Issue #543 -------
August 10, 2012
I have known many meat eaters to be
far more nonviolent than vegetarians.
Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948)
Fran Lebowitz (b. 1951), an American author and columnist of Jewish descent, perhaps best known for her sneering, sardonic commentary on virtually every aspect of our journey through life, once observed, "Vegetables are interesting, but lack a sense of purpose when unaccompanied by a good cut of meat." For as long as men have inhabited this planet there have been questions and concerns about diet. What we eat, when we eat, how much we eat, the manner of preparation and preservation of various foods, what is harmful to one's health and what is beneficial, have all been the focus of much discussion and debate throughout human history. Some are convinced we should eat vegetables only. Isaac Beshiver Singer (1904-1991), for example, declared, "I think that everything connected with vegetarianism is of the highest importance because there will never be any peace in the world so long as we eat animals." Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) agreed: "It is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals." On the other hand, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) wrote the following at age 87, "It is nearly 50 years since I was assured by a conclave of doctors that if I did not eat meat, I should die of starvation." I have always liked the wit of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), who had this to say about one member of the vegetable kingdom: "A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out as good for nothing!" Yes, our tastes differ, and even the experts differ on what diet is best suited to our physical well-being. But this debate is waged not only among dieticians and nutritionists, it has been waged among theologians as well. Has our Creator weighed in on this issue? If so, what has He said? Even here there is great diversity of conviction as to what God has ordained as food for the creatures of His creation.
Just as there is debate on the early diet of mankind, so is there significant debate on the appearance of man himself. If indeed modern humans have evolved from earlier, more primitive, hominids (a term generally signifying those of the family Hominidae, of which Homo-Sapiens is believed to be the only extant species), then it is likely there has been an accompanying evolution of diet as well. If, however, man was created just a few thousand years ago, and appeared much the same then as he does now, the discussion of diet takes on a much different dimension. I personally do not embrace the young earth theory, so reject the view that humans have only dwelt upon this earth for a few thousand years. I firmly believe the geological, cosmological and anthropological evidence overwhelmingly favors an infinitely older universe, and that man most likely evolved in a God-ordained, -overseen and -controlled manner. I have dealt with this view somewhat in my following study: Reflections #475 -- Theory of Evolutionary Creation: Are Christianity and Evolution Compatible? Although this whole area is fraught with uncertainty, and though it does tend to generate strong emotions on both sides, it nevertheless raises some interesting questions. One of which, of course, involves diet, which we will seek to address briefly in this current issue of Reflections. The two passages that have prompted this study (and I was asked by a reader recently to address them) are Genesis 1:29 and 9:3. The readings below are from the English Standard Version.
Even a casual reading of the passages above reveals many similarities between the two. At the beginning of both God gives a blessing. He also informs both to "be fruitful and multiply." To both is given dominion over the physical creation, including the various life-forms. The noticeable difference between the two seems to be in the permissive aspects of diet. In the first instance, the diet seems to be exclusively vegetarian in nature (for both man and animal), whereas in the latter there are no such limitations (either for man or animal), with the sole restriction being: thou shalt not eat "flesh with its life/blood," which some have taken to refer to a practice among some primitives of eating some creatures while they are still living (the blood still coursing through its body). Others, such as the Jews, view this more as a restriction against consuming the blood itself. There are good arguments for either theory, although the latter is certainly stressed through both OT and NT writings. The former is often perceived as abominable to God because it constitutes an act of cruelty toward another living creature, although it is seen quite often among certain animals.
