Culture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
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The basic beliefs and traditions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) have a cultural impact that distinguishes church members, practices and activities. The culture is geographically concentrated in the Mormon Corridor in the United States, and is present to a lesser extent in many places of the world where Latter-day Saints live.
In some aspects, Latter-day Saint culture is distinct from church doctrine. Cultural practices which are centrally based on church doctrine include adhering to the church's law of health, paying tithing, living the law of chastity, participation in lay leadership of the church, refraining from work on Sundays when possible, family home evenings, and home and visiting teaching. The church also emphasizes the moral standards that Mormons believe were taught by Jesus Christ, including personal honesty, integrity, obedience to law, chastity outside of marriage, and fidelity within marriage.
The majority of Latter-day Saints live outside the United States. Therefore, even though the global differences are important, there are some common traits around Latter-day Saints worldwide.
The Temple itself is a symbol to its members and to the world. Temples are lighted, so they can easily be seen at night, and they are most often built on a hill, so they can be seen from afar. Lighted temples in the darkness symbolize the power and the inspiration of the gospel of Jesus Christ standing as a beacon in a world that sinks ever further into spiritual darkness.
Signs and symbols in LDS Temples are in the form of pictures (paintings), writings, works of art, revelation, artifacts, gestures, and scriptures.
Members believe there are messages in temple symbols. These messages come in forms of what the symbols in reality represent and even beyond what they represent. Members believe that "No man or woman can come out of the temple endowed as he should be, unless he has seen, beyond the symbols, the mighty realities for which the symbols stand"
Members believe temple symbols can have more than one meaning and those meanings can be combined/added upon other signs and symbols. They believe that symbols are put in temples to represent the history of the church, the history of temples, and to teach the individual mind concerning God's teachings, which increases their knowledge of God's teachings. Temple symbolism provides opportunity for members to receive personal revelation, answer questions that individual members had been praying about, reveal new knowledge, reveal new questions, and provide peace.
Members believe that attending temples, participating in ordinances, and paying attention to symbolic meaning within those ordinances/symbols, gives them new knowledge, brings them closer to God, and closer in understanding God's plan of salvation at higher levels in member's individual part of that plan. Knowledge about the plan of salvation helps members understand how to live a better earth life.
In the temples everyone wears white. White symbolizes purity, cleanliness, and worthiness, and equality. Most all LDS temples have the circle and square symbols. The circle represents many things such as heaven, eternity, one eternal round, and the compass. The square represents earth. The circle inside the square symbolizes the earth in its fallen, temporal condition (Understanding Temple Symbols, 114) and this "earth in its four-quarters".
Scriptures are placed everywhere in temples to aid members understanding of the symbolic meanings in artifacts, paintings, and ordinances. Scriptures used by members in the temple increase and strengthen members testimonies. Symbols in the temple validate the principles and doctrine that is taught in the scriptures. Scriptures symbolize the knowledge that can be obtained inside the temple if used properly.
LDS temples are built around themes. Symbols are used in each temple to reinforce themes. A common theme in all temples is the creation/organization of the world and the story of Adam and Eve. The creation and the story of Adam and Eve are symbolic to each individual and the entire human race. The Adam and Eve story symbolizes the Plan of Salvation and teaches members about their individual part in that plan.
A picture of the resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ, is in every temple. This picture symbolizes the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, it symbolizes that Jesus is in His temples, and it symbolizes His glory when He will come the second time to the earth.
Two common symbols in all temples are The Tree of Life and The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The fruit on The Tree of Life symbolizes the Savior's love for all people. If members follow the commandments of God, they believe that they will one day be able to partake of this fruit and be with God. The Tree of Life reminds members that God loves His people and wants them to partake of His love, so they can be with Him. The Tree of Life and the partaking of the fruit, symbolizes members desires to be with their Savior, Jesus Christ.
The fruit on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil symbolizes free agency, making correct choices, temptations, and the right/ability to act for ourselves. God wanted Adam and Eve to have free agency, so He gave Adam and Eve the right to choose. This choice symbolizes the free agency God promised to His children in the pre-mortal existence.
Another common symbol in all the temples are fig leaves. "And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it became pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make her wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and also gave unto her husband with her, and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they had been naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons".
Fig leaves are known to be the symbol of fertility. Eve, after choosing to partake of the fruit on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, could now have children.
Symbolism in LDS Temples is an important part of member worship.
The church puts notable emphasis on the family, and the distinctive concept of a united family which lives and progresses forever is at the core of Latter-day Saint doctrine. Church members are encouraged to marry and have children, and as a result, Latter-day Saint families tend to be larger than average. All sexual activity outside of marriage is considered a serious sin. All homosexual activity is considered sinful and same-sex marriages are not performed or supported by the LDS Church. Latter-day Saint fathers who hold the priesthood typically name and bless their children shortly after birth to formally give the child a name and generate a church record for them.
Latter-day Saints believe that one of the most important aspects of life on Earth is the opportunity for individuals to learn and grow. They further believe that whatever learning they obtain in this life is retained in the next life. Accordingly, the church strongly emphasizes education and as part of the Church Educational System, subsidizes Brigham Young University (BYU) and its Jerusalem Center, BYU–Idaho, BYU–Hawaii, and LDS Business College.
All participating members ages twelve years and older attend Sunday School classes, which emphasize personal scripture studies and other forms of spiritual education and self-improvement.
Seminary is an established religious education program for secondary school students, which is often scheduled before or after school hours. In some areas with large LDS populations, provisions are made by the school to allow students to attend Seminary off-campus during the school day. Attendance at seminary is voluntary, although it is considered when a person applies to a church-owned university. CES administers the seminary program and also an Institute of Religion program for tertiary education-age church members.
