The Paradox of Conservative Adventism

The core idea of conservatism – together with its close cousin, fundamentalism – is preservation: holding on to an idealized past in hopes of transmitting it “unadulterated” to future generations. We find this concept expressed in various settings. In law and politics it is conveyed as constitutional originalism. The constitution – the governing/guiding principles of a community – is viewed as fixed, stable and binding, needing no changes to accommodate evolving circumstances or values. Even in biology and natural science attempts are made by governments, concerned organizations and individuals, to stay the evolutionary course from its unpredictable dynamism. This is, at least in part, the premise of nature conservation. Whether in response to global warming, flooding or catastrophic fires, we take actions with the ultimate aim of holding the line and preserving a perceived “pristine” or desirable past.

This general tendency towards preservation is also a dominant motif in scriptural religions whose leaders tend to favor past understandings of what has been handed down to their contemporaries. In all three Abrahamic religions the conservative ethos is the purview of, and generally represented by, their predominantly male rabbis, priests, pastors or imams. The spiritual leaders in these faith traditions frequently hold respectful and privileged positions in both church and community. The overriding concern of the priestly worldview, in the words of my college roommate, now a pastor, seems geared toward preserving the “religion of our fathers as was handed down to us.” The reason behind the preservation preference, my friend contends, is dependability. “Because God, and by extension his word, does not change, we can trust him and the promises he has made in his word.” In this conception, God can’t change because a god who changes, in any way, ceases to be God. “Our God is the same yesterday, today and forever,” he confided with affectatious certainty. But, as the saying goes, the “devil” is in the details. So what this nebulous concept of a changeless god means exactly is chimerical, and often difficult to pin down.

In the Old Testament (OT), the role of priests as tradition preservers was ingeniously reinforced by how one became a priest: he had to be the son of a priest. What better design to perpetuate toeing the line than working alongside, and eventually in most instances, succeeding one’s forefathers in this hallowed profession. Then, add to this a stipulation that the priest must be a Levite. By this additional requirement, the parental prerequisite that otherwise would only be a temptation to nepotism now compounds to include tribal and clannish affiliation.

And there was the not too small matter of the priest as a symbol of purity. He carried in his person the “burden” of the ultimate communal “good man”, one who represented the fulfillment of our godly aspirations. As such he not only needed to be pure but also had to be perceived as such. A demonstrable example of priestly purity was the avoidance of a corpse or dying person. (Num 19) Merely holding his hands over a badly injured person jeopardized his worthiness to perform priestly duties. The Levite and priest in the Good Samaritan story (Luke 10:29-37), who took circuitous routes to avoid the injured man by the wayside, were not necessarily uncaring. The social demand to honor their purity obligations likely was contributory to their actions. It is in such small unreflective moments that we often answer tradition’s demands before thinking through our options.

Yet the Torah preserves an opposing tradition to the Priestly/Conservative template. This view is decidedly and fiercely against the status quo, constantly calling for change. It is the Prophetic/Progressive tradition. The most important constant of the prophetic voice is its insistent demand for a new direction. And whereas priests were uniformly male and relied on their fathers’ pedigree as gateway to the priesthood, OT prophets needed no such connections to their roles. They emerged from among the people and as such their composition more broadly reflected the community. Most were men, but not exclusively. Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4) and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14) were women, and were prophets. Most came from humble beginnings – Moses, David, Amos – but rose to prominence with their appropriate response to being called.

The only requirement for their position was a God-inspired message, usually in opposition to the priests and allied false prophets, where they warned that something was amiss. Consequently, no true OT prophet came to prominence by proclaiming an all-is-well, stay-the-course message. Amos, Jeremiah and Isaiah are representative examples of the prophetic tradition. The writer of Jonah went further and dramatically repudiated the concept of a static God. Jonah’s God is dynamic and reacts to human choices in response to their interactions and exposure to “him”. In the book of Jonah God “changes” his mind, and refrains from following through on his earlier intention to act unfavorably towards humans, because humans reacted positively to his entreaties to change. And even the angels above approved, shouting for joy every time humans saw the light. And in changing their selfish ways it “caused” God to change as well.