As one examines these two passages, several questions come to mind. Why would God restrict the diet of both humans and animals (and by this term we mean beast, bird and bug ... fish seem to be excluded in the text) to plants and their fruits and seeds? Did God really do this, or have we perhaps misunderstood the intent of the passage? If He did initially restrict the diet of both men and animals, why did He later change His mind and lift the restriction? What was the purpose of all of this? And why did God later impose dietary restrictions upon the people of Israel through the Law of Moses, but then lift those restrictions under the new covenant? Can't God make up His mind as to what He wants us to eat? "Don't eat meat ... Okay, now you can eat meat ... But, don't eat pork ... Okay, now you can eat pork." It's almost as confusing as "Fish Friday" among Catholics (prior to Vatican II, eating meat on Friday was a mortal sin; after Vatican II it was permitted). Needless to say, all of this has left many people "scratching their heads," wondering what God really wants with respect to the diet of man and beast. Some scholars, by the way, have speculated that the reason God granted Noah and his family the use of animals for food is because the Flood "had destroyed earth's vegetation," and so to prevent Noah and his family, as well as the animals on the ark, from starving, God allowed them to eat one another [Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 618], as long as there was no undue cruelty displayed in the process.
Over the centuries some rather strange perspectives have been proffered. For example, "according to the biblical view, no carnivorous animals existed at the first ... although it is true that objections have been raised by natural historians to this testimony of Scripture" [C.F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1, p. 65]. Yes, some have suggested that meat-eating animals were a special creation of God, and that they did not exist on the planet until after the flood (or, at the earliest, after the fall of man in the garden). As noted, however, there is simply no scientific evidence for such a theory; indeed, the opposite is true: there is substantial evidence that early animals and hominids were carnivorous. "Science demonstrates the existence of carnivorous animals prior to the appearance of man" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 1, p. 139]. The very presence of claws and fangs, used for ripping and tearing flesh, argues against such an exclusively vegetarian view. Yet, some will still insist that "although at the present time man is fitted by his teeth and alimentary canal for the combination of vegetable and animal food" [Keil & Delitzsch, p. 65], it was not always so. Instead, God, by an act of special creation, restructured the bodies of both men and animals after He gave them permission to eat meat. Such an absurd theory just shows the lengths some will go to in order to explain away what appears completely confusing to them in the biblical text. Others, who have bought into this theory, at least try to tone it back a bit: "As far as carnivorous animals are concerned, their desire for meat must also have been a later development, either at the time of the Curse or after the Flood. Whether such structures as fangs and claws were part of their original equipment, or were recessive features which only became dominant due to selection processes later, or were mutational features following the Curse, or exactly what, must await further research" [Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings, p. 78].
"Prehistoric findings point to primitive man as an omnivore. It is only after settling down as an agriculturist that humans became chiefly eaters of vegetable food" [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2, p. 327]. One simply cannot get around the physical evidence contained within the earth itself that both men and animals were carnivorous long before the time of the flood (actually, they were omnivorous: eating both plants and animals). Although a few will still seek to argue against this point, most biblical scholars realize the evidence is overwhelming, so they have sought to find some other explanation for the two passages from Genesis quoted above. A few, as already briefly noted, feel the reason for the "concession" to a carnivorous diet is that due to the tremendous damage done to the planet's vegetation by the Flood, God had to reconstruct the design of both men and animals to make it possible for them to gain life-sustaining nutrients from flesh as well as from plants and fruits. Although, if God could work such a global miracle on men and animals (essentially redesigning them), why could He not have simply miraculously preserved the plant kingdom during the flood? This also begs the question as to whether the Flood was regional or global in scope (my own view tends toward the former). Further, this concession seems strange in light of the fact that God commanded Noah, "Take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them" (Gen. 6:21). Would this not have covered their needs until such time as the vegetation recovered from the effects of the flood? Had God failed "to look ahead," and only provided enough food for the time on the ark, but not enough for the time afterward, and thus had to resort to the slaughter of the animals on the ark for food? Clearly, this is a stretch. Others say that the Flood so damaged the earth that the vegetation never regained its prior nutritive properties, and thus had to be supplemented with meat to provide a healthy diet. Matthew Henry wrote, "The flood, having perhaps washed away much of the virtue of the earth, rendered its fruits less pleasing and less nourishing, and so God now enlarged the grant, and allowed man to eat flesh" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. A few scholars, however, have pointed out that this perspective "has subtle leanings to Deism since it seems almost to make God a victim of circumstances" [James R. Hughes, "Why Did God Permit Man To Eat Meat?", January 19, 2004].
