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Are Mormons Christians?

salt Lake Temple, UtahMormons, phenomenologically, are obviously part of the complex spectrum of Christianity.

Furthermore, I think one should be very cautious in disallowing a title that a community or individual apply to themselves. “We are the only true Christians, and all the rest are not really Christians”, is IMO not a way forward.

With these provisos I am fascinated when Mormons are being regarded as merely another Protestant denomination.

  • Mormons are henotheists (monolaters; they worship one god, whilst accepting that there are other deities. In fact, they themselves can become gods, creating and populating their own universe. The god they worship was once like us).
  • The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are blended in heart and mind like extremely close friends, but are not one being. They are three distinct beings united in purpose and will but not in substance. Jesus Christ and the Father have glorified immortalised bodies and the Holy Ghost a spirit body.
  • The wife of the Father is Heavenly Mother or the Mother in Heaven. God the Father is the father of human spirits; the Heavenly Mother is the mother.
  • The Father was twice “born”; once as a spirit, and again as a mortal man. After living a mortal life, the Father died, was resurrected, and achieved his godhood. The Heavenly Father and Mother then gave birth to the spirits of humanity through a sexual union. Jesus, the Son, was the first born of these spirits.
  • The Mormon church is the “only true and living church.” Below Jesus as the head of the church is a single man chosen as “Prophet” who holds the title of President of the Church. They believe in apostolic succession restored through Joseph Smith. Non-Mormon clergy have no heavenly authority and sacraments performed by such clergy are void.

The regarding of Mormons as simply another Protestant denomination appears due to the reticence of many Mormons to be straightforward about some of the above points, and the tendency to make Mormon beliefs sound more akin to other Protestant teaching, as well as development of Mormon teaching to be closer to these other Protestant teachings.

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42 thoughts on “Are Mormons Christians?”

  1. I do not think it at all obvious that Mormonism is part of the complex spectrum of Christianity, unless such phenomenological thinking could include Islam as part of that complex spectrum.

    Let Mormonism stand in its own right as a phenomenon. According to your description above there is no Christian content to Mormonism, just ideas that bear a resemblance to Christian teaching because of the use of terms like ‘Father Son and Holy Ghost’ or ‘apostles.’

    If anything, I suggest Mormonism could be associated phenomenologically with Islam: both take a distorted understanding of Christianity and draw it into new revelations (respectively seen by Mohammed and by Joseph Smith) which correct perceived errors in Christianity and establish another religion.

    1. Peter, I think what you say has truth. With two points that spring to mind: Muslims would be unhappy with your description. Mormons describe themselves as Christians and Mormonism is built on (within?) the Christian phenomenon. The listing of some Mormon doctrines that many don’t regularly encounter allows readers to work through to conclusions. Blessings.

      1. Mormons self-define as “Christian” as defined as a faith and theology rooted and built around the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as they understand it. They do take offense to the pejorative label of “Not-Christian” when that basic definition of Christian is so fundamental to their personal and collective identity. Most lay and independent observers acknowledge that Mormonsim is Christian in this regard. When it comes time to debate about an appropriate categorization in the religious spectrum, Mormons do not self-identify or want to be considered Protestant, they are not Catholic or Protestant. They are Christian but different. Restorationist or noncreedal or perhaps a distinct 4th Judeo-Christian branch are more appropriate labels.

        The Muslim comparison has some merit in terms of belief in additional revelation and rejection of creedal understanding of the nature of God and Jesus but the content of that additional revelation is extremely different in regards to the “Christian” label, Islam distances itself from the divinity of Jesus while Mormonism embraces and exalts Jesus’s divinity and prophesied role. The Book of Mormon is the story of a people who believed in the prophesied Messiah, culminating with a personal ministry of the resurrected Jesus among this people’s descendants.

  2. Jonathan Streeter

    I agree with every word Peter wrote, with the exception that I would replace the word “DISTORTED” with “unique”. It’s not my place to say what the PURE understanding of Christianity could or would be.

    Personally, I find Mormonism to be abhorrent (the church has made a concerted effort to disavow the legality of my marriage — performed in California — which they vigorously sought to nullify by underwriting the Proposition 8 campaign).