Adventism came late to Christianity as a prophetic movement with an overall change message. Our pioneers perceived, in the Three Angels’ Message of Revelations 12:6-12, a final preparatory directive to the world prior to Jesus’ return. It was packaged with a host of new/extra-biblical material, including: Jesus’ return in 1844 and subsequent Disappointment, the Investigative Judgment, Sunday Laws, the Shaking, world powers persecution of the “Little Flock”, and a persecution-evading flight to the mountains. These ideas served as the new church’s raison d’être. But none of these teachings are “preservable” in the conservative sense because none are evident from a plain reading of the biblical canon. They all have to be deciphered, code-like, the same way we had to interpret our church into scripture. This is because, like all Protestant denominations, Adventism emerged after the Christian scripture had been canonized and presumed closed.

The additions that Adventism brought to the Christian marketplace were mostly unestablished ideas that had the imprimatur of the church’s co-founder and seer, Ellen G. White (EGW). By virtue of EGW’s prophetic role, she added details to canonical scripture that cannot be accommodated by the Priestly tradition. As noted earlier, in biblical Judaism a prophet’s emergence usually signaled the need to change course. In this sense, the very rise of EGW as a post-canonical prophet, together with her new non-canonical positions, fits easily into the Prophetic tradition and away from the Priestly.

One of the earliest Adventist positions was espousal of the twin concepts of Present Truth and Progressive Revelation. By Present Truth, our pioneers believed in truth as is “appropriate [for] any given time”. This view – a remarkably original thought in Christianity – was deemed so important that it became the official title of the church’s first magazine – The Present Truth, which would later be changed to The Adventist Review.

Progressive Revelation, a sister concept to Present Truth, is the notion that God reveals himself with incremental clarity through the works of later Bible writers as they added to the divine portrait. Thus EGW and early Adventists believed that a Christian’s perception and understanding of truth grows and matures with time. In this scenario, over time Christians could attain deeper insights of scripture and spirituality than they did at an earlier period. And they might differ radically from what had once been believed. Essentially, these two concepts accommodate historical fluidity and dynamism, concepts inimical to the permanence posture promoted by religious Conservatism.

But Adventism, despite its apparent overall change message, is also deeply rooted in the OT Priestly paradigm. Take, for example, the church’s teaching on unity. Our 14th Fundamental Belief (FB) makes a lofty commitment: “differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us. We are all equal in Christ ...; we are to serve ... without partiality or reservation.” But this and other church affectations, pledging acquiescence to the New Testament exhortation that in Christianity all believers are priests (1 Pet 2:5-9; Heb 4: 14-16; Rev 1:5-6), are little more than lip service, quickly set aside when rhetoric and its application clash with church power and politics. In reality there is a thick, almost impervious wall separating laity and priest, as well as male and female; notably those who aspire to ultimate service for God within the Adventist church system. And this wall is bricked, layer by careful layer, with well-orchestrated church policies until its structure is as permanent and firm as the OT priestly pattern.

Probably the best way to maintain stasis in religion is to establish a mechanism that determines who has access to the oracles. In the OT the censorship role manifested itself as deeply entrenched and concurrent, sometimes interlocking, social orderings: patriarchy, clan, priest. In administrative Adventism, FB 14 notwithstanding, patriarchy and male priestly leadership has decreed that only men could scale church administrative power rungs. In the one instance, where a progressive Conference bucked the system and elected a woman president for two conservative four-year terms, the General Conference archivists left the office holder’s name blank in the official church directory, as though the office was unoccupied. A hundred years from now a new generation of Adventists will ask why.