I have to agree with one biblical blogger who, after listing a number of unusual theories, stated, "Commentators appear to be grasping for an explanation" to this whole dilemma pertaining to diet. We even find a few religious extremists who have lifted these Genesis passages from their context in order to legislate some dietary preference, or to bolster a hermeneutical theory. With regard to the latter, for example, a few have used Gen. 1:29 & 9:3 as "proof" that "silence is prohibitive." Yes, in the first passage we do not find any specific mention of meat -- a silence some have suggested shows divine prohibition. "Many scholars conclude from the silence of Scripture and from this data that early man until the time of the Flood was vegetarian" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 2, p. 584]. Thus, meat is prohibited to both men and animals NOT because God declared it to be so, but rather because He said nothing about it. He said they could eat of the plant kingdom, and therefore, by virtue of silence, they could eat nothing else. For those of you who may want to examine a bit further the whole fallacious argument from this so-called "law of silence," I would refer you to a total of 28 studies I have done on the subject that may be found under the heading "The Law of Silence" on my Topical Index page. On the other extreme, some feel the eating of meat is a binding law upon all of humanity, and those who do not eat meat are sinning. "If we read the passage carefully, it appears that the provision of meat eating is not just permissive, but also prescriptive" [James R. Hughes]. Therefore, "religions, such as Hinduism, that reject eating meat, are an abomination to God. ... A person who refuses to eat meat rebels against the command of God" [ibid]. "Vegetarianism, even if not participated in for 'religious' reasons, is rebellion against the Covenant. Personal choice vegetarianism may be a slap in the face of God, and is to go the way of the heathen. Islam, Judaism, and Seventh Day Adventism, all reject some aspect of meat eating; albeit for different reasons. They are in rebellion against God's command" [ibid]. "In the same way, organizations such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) pervert God's covenantal requirement to eat meat. We need to stand firmly against them because their rejection of meat eating is a direct challenge to God's perpetual Covenant with mankind" [ibid]. As you can quickly discern, it doesn't take much of an opening for some to rush headlong into the realm of the ridiculous.
There is simply no question that our Creator has imparted to His creation throughout its long existence the truth that some things are acceptable in His sight and some things are not. Long before the Law of Moses, there were what some scholars have characterized as the Six Laws of Adam and the Seven Laws of Noah (or the Noahide Laws). For more about these universal moral codes, I would refer you to Reflections #286. Interestingly, the only dietary restriction in either is found in the latter, and it merely echoes the prohibition against eating live flesh (or flesh with its blood) found in Gen. 9:4 (cf. Lev. 7:26-27; 17:10-16; Deut. 12:23). Some believe this includes removing limbs from living animals and consuming them while the animal remains alive and maimed. Apparently in later years some peoples actually practiced this, since preserving meat was so difficult in those days. Therefore, they would eat the animal piece by piece. God refused to condone such cruelty to another living being. "They must not be barbarous and cruel to the inferior creatures. They must be lords, but not tyrants; they might kill them for their profit, but not torment them for their pleasure, nor tear away the member of a creature while it was yet alive, and eat that" [Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword].
