Reforming a Repulsive Reputation

We have a reputation problem. Increasingly, the public tags Christians with some very unsavory attributes.

We describe these characteristics in our new book that releases this week, Why Nobody Wants to Be Around Christians Anymore. In short, people view Christians as judgmental, disinterested in others’ thoughts, hypocritical, and disconnected from God.

Are these fair assessments? How should we feel about this reputation? One might expect this news to serve as a wake-up call, an opportunity to do some self-examination and soul-searching. But that isn’t always the response. We recently leaked some of these findings in social media. The responses, from some self-identified Christians, have not been altogether contrite. For example:

  • “I believe that people who have that feeling of ‘I feel judged,’ are actually experiencing conviction.”
  • “People feel judged because they know they have sinned.”
  • “They don’t want to repent, just be accepted.”
  • “It’s an excuse. Like any other.”
  • “Unless you’re going to hell, you always feel judged when you’re not doing what you are supposed to do.”
  • “They don’t want to be convicted of their sin, repent and change their lives.”
  • “People don’t want to go to church because they don’t want to be told what to do or that their lifestyle choices are sin.”
  • “The Bible says to hate sin, but love the sinner. The things you say people are caught up on are mentioned as abominations in the eyes of God.”

These responses concern and sadden me, for a couple of reasons. First, assuming–judging–someone’s heart who says, “I feel judged,” just compounds the judgment. And it only confirms the public’s perception that Christians are indeed judgmental and hypocritical loudmouths.

Secondly, this knee-jerk tendency to condemn the public shifts all the blame and leaves the self-described Christians feeling entirely unaccountable, completely released from any need to improve. This high-octane self-righteousness does nothing to solve the problem. It only exacerbates it.

And, frankly, I’m puzzled by the zeal and sheer delight some show in their hasty condemnation of their neighbors.

Of course it’s true that everyone–believer and not-yet-believer alike–is guilty of sin and in need of repentance. But reading people’s hearts is God’s responsibility. Conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit. The public finds it repulsive when mere humans attempt to be God.

In the book we describe a Barna Group study that found 51 percent of self-identified Christians in the U.S. have the same judgmental and hypocritical attitudes and actions portrayed by the Pharisees in the New Testament. Only 1 out of 7 live out the attitudes and actions associated with Jesus.

As followers of Christ, we’re called to love. And we’re challenged, by Jesus, to be known not for our eagerness to condemn, but for our love. That’s a reputation that’s magnetic, that draws people into the light of Christ.

In the next post, I’ll share how willing followers of Jesus can begin to earn a better reputation through some simple “acts of love.”

36 Responses to “Reforming a Repulsive Reputation”

  1. Thom…you’ve nailed it once again! Judgement is a poor substitute (and much easier) than actually loving folks. Obviously many believers have not a clue. Their churches will be empty before they understand.

  2. Jesus said the world would hate us because it hated Him. I’m interested to see the comments on this. This is a difficult subject and I don’t think we as Christians have been taught well, if at all on this subject. I also think this ‘judgmental’ thing may be partially a result of the approach our pastors and teachers have taken with us and we are just passing it on. The other thing is Jesus was only focused on initially saving people. He made spiritual babies. He didn’t raise them because He wasn’t around long enough so we have to look at the epistles as the how-to but this is with other Christians,.. not the world.

  3. Right between the eyeballs again, Thom! Thank you for exposing core issues that we (the church) need to be honest about. I appreciate your candor and hope we will have the courage to face the truth of our own hypocrisy. This will take some MAJOR readjusting for all, myself included. Jesus had a serious tone when exposing how concerned we were with the sawdust specks in other people’s eyes when we’ve got a giant log in our own. (Matt. 7:3,4; Luke 6:41,42) Imagine being known by our love for others!!!

  4. The reactions you’ve gotten don’t surprise one whit, Thom.

  5. I believe the Barna study referred to is:

    There are some fascinating and disturbing findings in that study.