    At the same time, I acknowledge a Mormon’s natural right to describe him or herself in any way he or she sees fit.

  3. Mormonism shares the history of those sects who came out of the Great Awakening during the mid-nineteenth century America. They share in common with other Reconstructionists, such as the Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, and Christian Scientists, the belief that only they have the “truth” and hence, are the only “true church”, and each have “prophets”. They also have in common, extra scripture besides the Old and New Testament – Mormons: BOM/D&C, JW: The Watchtower, SDA: Spirit of Prophesy volumes (which they claim is not added scripture, but study and live it like it was, thus many place it on equal footing) and the Clear Word Bible, which amplifies the SOP. The CS has Science and Health with Keys to the Scripture. All of these sects are based on religious hysterics of the time and the need for anyone to start a new and innovative form of faith.

  4. It’s hard for me to view Mormons as truly within what we generally term “Christian”.

    Notwithstanding that God can call anyone, the man who purported to have found golden tablets in upstate NY had previously been in trouble with the law for fraud. Mormons believe that Jesus was physically present in North America and that Hebrews journeyed to South America. They also believe that after death they will become gods, somehow populating planets and giving birth to spiritual children (in addition to being on these planets with their entire families). Not sure how that works given marriages… The founding prophet derived most of the Mormon rituals from Masonic rituals – as I understand it.

    Mormons are very family oriented. All males can ascend to various degrees of priesthood. And they view men and women as having distinctly (theologically) different roles.

    I myself cannot understand their theology. And it’s extremely hard to see how it coincides with Christian theology.

    The US tolerates so many religions, sects, offshoots, and some cults. Not sure where Mormons fall on this continuum. There is severe shunning for anyone who leaves. Families are urged to cut off contact entirely if family members do so.

    1. a few little corrections or more nuance… Joseph Smith’s trouble with the law or fraud should be understood in the treasure seeking culture and legal justice standards of his time as well as the efforts of excommunicated Mormons to drum up stories to discredit him. A more thorough history can be found in the well respected history Rough Stone Rolling.

      Jesus physically present in North America and Hebrews in South America… the location is unknown and the Church takes no official position but most Mormon scholars place the locations as the group setting sail from the Dhofar region of current day Oman, possibly near Wadi Sayq, and settling in the southern Mexico/Highland Guatemala area, perhaps surrounding the currently named Grijalva river. Again, no official positions and of course debate but there are legitimate and thoughtful scholars analyzing the text, anthropology, archeology, etc.

      I give no thought in my day-to-day experience as a Mormon to such statements as “becoming gods” and “populating planets” as hinted here. It is a twisted framing of Mormon beliefs. I prefer Paul’s articulation in Romans 8:17, joint heirs with Christ.

      There is not sanctioned shunning of people who leave, families are not encouraged to cut off contact, the exact opposite is the case the Church makes concerted efforts to counsel people to continue relationships in love and caring. Individuals or families may heed that counsel with different degrees of success. In my own extended family I have people who have left the church and I have not seen any shunning, only heightened sensitivity to be inclusive and also respect to both when family activities and conversation may reflect different life choices.

      1. David, as this site’s webmaster, can I thank you especially for your contributions and clarifications. Although you and I may disagree on some (many?) points, it is better to do so in knowledge than in ignorance. Divinisation (theosis) is a neglected strand in my tradition – some of what you write may help others to rediscover this within their own tradition. Blessings.

        1. Thanks. I appreciated the tone of the post and felt it was a forum willing to have an substantive conversation so I thought I’d add a believing Mormon’s point of view. Completely fine to disagree in the end but I think respectful dialogue on inter-faith issues is particularly important for a healthy pluralistic society.

          1. Totally agree, David. And I hope that respectful agreement and disagreement (and not-sureness, etc) is the primary approach of the community around this site. Blessings.

  5. I had heard from an attorney that the oath of office of the president of the United States is incompatible with oaths taken or assumed by bishops within the Mormon fold. Anyone know if this has merit?

    Also when the temple is destroyed and the Holy of Holies open to entry by faith through the veil, that is to say, the flesh of the Anointed, then having a temple that precludes entry to others, denies the universalism that is in the NT and also – in the Psalms (of course).