The two major theories proposed to explain the two Genesis passages listed at the beginning of this study, and these theories are very similar in nature, are by far the most popular and, to my way of thinking, the most reasonable (one far more than the other). Both declare the omnivorous nature of both hominids and certain animals (not all species are carnivorous) from their earliest beginnings. One theory suggests God was always accepting of this, the other theory states that such eating of flesh was contrary to God's original intent, but that He "winked" at this violation and finally gave in and allowed what was already taking place. This latter view, to me, is the most objectionable as it indicates God just throws up His hands in frustration with man and simply validates his rebellious behavior. The real problem seems to be in how the two Genesis passages are read, understood and applied. Most have read it as regulation, and have then sought to apply it universally as LAW. The reality may well be far less prescriptive in nature than permissive. When God permits one thing, He does not necessarily thereby forbid all else. God, for example, has given man a beverage from the fruit of the vine to gladden his heart (i.e., wine). What He has permitted, however, must not be understood as law. Men do not have to drink wine; it is not a sin if they refrain, nor is it a sin if they choose to drink milk or water instead. Many scholars feel this is exactly what one finds in the Genesis 1:29 passage. God has placed man and animals in the garden, and He has shown them that they may eat of any of it except for the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). Other than that, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden" (vs. 16). Thus, man is given dominion over the creation, and is permitted to partake of that over which he has dominion. This dominion, by the way, included the other living creatures (Gen. 1:26). It is suggested this may have included the right to harvest them for food just as they did the plant kingdom.
Yes, God allowed them to eat of the plant kingdom, but it is also true that God did not forbid them to find food elsewhere. God neither prescribed flesh for food in His statement in Genesis 1 nor did He proscribe it. The reality is: He said nothing at all (at least nothing is recorded). The fact that God later (Genesis 9) affirmed that man and beast are allowed to consume flesh may simply be an affirmation (or even reaffirmation) of what was already understood to be allowed. After all, long before the flood, men were already making use of animals for their own benefit. From the very time of the fall they were clothed in the skins of animals (Gen. 3:21), which clearly gave their lives to provide this covering (there is good sermon material here, by the way, for those who choose to pursue it). "Abel kept flocks" (Gen. 4:2), and even killed some of these animals and "brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock" as an offering to God (Gen. 4:4). What was done with the meat? "After the fall, Abel's sacrifice of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof, leads irresistibly to the conclusion that the flesh was eaten by the offerer and his family" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 1, p. 18]. After all, we know that in later times God commanded those making their blood offerings to eat of the meat of the sacrifice. And what about Jabal? He is listed in Gen. 4:20 as "the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock." What was done with their livestock? Yes, there are other uses for such animals, but can we positively rule out that they were also being used for food?
"The language of Gen. 1:29 does not explicitly forbid the use of animal food" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 1, p. 139]. "Whether man was a vegetarian prior to the fall is debated, but the original grant (Gen. 1:29) does not formally exclude the animals" [ibid, p. 31]. As one can see, most reputable scholars understand that "silence" is not to be understood as "binding proscription." What God specifies is binding; what God says absolutely nothing about is left to our best judgment. All the evidence, both biblical and extra-biblical, points to the fact that both men and animals were omnivorous, a reality which most scholars feel God simply affirmed in Gen. 9:3, rather than initiating. Such was also the view of such theologians as Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.) and John Calvin (1509-1564), just to name a couple. Most feel that this provision of eating flesh was an integral part of man's God-given dominion over the other living creatures. "It is more probable that mankind from the beginning made use of both animal and vegetable food. The dominion given to humans over animals (Gen. 1:26, 28) included the eating of them, as dominion over fish at least cannot mean anything else. ... Also, the distinction between clean and unclean animals in the ark (Gen. 7:2) has no meaning if meat was not eaten" [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2, p. 327]. "The dominion given to man over fish, bird, and animal, made it lawful for him to use them for his food" [Ellicott, vol. 1, p. 18]. Dr. Albert Barnes stated, "We must bear in mind that he was constituted master of the animal as well as of the vegetable world, and we cannot positively affirm that his dominion did not involve the use of them for food" [Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword].