It is thus that institutional Seventh-day Adventism has modeled a schizophrenic, even bipolar, coexistence between its message and messengers. It is the conflation of the Adventist message – which is prophetic/progressive – and the professionals who proclaim it. And it mirrors the OT priestly/conservative example that has muddied the waters enough for some Adventists to claim the conservative mantle. But the Adventist argument is its message, not priestly message bearers. And to construe that message as conservative is to mischaracterize its essence, for the message is independent of its preachers. The idea of “Conservative Adventism” is oxymoronic and should be anomalous. But if some of our brothers and sisters insist on clinging to this label, progressives should at least call attention to the resulting irony.

Matthew Quartey is a transplanted Ghanaian who now lives in and calls the Adventist ghetto of Berrien Springs, Michigan, home. Previous Spectrum columns by Matthew Quartey can be found at: http://spectrummagazine.org/author/matthew-quartey.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10532
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Conservatism doesn’t necessarily rejects progressive development. It merely guards against unjustified leaps that run along whatever fad of the day may bring.

I don’t really think that it’s “Conservative” to reject broader scientific position that has been developed and established during the past century. It’s something else entirely. I likewise don’t think that it’s “Conservative” to structure expectations for male exclusivity in leadership positions on a basis of the premise that women are better and needed to raise children instead.

In the end, we actually need both Conservative and Liberals. Conservatives tend to be great managers, because they manage and hedge against risks well. Liberals tend to be better innovators and explorers, for obvious reasons. There’s a healthy “tug and pull” that translates into our “Moral Sympathetic System”.

The unfortunate reality is that Fundametalism expelled any viable and healthy debate, and spelled out all of the necessary beliefs letter by letter, with all of the “Spiritual Hand-Holding” of the Sabbath School quarterly, and 28 Fundamental beliefs. There is no debate. There isn’t any exposure to alternative views, because discovering something else as more viable and coherent truth will mean a very painful re-arranging to the “House of Cards” that has been super-glued to make sure nothing ever moves.

As a church, we should avoid the extremes and understand the role that both of these functions play in both development and maintenance.

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Adventism is unable to pull itself into the 21st century and act as the “movement” it identified itself to be. That’s because the overall understanding was that we were living at the “time of the end”. “Truth” had reached its culmination. There was no more time to add to the Adventist message. The third angel had blown its horn. As time has passed, academia has figured out that this “time of the end” might take a while to complete; and its surrounding culture has had time to change to the point where the original teachings no longer seem relevant. However, the idea that Adventism is the last message to the world just as it was formed in the corn field is still the paradigm holding firm in the non-academic sector. So, the movers and shakers still in charge, keep putting the brakes on any change that would make the church relevant.

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I’m firmly convinced there’s no change they could possibly craft that would do anything to alter the current state.

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the current state.
In Adventism, there is no date more important than 1844; 2020, or any other year, cannot compete with it.

Conservative Adventists keep greeting each other incessantly, “Welcome to 1844.” They are stuck, cannot move. Progress is anathema.

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"As a church, we should avoid the extremes and understand the role that both of these functions play in both development and maintenance."

Have you actually seen any evidence of this happening in the Adventist Church?

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THE PERSECUTION HAS BEGUN.

Ellen teaches that there will be a time when the constitution will be annulled (5 Testimonies 451.1). Free speech will be curtailed. The time is now.

This by Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone June 13, 2020. Sorry, it is a bit long:

"The leaders of this new movement are replacing traditional liberal beliefs about tolerance, free inquiry, and even racial harmony with ideas so toxic and unattractive that they eschew debate, moving straight to shaming, threats, and intimidation. They are counting on the guilt-ridden, self-flagellating nature of traditional American progressives, who will not stand up for themselves, and will walk to the Razor voluntarily.

They’ve conned organization after organization into empowering panels to search out thoughtcrime, and it’s established now that anything can be an offense, from a UCLA professor placed under investigation for reading Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” out loud to a data scientist for — get this — retweeting an academic study suggesting nonviolent protests may be more politically effective than violent ones!