    1. does not have merit, bishops in Mormondom take no special oath, they are lay members asked to serve in a specific position for a limited amount of time. The oaths that all temple-going Mormons take in the temple are solemnized pledges to live Christian lives – lives of virtue and sacrifice, obedience to God’s commandments, and giving their whole self to the truth and kingdom of heaven as they understand it. The answer could be analogous to Jesus’s response, ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Casesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” It is the same fear-mongering that accompanied John Kennedy – thinking that he would answer to the pope.

  6. I grew up non-Mormon in Utah in the 60’s and 70’s.

    The way I was alternately harrassed or shunned by classmates did not strike me as particularly Christian at the time. Who tells a child “you’re going to hell if you don’t come to my church?”

    1. Unfortunately, the LDS sect is not the only group of people that can behave in such a way. Hell is for those enemies – for those who are not like us. There’s plenty of Hell wished on them in the psalms:
      you will set them as a fiery oven
      of the time of your presence
      יהוה in his anger will swallow them
      and fire will devour them (Ps 21:7)

      – but it is also true that: The wrath endures but a moment (Psalm 30:6).

      But to the second part – isolation and parochialism. This too is common and Mormonism does us a favour to highlight it. I had a class of 24 in Salt Lake City, 5 were LDS. In my classes, it was my practice to split the 24 into 6 teams of 4 for workshops. LDS would not work with anyone who was not LDS. This speaks to me more of fear than certainty. We must tread carefully – yet I agree that the example is not a difference I choose to follow… There must be differences among you, as Paul says.

      Unfortunately – the label Christian can be used parochially as can any label. Maybe we can all change…

    2. It is unfortunate and such talk should be reprimanded but it is playground foolishness of children, not LDS doctrine or teaching. I have never heard or seen any LDS parent or teacher teach “you’re going to hell if you don’t come to my church.” If individuals have they are wrong and not in line with LDS teaching. The heaven of LDS theology is refreshingly merciful and inclusive compared to the stark binary views of heaven and hell, it is a spectrum according to one’s willingness to embrace a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ, most often described in scripture using the analogy of degrees of light as in the difference in brightness/glory of the sun, moon and stars.

  7. I am not a South Park fan,but a student brought a DVD in and if you can find Season 7 Episode 12…well it made me laugh anyway. There are some versions on Youtube but they have been recorded via a camera from a screen and just look a little too copywrighty to supply the link on Bosco’s site.

    Thanks B.

    Thanks for the starter B.

  8. Applying the same critique to others would also be interesting. Of course, this has happened continuously throughout the ages.
    Is the Pope a christian?
    Is Benny Hinn a christian?
    Was Jesus a christian?
    Are christians just latter day jews?
    Who is able to decide who is in and who is out – and what does it really matter?

    Multi choice answers would make these more fun…

    1. “He drew a circle that shut me out —
      Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
      But Love and I had the wit to win:
      We drew a circle that took him in.”

      ― Edwin Markham

  9. The LDS Church should be treated as what it is: a major (if young) world religion in its own right. I think one could even call it an Abrahamic faith.

    Any other approach simply gets in the way of loving our neighbor and finding common cause for shared good works when we can.

  10. I used to take the position that Mormons were just another branch of Christianity and that all sects broke away from some of the teachings at some point, Protestantism itself being the main one, scandalous at the time, widely accepted today.

    Since I’ve lived in the US and experienced the church for myself, and read the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price, I think it is somewhat fundamentally different than all other Christian religions in the idea such as Joseph Smith ‘restores’ the lost Christianity during the 19th century with golden plates of hieroglyphics which only he can interpret and subsequently return to an angel…thus only Joseph Smith was able to reveal God’s true way forward for Christianity and write books which are of equal status to the Bible and Apocrypha…

    The religion which formed after Joseph Smith’s murder was denounced for the practise of polygyny and for heresy, Brigham-Young, the church leader was deposed as governor of Utah, and I think it’s safe to say if it were not for the American Civil War, there would have been an all-out war between Mormons and Washington.

    Since then the LDS church itself has reformed many times, to become more mainstream and acceptable, but the action of their church which influences me in saying they are not necessarily a mainstream Christian religion is the practise of proxy baptism, baptising, or re-baptising, the dead.