Thus, "the opinion which appears to be the best supported is that animal food was permitted before the fall, and that the grant is here (Gen. 9:3) expressly renewed" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 1, p. 139]. With this view I would personally concur, although I agree with John Calvin who stated he would not make his opinion on this matter something of any great consequence as he realized there were other opinions held just as firmly as his. Nevertheless, like that great reformer, I am personally convicted that God has always permitted mankind, as well as certain other living creatures, to be carnivorous (as well as herbivorous). In other words, man was designed, in my opinion, to be omnivorous. Such a view is certainly affirmed throughout both the OT and NT writings, not to mention the testimony of the world in which we live from its earliest days. Indeed, in the NT writings we find that the Lord takes a very strong stand against those who would limit our diet. "Therefore, do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink" (Col. 2:16). "Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him" (Rom. 14:3). "For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:29-31). Paul spoke of those who had "abandoned the faith," and who were proclaiming "doctrines of demons," saying that they "forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving" (1 Tim. 4:3-4). Notice especially that Paul referred twice to these foods as "created" by God, and that they were created for the purpose of food for man. The context of Paul's statement certainly includes meat. Thus, the flesh of animals was "created by God" to be enjoyed by man as food. I think this makes it clear that God intended from the time of the creation for man to be omnivorous, and to partake of the fruits of his dominion over the plant and animal kingdoms, a grant reaffirmed in Gen. 9:3, although not specifically recorded in Gen. 1:29. Like Calvin, I won't be dogmatic about my view, but it is a conviction that, after much study, I believe to be true and consistent with God's nature and revelation.
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From a Reader in Tennessee:
You used the word "denomination" in your last article ("Following the Fourth Faction"). The word "denomination" itself means "divide." I do not believe any human has the authority to divide the Body of Christ. You are the first minister I have ever heard who referred to his flock of worshippers as a "denomination." Remove me from your list of subscribers to Reflections.
This is a very typical response from the legalists when a "nerve has been struck." In fact, within
hours of sending out my article ("Following the Fourth Faction") I received
five demands for immediate removal from my mailing list, and two individuals even contacted my Internet server and reported me for "abuse,"
demanding that my web site be shut down!! This happens to me fairly regularly, so, thankfully, my server's "higher ups" are familiar with these
tactics and simply tell me "here's another one!" What a sad testimony these rabid religionists are giving to the world by their antics. But, such are
their tactics. It's nothing new. When those with the same mindset couldn't reason with Stephen, they stopped up their ears, rushed him, and
"silenced" him. Little has changed in 2000 years: the legalists will still seek to destroy any who dare to differ with them. Sad! On another note,
this reader, as many of you probably noticed immediately, is woefully misinformed about the meaning of the word "denomination." It does
not mean "divide." Actually, it comes from the Latin de + nominare which simply means
"to name." Our paper money, for example, is of various "denominations" -- this simply means they are variously named: one, five,
ten, twenty, fifty, etc. Yet, they all are part of the same currency, from the same country, made of the same paper and ink, and are carried in the
same wallet/purse. It does not suggest schism or division.
The same is true with respect to the One Body of Jesus Christ (His "church"). We are
diverse disciples, and there is nothing wrong with "denominating" (giving "name" to) those differences, as long as they don't become the
basis for dismembering the One Body. For example, you may be associated with a group that is known by its practice of using only
one cup in the Communion (i.e., you may be "denominated" a One Cup Church of Christ). This merely serves to identify
a central tenet of your theology and practice. That is fine. If this becomes the basis for dividing from all who differ with
you, however, then THAT is the sin! Another example: my personal faith-heritage is that wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement
"denominated" Churches of Christ. Therefore, this is my "denomination." If you check the Yellow Pages you
will find this NAMED group, which most people realize identifies them by name as being associated with a certain set of tenets
and traditions, as well as where they assemble and when. There is
nothing wrong with disciples identifying ("denominating") themselves in these ways. The SIN would be if this group, or any other named group,
declared to the world that they, and they alone, ARE the One Body of Christ in its entirety upon the face of the earth (as,
sadly, some groups do) to the exclusion of all other individuals and named groups (each of whom, in truth, are only parts of the whole).
Denominating our diverse distinctives for the primary purpose of identification is NOT a sin; dividing from other
disciples of Christ (and thereby dismembering the Body) over these distinctives IS. Until we learn the difference, our Lord's prayer
for unity in John 17 will never be fully realized.