  6. I’m glad we are having this discussion.

  7. Hmmm…. I’m struggling with this. We are to judge as in “according to their fruits we shall know them”- right? There’s also Paul’s example in 1 Corinthians 4-5 of rebuking sin (judging) within the church. Aren’t we supposed to “save a soul from sin and thus save him from death?” I believe there is a difference between judging the actions of the world vs. the actions of the church. We can’t judge the world. Their father is literally Satan. They don’t have the Spirit Of God residing within them- they’re not in Scripture. They don’t need judgement, but Christ’s love and Word and hope. I remember that Christ didn’t condemn the adultress, but told her to “Go and sin no more.” Should we continue to deny the truth of God’s Word? He DOES say that homosexuality is an abomination, just as disobedience to parents is! To say that it’s alright to continue in sin, denies Christ’s appeal- “Be ye holy, for I am holy!” And “if you love me, keep my commandments!”

    Please don’t misunderstand me. I know that no actions gain us audience with God. His gift of eternal life is a gift. But we choose to accept it and let him be Lord of our life. I unfortunately, know some people who would be believers but love the sin they indulge in too much to leave it for Christ. They DON’t want to change. They leave God’s gift untouched, because they don’t desire change. Do I have a pharisee’s mind? They have spoken what they felt with their own mouths! My heart yearns for them to know the truth! To know His freedom!

    When we’re dealing with Church members who are involved in sin, the Bible gives clear instructions for discipline- should we sway from that, so it seems we’re loving and accepting of all? How can we when we have such clear instructions?

    I have felt some of these very things listed above, but with great sadness in my heart. Our generation seems to be hard hearted toward the Lord and the truth of His Word. I DO feel that many people feel judged because God’s Word convicts them. (I’ve felt that way and praise God, repented and am working on things!) But I also feel our generation doesn’t know God, His Word, and that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” How do you feel we SHOULD feel when people (Christians and otherwise) go against the Word of God. I feel sadness, sometimes anger, and always a longing for that person to be reunited with the God who desires their hearts, souls, and minds to be turned towards Him. Where does this put me?!

    • Tanya, do you try to listen to what the person is saying and get an understanding of their viewpoint and experience? I get what you’re saying about sin, but I think far too many people just “hear” disobedience and rebellion and are ready to address that without really hearing the person and their heart. I believe there is a time and a place to deal with obvious matters of sin, but I think far too often, people are not being heard. There seems to be a rush to judgment (and a meting out of the punishment) that seems devoid of love and understanding.

  8. Jesus did not come to condemn as the people are condemned already. He came to save. Our role is to show the love of God. We need to be known more for what we are for then what we are against. All of your list Thom is true but not for all and not in every situation. We need to remember Eph. 2: 8 – 9. None of us are good enough. We need to communicate to each other and the “world” that God loves and died for all of us in the midst of our sin- even before we sinned knowing we would sin. Isn’t this what Jesus did? Let God do the condemning not us.

  9. Confronting Christians in sin seems plain and simple, but actually dealing with it is a different matter. The lack of humility by the one doing the confrontation can seem to keep the sin in another continuing, or, at the worst, the confronter ends up caught in sin. We must tread lightly helping one another.

  10. Sin is not the only issue here, but it’s interesting that that’s where most conversations seem to go. How about things people have encountered in churches that are not sin (at least not on their part) that get ignored, swept under the rug, etc.? Things like obsession with inside ministries and almost no concern for the outside world? Matters of poverty, racism? How about xenophobia in the Church? People come to the Church expecting that it will be the place that is interested in helping others and espousing love and yet sometimes they’re hit hard by some of the rhetoric coming from the pulpit or other parishioners. Or they ask honest questions on faith only to have it brushed aside. Some people really want to plumb the depths and some churches do very little of that. Obviously, churches have a multitude of people to deal with each week, but there should be outlets for those who desire to go deeper like meaningful Bible studies and small groups. Encounters like this and more are sometimes when people realize, the Church may not be the place they thought it was. They find more of the same stuff in the world but yet we in the Church say we’re different. Well, let’s show the world we’re different. Let’s put forth a radical message of love and inclusivity accompanied with action.

    I was never more taken aback and some years ago a church I was part of chose the mission statement “Love God, Love Others” and the discussion that ensued among the ministry leaders was over just what that meant. There was much concern over where to draw the line. This church did do a lot of outreach, but it was not without a fair amount of haranguing by those on the inside who fought change at every turn. Let an outsider witness some of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, and they’ll leave faster than when they came in as they discover that some are just there to mind the gate.