Now, this madness is coming for journalism. Beginning on Friday, June 5th, a series of controversies rocked the media. By my count, at least eight news organizations dealt with internal uprisings (it was likely more). Most involved groups of reporters and staffers demanding the firing or reprimand of colleagues who’d made politically “problematic” editorial or social media decisions.

The New York Times, the Intercept , Vox, the Philadelphia Inquirier, Variety , and others saw challenges to management.

Probably the most disturbing story involved Intercept writer Lee Fang, one of a fast-shrinking number of young reporters actually skilled in investigative journalism. Fang’s work in the area of campaign finance especially has led to concrete impact, including a record fine to a conservative Super PAC: few young reporters have done more to combat corruption.

Yet Fang found himself denounced online as a racist, then hauled before H.R. His crime? During protests, he tweeted this interview with an African-American man named Maximum Fr, who described having two cousins murdered in the East Oakland neighborhood where he grew up. Saying his aunt is still not over those killings, Max asked:

I always question, why does a Black life matter only when a white man takes it?.. Like, if a white man takes my life tonight, it’s going to be national news, but if a Black man takes my life, it might not even be spoken of… It’s stuff just like that that I just want in the mix.

Shortly after, a co-worker of Fang’s, Akela Lacy, wrote, “Tired of being made to deal continually with my co-worker @lhfang continuing to push black on black crime narratives after being repeatedly asked not to. This isn’t about me and him, it’s about institutional racism and using free speech to couch anti-blackness. I am so fucking tired.” She followed with, “Stop being racist Lee.”

The tweet received tens of thousands of likes and responses along the lines of, “Lee Fang has been like this for years, but the current moment only makes his anti-Blackness more glaring” and “Lee Fang spouting racist bullshit it must be a day ending in day.” A significant number of Fang’s co-workers, nearly all white, as well as reporters from other major news organizations like the New York Times and MSNBC and political activists (one former Elizabeth Warren staffer tweeted, “[Get him!”), issued likes and messages of support for the notion that Fang was a racist. Though he had support within the organization, no one among his co-workers was willing to say anything in his defense publicly. (emphasis mine)

Like many reporters, Fang has always viewed it as part of his job to ask questions in all directions. He’s written critically of political figures on the center-left, the left, and “obviously on the right,” and his reporting has inspired serious threats in the past. None of those past experiences were as terrifying as this blitz by would-be colleagues, which he described as “jarring,” “deeply isolating,” and “unique in my professional experience.”

To save his career, Fang had to craft a public apology for “insensitivity to the lived experience of others.” According to one friend of his, it’s been communicated to Fang that his continued employment at The Intercept is contingent upon avoiding comments that may upset colleagues. Lacy to her credit publicly thanked Fang] for his statement and expressed willingness to have a conversation; unfortunately, the throng of Intercept co-workers who piled on her initial accusation did not join her in this."

I bring this up because the persecution has begun. Speech is not free, you may pay for expressing it with your job.

No, it is not about Sunday laws or he Sabbath, but the foundation has been laid for any deviance from accepted belief.

M. Niemoller:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

There is a mob that will not tolerate a difference of opinion… If they will attack their own liberal kind, no one is safe.

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Hi Allen,

I of course don’t disagree with what you posted (read most of it; they’re eating their own now - not surprised). But don’t lose focus on what we believe, possibly causing you to vote on things that will come to haunt you one day.

"The United States Attorney General: Democracy, Prophecy & the Future of Religious Liberty. Ron Kelly"

The “French revolution” will only be for a short time.

I would not call the currently climate that of persecution, given that journalism is dead on either side. What do you think happens to liberal writers in conservative publications? What do you think happened to people who came out in Adventist Churches, people with differences of opinion like Ford?

This isn’t persecution. It’s an ideological polarization that seeks purity of ideology, and that’s prevalent in either side.