    That said, any individual can legitimately make the claim ‘I am a Christian’ within or without a church, and ‘by their deeds shall you know them’.

  11. It’s a sticky wicket, to be sure.

    Mormonism is popular at this point because of the Republican nomination for US president. Although many Mormons have served in the 20th Century in various offices in the US government and under appointment in a number of administrations, Mitt Romney, I believe, is only the second member of the LDS church to run for the office of president, the first being Joseph Smith himself.

    There is a lot of redefining of the terms used by traditional mainstream Christianity by the LDS sect. As to whether the LDS are Christians I believe would come down to intent. Traditional main stream Christians believe that anyone can baptize someone a Christian. So the question would be, if a member of the LDS Church intended to be a Christian by their baptism by submersion by members of the LDS Church, is their baptism valid as such, regardless of any other beliefs of their sect? It seems that for the Episcopal Church (US) the answer has been yes. The previous bishop of Utah, the Rt Revd Carolyn Tanner Irish, (1996–2010) was baptized and reared a member of the LDS Church. However, when she sought membership in TEC she requested that her LDS baptism be sufficient for initiation as a Chriistian and her bishop accepted it as such. Without any further baptism she was later ordaned to the priesthood and eventually consecrated a bishop in TEC.

    1. Thanks, Br David. This is clearly a topic of great complexity, but (having had too little sleep and no morning coffee yet) I would have opted for conditional baptism. That has been my practice in complex, uncertain situations. Blessings.

      1. I agree with you that conditional baptism would have been advisable. In the first place, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, TEC specifies that persons adminintering baptism must themselves be baptized (BCP p. 313). I don’t know whether other Anglican churches also have that requirement. There’s also a question of intent. While the outward form of LDS baptism is the same (water and in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the LDS understanding of these three persons and their relationship with each other is completely different from the traditional understanding.

        1. What a fascinating rubric to bring to a discussion, Paul. A response might be that this rubric is permissive: “In case of emergency, any baptized person may administer Baptism” (BCP page 313) – not restrictive. It’s not saying others may not, or that if they do it would be invalid… Blessings.

          1. The fact that it’s unclear whether the rubric is restrictive or permissive is all the more reason for a conditional baptism in these situations.

    2. Actually, Mitt Romney’s father George ran for President in 1968, but he failed to win the Republican nomination. George, by the way, was born in Colonia Dublán, a Mormon colony in Chihuahua, Mexico.

      1. So technically, George only ran for the nomination of his political party, which he didn’t achieve.

        Joseph Smith was an independent nominee from the LDS movement and had he not been assassinated in JUN of 1844, as a candidate, his name would have appeared on the Presidential ballot in the various state’s elections of that year. As will Mitt Romney’s this year.

      2. Interesting side note, Romney isn’t the only Mormon running to be president of his country currently. A gentleman by the name of Yeah Samake is running for president in Mali although those elections have been suspended after a coup.

  12. My 4 year research project, upon which my MTh was granted, involved living among LDS communities for 2 years. I can teach this topic on a post graduate level.

    What has been an interesting side line to that research is how much back peddling that the LDS Church as an institution has done over the last 100 years and the apologetics of individual members such as our visitor here David Stoker.

    The institutional church has taken great efforts to make itself presentable to traditional main stream Christians, by carefully crafting the Missionary Discussions that are used by its missionaries in the field and even by adding a subtitle to the Book of Mormon; Another Testament of Jesus Christ. But it has also done much to make the Church more acceptable to converts to the Church and to make it more comfortable for them. Great emphasis is placed upon the family as an eternal unit and the blessings that are available to these families that live worthily and avail themselves to temple work. What these new members don’t know is that the temple ceremonies have been cleaned up to make them more palatable to new converts. Many of which would be appalled were they aware of the oaths and covenants which have been removed from the temple liturgy during the last century.