  11. Affirming TRUTHS of God, His Son, His Word and His church; that spiritual Kingdom established and purchased by the precious blood of Christ and in which redemption and salvation from sin exists, how to gain fellowship with God, offer holy and acceptably worship and service to Him and win eternal life in Heaven, through objective examination and PROOF of inspired writ, for ALL things – 1 Thess. 5:21 concerning faith and practice, life and godliness (NOT opinion, conjecture, human creeds or doctrine or men), but by allowing scripture to interpret scripture, “comparing spiritual things with spiritual”, and maintaining scriptural integrity and harmony, while promoting the cohesiveness of the Body of doctrine (i.e. the Faith) given by the inspiration of Almighty God.

  12. This IS an age-old question, isn’t it? I teach “judge not, lest ye be judged…” and the expression of unconditional love, but it seems that our current “literal” society of believers hyperextend this teaching to allow them to continue in misbehavior with the expectation of not ever being called out for their sin! When are the leaders of the church walking on eggshells for fear of chasing off congregates and when do leaders “correct and rebuke” with kindness and love when just about ANY degree of finger-pointing leads to the feeling of guilt and condemnation? Or is it really a matter of having my own house in order before seeking to help another with theirs?

  13. Most of what has been said hinges on the level of relationship. If you are a parent you know there are things you said to your children, disciplined them, guided them, encouraged them, things that you would never walk up and say to children that you don’t know.

    We aren’t Jesus. We don’t know what is in someone’s mind or heart until we get to know them. And unless we do get to know them we won’t have much of an audience. The body of Christ (the church) is ‘supposed’ to be as close and intimate as the parts of the human body.

    If we could become a covenant Christian community and live life together (not one hour a week), we would know how to love one another. We would become an irresistible influence in our communities. People would be drawn to us wanting to know why we are different. For the most part, we aren’t any different you know.

    I have heard many people say they wish they were in a church that was like had what the often quoted passage in Acts chapter two talks about. The problem is they aren’t willing to invest the time to do what they did.

    • Here in lies one of the cultural and times issues. People drive miles to church and live even farther apart across the countryside or city. You only see church people on Sunday or maybe during church events. There is no living life together… Even with the people we work with 40 hours a week. The result is a very independent culture of people with few friends and a hand full of acquaintances.

  14. The kindness of God leads men to repentance. Why does anyone think a shame-based message that condemns is “Good News”? Telling someone that they’re deeply loved, more than they can imagine. THAT’s good news. But I don’t hear that in church.

  15. Thank you for your reply. A church I attended years ago had the motto “Love God, Love Others”. The senior pastor also coined a term “Integrity Relationships”. After many years away from that church, I felt it was a bunch of hogwash. The pastors and elders at this church were guilty of favoritism, which has always been forbidden by scripture.

  16. We, as Christians, are missing the connection to people; we must first develop a relationship. We also must remember that I am no more innocent than anyone else. We ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. I do not have the right to judge others for their sins, because I have sinned and still do sin. The only difference between me and “them” is Jesus. His grace and mercy was shown on the cross. I believe and accept Him as my Lord and Savior. Not by my works or anything else I have done, but only through Jesus. Therefore, I must in-turn show that grace, mercy, and forgiveness to others. I must be humble, because Jesus is the one who set me free from the bondage of sin. The Bible teaches us to love God and love others. Always remember that true love NEVER fails and is not proud!

  17. I don’t care who you are of what your position is, if you look at me like that and point that condemning finger at me I will break it. Who are you to throw the first stone? There is NO condemnation to those who are in Christ. Chastisement, yes certainly. Correction and instruction in righteousness of course. Please remove that very offensive picture. Who will “listen” to such a negative picture?

  18. In my prison ministry a fellow who will parole soon took issue with something I said that he thought meant I thought he had sin in his life. [I don’t recall the exchange, which happened as he interrupted a sermon, but I welcome interruptions as they indicate listening is happening.] I learned later that indeed, he is skirting some interesting patterns with regard to the law from inside prison! He has not returned to any of the classes I offer, and rarely to other ministries.

    I could worry and wring my hands over this. Instead I pray the Holy Spirit to continue to work in his life.

    Nothing in the responses complained about indicates these people are going around accusing anyone; if they are, they need to heed their own responsibility, as was Christ’s in His first advent, as in John 3:17-21. “The Lord knows who are His, and let everyone who names the name of Christ, depart from iniquity. 2Tim2:19”

    The world is predisposed to think us judgmental. I doubt we exhibit enough ‘judgement’ with regard to how we order our own lives. This is the theme I’d hoped to read when clicking on the title: a call to personal piety and service. Although you glanced on it, chiefly in the last paragraphs, the article seemed most focused on supposed problem with ‘judging.’ As long as we are in the world, the world will find basis for criticism and judgmental features have become a favorite target.