What is actually happening is death of political centrist, with centrists, which journalists were historically a part of, are forced to pick sides. And that’s certainly is a problem for country like ours that tried very hard to balance these positions.

So, persecution in this case isn’t something that we haven’t seen prior. It simply amplified in which case the criticism of people on “your side” isn’t tolerated.

We will see - and soon.

If we keep staring at the weekly calendar, waiting for the Sunday law to come down upon us, we will be making a huge mistake. We need peripheral vision. All the lefties on the left coast are missing the point. The Democrat party is not the same party that gave us King and the Kennedys, or even Clinton; and the anchors of current news are simply carrying the water for their favourite party. There is no more equilibrium. a

Public school education has let us down. Even universities have discarded American history from their History Major’s programs. July 4th fireworks is not going to be the one we expect - watch.

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Well, I see quite the difference. Ford was given time to prepare a presentation, months on salary, and then a thorough going over of his 900+ page document.

He was not fired without a hearing. This is completely different.

I have never seen it like this. Others have recognized it as well. You cannot post or comment abasing th mob.

I agree here.

I wouldn’t say that it’s American centrists, who ran this country all the way through Obama, who still was a centrist, but who allowed the culture of extremes to develop under him, which resulted in Trump and this picking of the sides.

Keep in mind that the images of the race was were long time in making in American media that was channeled as a fuel to the frustration of poor black communities.

For example, here’s an almost prophetic video from 2009, that isn’t found on the official channel of Jay-Z , who pulled it when all began to unravel:

Now, keep in mind, the song itself isn’t about the images in the video. The song is about Jay-Z taking control of his record company which he gave to Sony for some time, and Kanye is rapping about his preferences of shoes and the “good life”. But, a music video producer subsequently picks up on certain metaphors used and reifies these into a video that coupled with the song lyrics looks like a call for race war.

And that’s essentially the tendency of a lot of things behind the corporate America that structured that into a movement, which they are controlling today, largely because China-style Communism in the end is a lot more profitable and sustainable long-term.

So, there’s much more than meets the eye in all of this narrative development that had a long way coming.

ELLEN & ALLEN

Allen, you start with Ellen, then you write a lot of things but basically you do not provide the sources of each issue. It’s just your words, your own description, your own perception.

But I agree, the 1st amendment is in danger. When a peaceful crowd of protesters is violently dispersed so that a stupid foto-op can be taken, it suggests that the 1st is completely ignored. Trying to defund the postal service or to block voting by mail appears to me a complete disregard of the 1st. There are other examples, but I will leave it as it is.

Let’s wait and see if we will actually have any elections in November…

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To any police officer who spent both day and nights in that location you sound as absurd as this guy right here:

At this point repeating what you do requires to have such an incoherent view of reality in which one think that because one ate a sandwich, then one essentially solved the worldwide hunger.

You realize that there were “peaceful fires” burning on Whitehouse lawn the night before, right? You seem to not understand that people in those crowds were throwing rocks and water bottles at police day in and day out.

You are going to tell us that President of the US isn’t justified clearing a space and appealing to a nation that respects Christian values in any way he should try to do so at that point?

He is in charge of running and maintaining order in the entire Nation, which was on fire and to any person like myself that shuttered glass was reminiscent of Krysralnaught. And you are going to brainlessly repeat 1st amendment rights for the protesters? Seriously? What if your house was looted and burned to the ground? I bet you would then blame Trump for not clearing these protest and restoring order :slight_smile:

Again, you don’t seem to notice it, but I would suggest talk to some people who you trust, but who may still support Trump… oh wait, you alienated all of them as immoral people who can’t ever have a valid point. And you may find that for many is an issue of certain hierarchy of morality they are forced to pick and choose. And it may be as something as simple as voting to protest violently aborting lives of a “fetus” and calling that a moral “right”. Some people find it revolting enough to ignore anything else as relatively minor in their hierarchy of moral values.