    The Church has also toned down what it teaches publicly about my people, the indigenous folks of the Americas. The LDS missionaries used to pound the streets of Latin America expounding on their gospel of our ancestors. Trying to get in our doors with stories of our origins. At least they did until recently, when research such as the National Geographic Genome Project shed light on the fact that we are not the descendants of folks from the Middle East, we are not the children of the Lamanites of the Book of Mormon. We are the children of Asians, in possibly as many as three separate waves, predating anything that could have been written in the Book of Mormon. The DNA projects aren’t finding any Lamanites. Any Indo-European heritage is of recent history, dating from the time of the Spanish and Portuguese conquest.

    You spoke of Heavenly Mother in your opening comment Father B, but that should have been plural, as in Heavenly Mothers, because Elohim* rose to Godhood with his plural wives, which is an eternal principle of the LDS gospel. But folks such as David come along now days and hush that sort of talk with comments about ambiguity and not “official” doctrine. But these topics used to be common from LDS pulpits. and permeates the sermons of the church leaders of the Utah branch of Mormonism. during the late 19th Century. Nothing that the LDS purport to believe as they converse with their neighbors today and masked with a traditional Christian vocabulary is what it seems. Every term has an LDS definition and explanation.

    * The LDS “scholars” explain the dual names for God in the Old Testament by teaching that Elohim is the name of God the Father and Jehovah is the name of the preexistent Christ, Elohim’s spiritual first born after attaining godhood.

    1. Thanks so much Brother David. That is a very helpful expansion of a point I was making towards the end of my post – and a far more erudite one than I could even begin to do. Blessings.

    2. Generally fair critiques, although I think a historian would frame it more objectively.

      The DNA critique is largely a strawman, using newspaper headlines against folk belief. When you look at the details and limitations of the studies and also the claims and unknowns about the population in the text of the Book of Mormon it is not so easy to make categorical judgments. If you are interested in the conversations going on about it in LDS circles here is a summary: http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/DNA.shtml

      Heavenly Mother is certainly implicit in LDS thought and a beloved doctrine culturally among Mormons. Wikipedia has a fairly thorough treatment of it although it does have a section flagged for controversy. It has waxed and waned in Mormon discourse, I would say it was definitely more frequent in 19th century Utah Mormonism but I think permeate is overly strong. The face of Mormon feminism, Joanna Brooks thinks it may be making a comeback. http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/joannabrooks/4588/is_heavenly_mother_making_a_comeback_in_mormonism_/

      The “Elohim as God the Father and Jehovah as the pre-mortal Jesus” is a common distinction within modern Mormon speech and thought but “Mormon scholars” describe it with more nuance http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=148&chapid=1597

      1. Elder Stoker, this would be the apologetics which I mentioned, you aren’t addressing my points, you are clouding the issue with an abundance of over generalizations.

        I did not broach whether the Book of Mormon was true, was holy scripture brought to humankind by God’s prophet, translated into English from Reformed Egyptian by the gift and power of God. My point was that LDS missionaries serving today can no longer follow the pattern used by their predecessors throughout Latin America, the Caribbean and to the indigenous peoples of the US and Canada for over 180 years. From the first mission to the Indians, LDS missionaries told the indigenous folk of the Americas that we were the descendants of the Lamanites of the Book of Mormon narrative. They claimed that they could share with us the story of our ancestors and their experience with the resurrected Jesus Christ. That claim got them in a lot of doors and swayed a lot of people to join your church. But my point is that the indigenous folks of the Americas won’t be falling for that line any longer and the missionaries I encounter in my country today no longer bring it up in their proselytizing here in Mexico. Except for those with little educational experience, we all know that our ancestors were ancient people from Asia, not wandering Israelites from the Middle East. And of that there is no doubt, just more of the story to be filled in as the Genome Project and other DNA analysis continues.

        I did not state that talk of Heavenly Mother permeates LDS teaching history, that was an introduction to the topic which does, the eternal LDS gospel principle of plural marriage. Which is why Brigham Young had LDS marriages to 55, maybe more, women. Women of sundry ages and some of whom had been married to other men at the time. A principle of the faith which eventually got the LDS Church of the late 1800s disenfranchised and its properties seized by the US government and forced the heavens to open and call an end to the practice with the Manifesto of 1890 by President Wilford Woodruff, prophet, seer & revelator and its later acceptance as binding on the entire LDS Church by reported unanimous vote of the church assembled in General Conference, 6 OCT 1890.

