by cultures that sought to undermine them. Babylon was more than one city situated in a historical moment. It’s every secular city on this side of heaven. 


It’s probably worth placing ourselves in perspective in our time and place. You'll notice that the United States does not make the Top 50 in a list of countries in which Christians are persecuted. We've got it pretty good. History has something to say as well. Historically, when the going gets tough, the church digs in and gets holy. When we study church history, we are inspired by those who stay and stand strong in the face of even tremendous persecution. We aren’t anywhere close to that yet. Stay and be purified. We aren’t being asked to give our lives or be tortured like so many of our brothers and sisters around the globe.  

The actual city of Babylon in the Old Testament functions for us as a symbol of cultures with worldviews opposed to God. That’s every culture, everywhere. We can’t leave it geographically. It’s inescapable. If Christians secede and start a new country, just give it time. It, too, will become Babylon.

What Jesus and the writers of the New Testament revealed was how to live well in every Babylon. This is why the Bible does not call Christians to retreat from spiritual battle or hide from menacing culture. “In it, but not of it” is the classic summary of biblical teaching. We are here for the culture.


Paul penned some sharp words of admonition to the Corinthian church when they misinterpreted how to live in a remarkable sinful culture: “ I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—  not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-10) Paul had intended his original message as a reminder to keep the house and people of God holy; he hadn’t meant they were supposed to isolate themselves from even their most unholy neighbors. The church was there for the sake of the culture. 


This is why I don’t like the idea of Christians leading a secessionist movement. We are supposed to be at the fields where the harvest is ripe (John 4:35). We are meant to go into all the world and making disciples (Mark 16:15-16). We must be where the harvest is. We don’t leave the fields for others to glean – after all, somebody will harvest. If it’s not us, then who?The biblical vision of the church does not involve Christians withdrawing into safe spaces.  It involves us moving into spiritually hostile territory and spreading into all the world. 


It’s the darkness that needs light; it’s the sick that need the doctor. The whole point of the church is to be present in the neighborhoods of evil to bring the light, life and hope of Jesus so that those in spiritual darkness can see the light. Frankly, a secession wouldn’t solve the problem. We cannot create a utopia. We cannot build a holy city. Only God can make a New Heaven and New Earth, and He’s going to have take care of that in His time. We will just rebuild Babylon with every city we make. It’s inevitable. 


We have the spiritual armor of God. We face forward. We walk toward the gates of hell, wherever they may be, because they will not prevail (Matthew 16:17-19). I grew up listening to Steve Camp sing “Run To The Battle,” so I’m not inclined to run away from it. 


The Bible does not say that all the spiritually “healthy” – oh, the hubris - should withdraw from the spiritually and morally “sick” and leave them to their own devices (Luke 5:27-31). Jesus made it a point to be with those who needed him most. It seems fair to assume that His followers should do the same. 

Who did Jesus hang out with so much that he got the mocking nickname “friend of sinners”? (Matthew 11:18-19) The most despised, the most outcast, the ones most disdained by the religious folk of his time. And the biblical writers embraced that nickname. Casting Crowns has made a delightful song out of it. 


Jesus, friend of sinners, we have strayed so far away.
We cut down people in Your name, but the sword was never ours to swing.
Jesus, friend of sinners, the truth's become so hard to see,
The world is on their way to You, but they're trippin' over me.
Always lookin' around, but never lookin' up, I'm so double minded;
A plank eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided.


Oh, Jesus, friend of sinners,
Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers.
Oh, let our hearts be led by mercy,
Help us reach with open hearts and open doors.
Oh, Jesus, friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks Yours.

Jesus, friend of sinners, the one who's writing in the sand,
Made the righteous turn away and the stones fall from their hands.
Help us to remember we are all the least of these,
Let the memory of Your mercy bring Your people to their knees.
Nobody knows what we're for, only what we're against when we judge the wounded;
What if we put down our signs, crossed over the lines and love like You did?


Oh, Jesus, friend of sinners,
Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers.
And let our hearts be led by mercy;
Help us reach with open hearts and open doors.
Oh, Jesus, friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks Yours


You love every lost cause, You reach for the outcast,
For the leper and the lame; they're the reason that You came.
Lord, I was that lost cause and I was the outcast,
But You died for sinners just like me, a grateful leper at Your feet.

It would seem weird to have this playing on the radio as I drove away, waving goodbye to the ones I am called to love with the heart-broken, sacrificial, merciful love of Christ as I leave them to wander in the darkness from which I was so mercifully saved.


* * * * *

If we want the United States to be righteous – if we are discouraged or overwhelmed by the ubiquity of sin and evil, may our hearts be broken rather than hardened, motivated to stay and minister rather than leave and judge.