So, at this point you are not even having a conversation. You are copying and pasting the same all stuff, and ignoring that we are about to walk into a civil war if the “adults in the room” fail to move to the center and stop escalating things further. Can you be one of these adults now?

Do you want Civil War, George? If not… then you need to start with trying to find some common ground and some legitimate suggestions, other than continually devolving any thread to partisan hackery. Trump is not a Hitler. But if we keep escalating this, then the next Hitler will be here out of the flame of the rage and incoherence of rhethoric to the likes of the reporter in this video… who apparently doesn’t see any of this as a big deal because his objective is clearly to avoid any demonstrable evidence that these protests are not peaceful at their core, in a sense that a bucket of water with a spoon full of cynide is still a poison.

And if we don’t deescalate emmediately, there will not be anything left to protest for other than general breakdown of society, and uncontrolled chaos.

So, look behind you George. You are reporting in front of the house burning and calling it all peaceful.

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No, no, NO!

Fundamentalism in religion spirals into dictating the minutiae of behavior and belief, whereas conservatism sets the broad mores and ascribes to the individual free moral agency to uphold those.

To conflate these in order to support your tearing conservatives asunder from “your church” is well, oxymoronic, maybe even disingenuously pious.

I suppose a political litmus test is next, in the baptistry?
The gowns will turn maroon if worn by a conservative?

I am aghast at the depth of the discrimination-just as we as a church try grapple with discrimination amd accept differences on gender, racial, and sexual orientation lines, we marginalize people on the political ones.

Religious virtue signaling is public groveling, and spiritual malpractice.

Isn’t it time we stopped this-or are we as people truly incapable of such?

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Candidate for Progressive present truth: lets imagine that beginning with William Miller our pioneers received present truth correct for their time, to bring about the Seventh Day Adventist movement.
Lets imagine that changing the Decalogue (circa AD 300) is transgression that desolates the Christian Church.
Lets imagine that Daniel 8:13-14 correctly interpreted states that the perpetual holly Shabbat will be restored in the Sanctuary the Christian Church.
Lets imagine the Day of Atonement to be the Day of Reconciliation, reconciliation between members of the Biblical family, between Jesus, the Jews, and the Christian Church, all three reconciled, and lets imagine that our mission as Seventh Day Adventists is to proclaim this reconciliation, what a glorious message this will be.

George,

I quoted mostly from Taibbi, then a poem from Noemoiller. I put in very little. I gave the source of Taibbi. Check it out. We are falling into chaos. We are not safe. They pulled down a statue of Washington a day or so ago. And Lincoln. if these men are not representative of the nation, and must be removed, I pray that God will help us.

Arkdrey’s video of the reporter in front of a burning building telling us the protests were “mostly peaceful” captured the irony. What would a non-peaceful rally look like? I guess murder in the streets?

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“Lets imagine the Day of Atonement to be the Day of Reconciliation, reconciliation between members of the Biblical family, between Jesus, the Jews, and the Christian Church, all three reconciled, and lets imagine that our mission as Seventh Day Adventists is to proclaim this reconciliation, what a glorious message this will be.“

Just curious…do you actually believe this can happen?

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This reconciliation is exactly what happened at the cross (not through the Sabbath), and it is the message of Paul:

For he himself [= Jesus] is our peace, who has made us both [= Jews and Gentiles] one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two [= Jews and Gentiles], so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility [= between Jews, Gentiles, and God]. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off [= Gentiles] and peace to those who were near [= Jews]. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. (Eph 2:13-19)

This is not a special SDA message about some recent event. This was the message of the Apostles at the beginning. The cross reconciled. Since then, the message of reconciliation should be spread. The Sabbath can connect certain people as every action people have in common can do, but this is not the biblical reconciliation, because it does not reconcile people to God and does not unite them into one kingdom. It is not supposed to. You expect something from the Sabbath that only Jesus can give and only he accomplished. Only through him, we are one family. The Sabbath had nothing, zero, to do with this.

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