  19. Here’s another blog post that speaks well to this issue:

  20. My 2 cents comments of how I see things. No matter how we share the good news, God must work or our effort is in vain. Our godly life may or may not necessarily win people to Christ but instead we may suffer persecutions. Many Christians in the church will depart from the truth and go after error / false teachers / false prophets (wolf with sheep clothing) INSIDE THE CHURCH to embrace wrong teachings hence feel justified by their faith without good works / deeds. It is very difficult to expose the wolves as they have put on sheep clothing but we must test them to prove all things. Do we protect and pity the wolves or judge them? Please comment. How did Paul treat them and say about them? Please comment.
    Paul prophesied and wrote about this in 2 Tim 3 – For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 2Ti 4:4 – And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. ( goats and sheep parable.)

    2 peter 3:15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
    2Pe 3:16
    As also in all his (letters) epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (such Christians will perish – i.e. why Paul wrote so many letters to warn the early churches on the errors – in Rome, Corinth, etc. )
    2Pe 3:17
    Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. (we are easily led astray if we are not careful. we must study and search the bible ourselves and not merely listen to others. DON’T believe me but believe the bible.)

    These are (most likely) not born again of the Spirit because they have no fruits i.e. no good works though they are children of God but they disobey God like me too. I need God to help me to repent. The gospel is to call people to repent and not mainly talking about financial blessings.

  21. Here’s the problem. You go to church where your preached at week after week where either the pastor or Sunday school teachers (as they should) are teaching biblical truths backing everything with chapters and verses.

    What happens is… and the problem here, we take the same approach to not only our fellow Christians, but and even worse… do this with the world.

    There seems to be this idea that we can just blast chapters and verses at people, and they are just suppose to repent and change… JUST like that.

    Of course that comes across judgmental and condemning because our approach of using God’s word to… (reading between the lines)… say “You sinner! Your doing wrong! Your sinning! You need to repent! Because i I I! say!” HA! Yea, right! Who are you? And don’t be surprised when people… especially the world… tell you where you can go.

    This blasting verses might be out of love and concern for the other person who is seen and heading down a wrong path and stop them from messing up their lives with bad choices, but this direct, finger pointing (I’m the boss and I know best) controlling approach will be met with instant return judgment. Rather than helping, people are pushed farther away.

    On top of this, people take this, this attitude of, “Hey, I told them the truth and they refused to hear! They are not rebelling against me! They are rebelling against God! I did my part. I told them the truth and now their blood is on their hands.” *wipe hands against each other and write them off as a lost cause*

  22. Luke 13:1
    There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

    Luk 13:2
    And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?

    Luk 13:3
    I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

    Luk 13:4
    Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?

    Luk 13:5
    I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

    Luk 13:23
    Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,

    Luk 13:24
    Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.

  23. Sorry to say that sometimes I am embarrassed by comments from fellow Christians and the willingness of many to condemn Christians who say something publicly that has been reported on and may or may not be accurate. Witness the commentary on the Osteens recently. I think we should just love fellow Christians, listen carefully and let God sort things out. If I have some role to play he will lead me.

  24. Following Jesus is all about grace, and not about judgement. My experience has been that the more I realize my own sin, frailty and inadequacy, the more I realize my absolute dependence on Gods grace. That is, on His amazing, overwhelming, utterly undeserved and unearned love for me (and for all of us.) And at the same time, as I go on continually experientially learning and realizing my sinfulness, frailty and inadequacy, and His much greater and much more abundant and adequate GRACE, the more I grasp how utterly ridiculous it is that I should ever indulge in a jugdgemental attitude toward others. To do so is to assume or imply that I am more righteous than they (which is self righteousness), and yet the reality is that the only righteousness I have is that which God has imputed to me through Christ, and through His grace.
    This GRACE is not something which says ‘I have no boundaries, walk all over me’, or ‘anything goes and sin is ok.’ Rather it’s a sobering recognition of the absolute holiness and righteousness of God, then of my inability to live up to that in my natural human condition, and then (thank God!) His unearned and undeserved love and forgiveness which is available to me (us all) through Christ. This understanding, (when it is a true experiencial ‘revelation’), forms the basis of my whole Christian experience, and of the way I peceive and relate with all other people, both inside and outside of the church. It humbles me, softens my attitude toward others and teaches me that I am no better than others.
    It seems to me that if someone is indulging in a judgemental, self righteous attitude toward others, they surely cannot have truly grasped and experienced the Grace of God, and the full message of the gospel – because these are incompatible with a self righteous and judgemental worldview.