The same is true with respect to the One Body of Jesus Christ (His "church"). We are diverse disciples, and there is nothing wrong with "denominating" (giving "name" to) those differences, as long as they don't become the basis for dismembering the One Body. For example, you may be associated with a group that is known by its practice of using only one cup in the Communion (i.e., you may be "denominated" a One Cup Church of Christ). This merely serves to identify a central tenet of your theology and practice. That is fine. If this becomes the basis for dividing from all who differ with you, however, then THAT is the sin! Another example: my personal faith-heritage is that wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement "denominated" Churches of Christ. Therefore, this is my "denomination." If you check the Yellow Pages you will find this NAMED group, which most people realize identifies them by name as being associated with a certain set of tenets and traditions, as well as where they assemble and when. There is nothing wrong with disciples identifying ("denominating") themselves in these ways. The SIN would be if this group, or any other named group, declared to the world that they, and they alone, ARE the One Body of Christ in its entirety upon the face of the earth (as, sadly, some groups do) to the exclusion of all other individuals and named groups (each of whom, in truth, are only parts of the whole). Denominating our diverse distinctives for the primary purpose of identification is NOT a sin; dividing from other disciples of Christ (and thereby dismembering the Body) over these distinctives IS. Until we learn the difference, our Lord's prayer for unity in John 17 will never be fully realized.
From a Reader in Tennessee:
It seems to me that according to your teaching anything goes!! Talk about despicable! You have no idea what you are talking about. But, just like the Mormons, you think you do. I pray you will obey God before it is too late.
From a Reader in Washington:
You are a very prolific writer, Al; inspiring, and also gifted. I read all your Reflections very carefully. Thanks for sharing these with us.
From a Reader in Michigan:
"Following the Fourth Faction" was excellent and thought-provoking! This one should be read by all.
From a Reader in Texas:
Your last Reflections ("Following the Fourth Faction") is the BEST EVER!!! It is TRUTH! All Christians are my brothers and sisters in Christ. John 17. Jesus prayed it; I believe it. I have sent it to everyone in my address book, and have not received a single disagreement from them. I know you are probably catching a lot of flak over this article, but this is one of those times when, as Rick Atchley says, "Deep down in their hearts they know it is true." Thank you, Al, for taking the stand you have to help the "scholars" in our midst to accept the simple truths you proclaim. I hope this article generates a LOT of new readers of your work.
From a Minister in Texas:
Al, Thanks for continuing the drumbeat for unity! Isn't it interesting that our particular stream of Christianity began as a plea for unity, but today screams of a divided Christ. I think the bottom line is that we today are just as human (on a macro scale) as they were in Corinth 2000 years ago. Modernists have this driving need to be "right," and to trumpet the truth as they see it. Let's all pray for unity in Christ!!
From a Reader in Georgia:
Great job on your study: "Following the Fourth Faction." I really hope this latest Reflections makes people think! Dividing over and over again is an attribute of cancer. I think it's time we got some Christo-therapy!
From a Reader in Virginia:
I had actually never thought of this fourth group in Corinth this way until I read your article. But, you're right: it is in the same context as the other factions! I pray that the brethren in your group will take heed to these admonitions that God has provided to them through you. Like you, I also have been doing a lot of writing, and am seeking to shed the light of the Word on error. My web site is: At The Gate Road. Blessings to you in Christ.
From a Reader in California:
Al, I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your direct, immediate responses to your subscribers who ask you questions, and which you share with us all in the weekly Readers' Reflections section. In your last issue you answered more questions, and in much more detail, than I have seen in the past. I know that you are a very busy man, and that you have literally tens of thousands of subscribers (not to mention countless others who read your material on your web site or who have it forwarded to them by friends and family), and that you cannot possibly answer every single question and/or address every single comment. I thought you should know, however, that we appreciate it when you do respond, and when you share some of those with us! Most times, I actually read the Readers' Reflections section before I read the accompanying essay. So, this email is just to say, "Hey! What you are doing is GREAT and we all Thank You for interacting with your readers." Keep up the great work you are doing, Elder Maxey!!
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