        And finally, my point regarding Elohim and Jehovah is made quite well in the fourth paragraph of the link which you provide; “Today elohim and Jehovah are often used to differentiate for the listener or reader whether the reference is to the Father or to the Son. This unique separation of terms (which also separates the Latter-day Saints from all other groups who accept the Bible as scripture) does not find its roots in the Hebrew Bible or its English translations because the biblical evidence is at best ambiguous and at worst nonexistent. After all, Latter-day Saint usage of these and other theological terms stems from the words of latter-day prophets, not the Bible.”

  13. BTW, there is a bizarre story posted by a women who claims spiritual visits with Peep Stone Joe from beyond the veil as she was driving her car, on this weeks HuffPost Religion page;

    Why I Fell in Love With Joseph Smith But Couldn’t Commit to Mormonism
    by Jane Barne
    Author, “Falling in Love With Joseph Smith: My Search for the Real Prophet”


  14. The Carolyn Tanner Irish appointment was controversial for some Bro David, though she was hugely popular as a community leader and activist in Utah until her retirement.

    I know the Methodist church decided about a decade ago that former LDS members needed rebaptism to join a Methodist church, and though other denominations don’t need to be re-baptised to convert to catholicism, LDS are required to.

    1. Which reminds me of a joke!

      The Pope called together the College of Cardinals. He enters the room and states that he has good news and bad news. One cardinal speaks up and asks, “Holy Father, what is the good news?” To which the Pope replies, “The Lord Jesus Christ has returned!”

      Another cardinal quickly queries, “Then what could possibly be the bad news?” To which the Pope replied, “He just telephoned me from Salt Lake City!”

  15. Whan my son was deciding to convert to the mormon faith so he could marry his girlfriend, he informed me that his Dad and I would not be allowed to attend the wedding ceremony at the temple because we were “impure.”
    After retrieving a sharp knife from the kitchen,
    I instructed my 19 yr old son to remove whatever part of me was impure in the sight of God. I had been at his baptism, had been part of his vacation bible school, sunday school, and confirmation instruction. We are United Methodists and have been actively involved in our church for our entire lives.
    IF there is a part of me that is impure in God’s eyes, I wanted it removed. I would be pure enough to attend my child’s wedding!
    This caused him to finally look more critically at the decisions he was making.

    1. I would like to see this change in LDS practice and culture. Doctrinally they can separate the marriage ceremony and the sealing ceremony (it happens frequently in places of the world where there is not an LDS temple in close proximity). It would require an internal cultural shift for there not to be a stigma against those who choose to have a marriage ceremony outside of the LDS temple, particularly for this purpose of allowing family to participate in such a solemn and specific life event, and then get sealed in the temple at a later time.

  16. I did attend a local LDS church for a while, my friend was convinced I just wasn’t seeing the ‘truth’ she sees. It all seemed a lot over-involved to me, so many duties and being at church most days, also being told where to attend church. Women don’t lead in the church so another barrier for me. Homosexuality is referred to as ‘same sex addiction’ or just immorality, which is not unusual for lots of churches in the US.

    I think it’s fair to say many right-wing Christians in the US would have been calling LDS ‘a cult’ until recently, and it’s a fairly new development to see a mormon candidate for presidency.

    When I first looked at LDS website there was no entry for potentially embarrassing things like ‘Mountain Meadows Massacre’ in their archives, now you can search practically anything in there and get sort-of explanations from church members etc. They certainly have tried hard to be mainstream.

    And they’re a very ‘American church’, projecting a clean-cut, wealthy, ‘conventional’ political image. Watching the current political conventions, with their few-fact image-driven emotionally-charged atmospheres bordering on barely-repressed revival-hysteria, I’m surprised there aren’t more Mormons in America. It fits somehow, perfect image.

    But people who could accept the male dominance, anti-homosexual and disciplinary teachings will struggle to get past the magic golden tablets, new biblical books and proxy baptism which don’t fit with their received teachings: so maybe we’ll see these discretely fade out over the next few years in order to preserve and grow the faith?

  17. Herbert W. Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God moved more into mainstream evangelicalism, as I think SDA has. There are a lot more hurdles for Mormonism, but maybe that could happen too?

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