  25. I feel the need to go beyond this, and to focus more and more on how beloved I am. Rather than dig deeper and deeper into my unworthiness, there is so much more joy and freedom in realizing the depth of the love that God has for me. The whole reason grace is so available is that I am so beloved. And, so are you. And, so is everyone else I encounter today. Why in the world would I judge someone that God loves so much?

  26. We should repent i.e turn from our wicked ways. Love one another. Judge not the weaker brother. Those who are strong should help the weak by exhortation, helping them with words of grace and not judge with condemnation. Do not be bother if others judge you. Why are we angry if we are not what others says about us. God knows better. If we are wrong, admit it and repent. All the prophets of God suffer slanders and persecutions BY God’s people. So it is not strange that we suffer that too. But beware, to the false (BROTHER) teachers / false prophets we judge them. Be wise to judge who are the false brothers inside the churches. See what Jude says about these false brothers.
    Jude 1:3
    – Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort [you] that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. ( EXHORT ONE ANOTHER )
    – For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. ( THEY are inside the churches of God )
    – I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not.
    – Likewise also these [filthy] dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. (they are inside the churches of God)
    – But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves.
    – Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. (THEY are greedy)
    – These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds [they are] without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; (THEY don’t fear GOD)
    – Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever. (HELL awaits THEM)
    – How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. (They are MOCKERS)
    – These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.

  27. To judge or not to Judge? What is Jesus teaching on this?
    Matthew 7:1
    – Judge not, that ye be not judged.
    (Who is HE referring to? See vs 3 to 5 – to persons who do wrong and evil but yet they slander others. They are hypocrites – dishonest. Don’t trust them Unless they truly repent. Do not give your heart to them or they will bite you -refer vs 6.)
    Beware the wolves are very dangerous and don’t ever believe they can repent – refer vs 7:15. . If not then why GOD did not save HIS greedy prophet, Balaam ?
    – For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (GOD will judge them)
    – And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
    – Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam [is] in thine own eye?
    – Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
    – Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
    – Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
    – Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (We judge them by their evil deeds i.e. Greed, Slanderers, Thieves like Juda, Lies, False testimonies, etc.)
    – Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. (Many Christians will not enter Heaven)
    – Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
    – And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
    WHO are them ? Please comment.

    • A person can truly, honestly believe in God, go to church, do all the things they preach at them to do… becoming members, serving, giving and following all the things the bible instructs, doing groups, using gifts to teach or what ever, at the same time, have no real relationship with God at all. It would be like me learning everything I could about our president, doing everything I hear him say to do, believing everything he said, knowing all the ins and outs about him and then one day, he passes through and I run up to him like he’s my best friend and want to talk. He would turn to me and say, “Who are you? I don’t know who you are. Get away from me! Security!!!” Everybody knows who God is. Many learn much about Him in church. Many even do what He says, according to what others taught them they should do to please God. But like the Jesus said…Jn 6:44 “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” and again v65, “Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.” Jesus also said in v37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” and to these He says, Heb 13:5, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” because these are Eph 1:13, “…sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,”. What we can’t see and tell the difference from are those who have a real relationship and those who don’t.

      I like what it says in Rom 2:28-29, “[28] For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
      [29] But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.”

      I don’t know if this kind of answers the “Who are they?”.

  28. I am so encourage with this article, this is exactly what happens in my church too. Am touched! sometimes I nearly cry when I see this. Instead of people coming to the church to seek love, people are running outside to seek foe help. Where is the church heading to?
    We are supposed to be the salt to the earth and light to the world.

    Thanks for sharing this, please keep on emailing.

  29. Many will be drawn to Christ though our living testimony for Him rather than through intellectual assent to His word. We need to show how Christ delivered us from our sinful deeds and not just preach to people all the time.


  1. Becoming more like Jesus than like the Pharisees | the Way? - September 15, 2014

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    […] Reforming a Repulsive Reputation […]

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