What can we do in the midst of moral darkness? We can embrace God’s Word, Spirit and church so that we mature in Christ-likeness and model, promote and defend righteousness in such a way that the salt and light of our words, attitudes and actions show us to be true ambassadors, accurate icons of the risen Savior.    


Are you tired of living in a culture where divorce is so common? We Christians have the opportunity to model what a stable, loving home looks like. If self-professing Christians did that, divorces would drop by 74%. If Christians start taking covenant seriously and making marriage compelling, everything changes. So, commit to your spouse. Stop using porn. 68% of church going men use porn, which raises the risk of infidelity by 300% and is a contributing factor in over half of divorces. Take other struggling couples under your wing. Do pre-marital and post-marital counseling. Go to and host marriage retreats. Stay and be part of the solution.


Are you scared your kids will be trafficked? Raise them in a stable, loving home. Seriously. That’s one of the most important things you can do. Don’t support pornography. 68% of church-going men uses porn, and it fuels sexual trafficking.  Dear God, do not be the hypocrite who rages against sexual traffickers while using porn, the industry that thrives on the objectification and trafficking of women. Volunteer at a legitimate organization and help others get out of trafficking. There’s lots of places to do this. Stay and be part of the solution.


Sick of abortion? The majority of abortions are obtained by self-professing Christians. 53% are self-professing Catholics, Protestants, or evangelical Protestants. If followers of Jesus stop having abortions, the numbers literally drop by 53%. Then, volunteer at a Pregnancy Care Center. Get your church involved with supporting pregnant moms, single moms, and at risk-families. Offer free babysitting. Help women in at-risk pregnancies know that there is a community of people who will help. Stay and be part of the solution. 


Worried that education is biased and corrosive? Prepare your kids to enter their local public school so that their presence is salt and light. Keep them plugged in at church on a regular, habit-forming basis. Become a teacher and become part of the solution. Join an existing alternative (I know there’s some good alternatives in my town). Join a homeschool co-op, or start a school. Put in the time and money – it will certainly be a sacrifice -  to build the best and brightest of the next generation, students full of the salt of grace and light of truth, ready to go and with the character and training that places them in high demand.  


Think BLM is a dangerous Marxist takeover? Join a movement that addresses racial injustice from a biblical perspective and transforms the culture in a way that builds on the love of God for all His image bearers – like, say, the And Campaign. It would be a shame if we ignored biblical justice issues because we don’t like how non-Christians are packaging it. Or… join BLM itself and be salt and light. If you think they need a Christian influence, maybe it should be you. I don’t care which you do. But don’t run. 


We are meant to be prophetic voices crying in the wilderness – which means we prophets who remain in the wilderness, where we can be heard by the lost and dying sheep wandering without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).  


We make spiritual hospitals (churches) in the places where the sick people live. We go to them. We move into their community. When lepers cried, “Unclean!” Jesus moved closer. It’s a model for us to follow. We know the Great Physician, and He’s got the cure. 


God moved into our neighborhood and lived among us– sinful, ugly, undeserving, wretched, us – in the person of Jesus . He incarnated even though He knew it would lead to His being broken and spilled out so that we might have access to God’s love, truth, mercy and grace. We, to must incarnate into all the world. We, too, must be prepared to be broken and spilled out for those whom Jesus loves. 

[1] I became aware of the seriousness of this discussion through Rod Dreher’s recent article “Eric Metaxas’s American Apocalypse.” Make no mistake; Dreher is a bona fide conservative. Check out his book The Benedict Option and the more recent Live Not By Lies, an excoriating broadside against certain movements on the Left. When Dreher gets riled up about something on the conservative evangelical Right, I take notice.

[2] Dreher has written two follow-ups to this article: “What I Saw At The Jericho March,” and “A Defense of Jericho March Criticism.” Both are worth reading if you unaware of what is happening. It’s also worth checking out “Christianity as Ideology: The Cautionary Tale of the Jericho March” from National Review.


[3] They insist that they are not, but I’m not sure how else to categorize them based on what I read on their website. 

[4] Beth Moore tweeted recently: “I do not believe these are days for mincing words. I’m 63 1/2 years old & I have never seen anything in these United States of America I found more astonishingly seductive & dangerous to the saints of God than Trumpism. This Christian nationalism is not of God. Move back from it. Fellow leaders, we will be held responsible for remaining passive in this day of seduction to save our own skin while the saints we’ve been entrusted to serve are being seduced, manipulated, USED and stirred up into a lather of zeal devoid of the Holy Spirit for political gain. And, God help us, we don’t turn from Trumpism to Bidenism. We do not worship flesh and blood. We do not place our faith in mortals. We are the church of the living God. We can’t sanctify idolatry by labeling a leader our Cyrus. We need no Cyrus. We have a king. His name is Jesus.” 

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