The church sponsors a low-interest educational loan program known as the Perpetual Education Fund. This fund is designed to benefit young men and women from developing areas to receive student loans. Many of them have served a mission, returned to their home, and lack needed funds to improve their standard of living. As they finish their education and enter the work force, they pay back the funds, which are then loaned to other individuals.
In Buena Vista, Virginia, a group of LDS businessmen bought out a failing college and renamed it Southern Virginia University (SVU). It is not owned by the church, nor does it receive any funding from the church. SVU depends heavily upon donations from church members and friends. The school enforces an honor code that is similar to that of the higher education units of CES.
The LDS Church encourages and hosts social activities such as sports, dances and picnics. Local Young Men and Young Women organizations sponsor weekly activities, and the Primary and other auxiliaries of the church hold occasional activities.
In general, the LDS Church distances itself from politics, although it encourages its members to be politically active. Each summer in U.S. election years the church sends a letter to each bishop to be read from the pulpit stating that the church does not endorse any political parties or candidates, does not allow its buildings to be used for political events, and that no titles or positions that a person may have in the church may be used to imply church endorsement of any party or candidate.
However, the church has endorsed or opposed specific political positions which it regards as moral issues:
- Opposition to repeal of right-to-work section of the Taft-Hartley Act
- Opposition to MX (Peacekeeper) missile bases in Utah and Nevada.
- Opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment during the 1970s.
- Support of the Defense of Marriage Act to define marriage in the United States as between one man and one woman.
- Support of the 2000 California initiative to define marriage in California as between one man and one woman.
- Support of the 2004 Utah constitutional amendment to define marriage in Utah as between one man and one woman.
- Opposition to the storage of nuclear waste in Utah.
- Support of Proposition 8 to define marriage in California as between one man and one woman.
- Opposition to White Supremacist Attitudes/Agendas.
- Support of compassionate and pro-family immigration policy, while affirming that "every nation has the right to enforce its laws and secure its borders".
A 2012 Pew Center survey on Religion and Public Life indicates that 74 percent of U.S. Latter-day Saints church members lean towards the Republican Party. Some liberal members have stated that they feel that they have to defend their worthiness due to political differences. In recent decades,[when?] the Republican Party has consistently won a majority of the LDS vote in most national and state-level elections. As a result, Utah, a state with a majority LDS population, is also one of the most heavily Republican states in the country. However, there are Democrat supporters inside the church.
Genealogical family history research is an important aspect of Latter-day Saint tradition, stemming from a doctrinal mandate for church members to research their family tree and perform vicarious ordinances for their ancestors. Church members believe the ordinances "seal" or link families together, with the ultimate goal being an unbroken chain back to Adam and Eve. Church members are able to do genealogical work in various family history centers throughout the world, usually located in LDS meetinghouses. The advent of personal computers prompted the church to create a specialized file format known as GEDCOM for storing and exchanging these records. Since then, GEDCOM has become a de facto standard that almost all genealogy programs support.
The church maintains a website called FamilySearch to access genealogical records, which typically contain birth, death, marriage and family group information. Church records also contain information on personal ordinances of members as well as vicarious temple ordinances such as baptism, endowment, and sealing to spouse, parent, and child. Genealogical and church related information is maintained in permanent storage in the Granite Mountain vault in the Wasatch Range of the Utah mountains. The church is currently working to digitize all of these records and make them more readily available.
The LDS Church has one of the most active missionary programs of any world church. During the church's general conference in October 2014, Thomas S. Monson noted that there were in excess of 88,000 full-time LDS missionaries serving without pay around the world. Young men can begin serving for two years at age 18, with young women able to begin 18-month service at age 19; missionaries frequently learn another language and typically are assigned far from their homes.
Missionary work is a fundamental principle of the church and has become one of its most readily identifiable characteristics. Church headquarters assigns missionaries to their area of work, which can be in any part of the world where governments allow them. It also directs the missionary whether to focus on proselytizing, humanitarian work, or family history work.
Formal public and personal prayers are addressed to "Our Father in Heaven" or "Heavenly Father", and are closed in the name of Jesus Christ, followed by amen. When a prayer is given in public, it is customary for all attending to say "amen" at the prayer's conclusion. English-speaking members are encouraged to use "thee," "thou," "thy" and "thine" when addressing God, as a form of both familiarity and respect. Members who speak other languages use similar familiar, respectful language in prayer. Most prayers are extemporaneous and may be said while kneeling, standing, or sitting or in any other position. Bowing one's head and folding one's arms during prayer are both customary and encouraged. Personal prayers may be said aloud or performed silently.
Certain prayers associated with ordinances of the LDS Church are defined and must be delivered verbatim, while others must follow a certain pattern. For example, the prayers to bless the sacrament are set prayers which are delivered using the same language each week. If the person offering the prayer accidentally deviates from the form, he is instructed to repeat the prayer until it is correct. Likewise, the prayer for baptism must be given verbatim prior to immersion. Other ordinances merely have a set pattern: for example, in a confirmation prayer, the priesthood holder is to address the individual being confirmed by his or her full name, state the priesthood authority by which the ordinance is performed, confirm that person as a member of the church, and bestow the Holy Ghost with the words "receive the Holy Ghost." This is usually followed by an extemporaneous personal blessing as directed by the Spirit.
The LDS Church encourages every member to be prepared for all types of disasters, including economic difficulties. Members are encouraged to plant gardens, store at least three months' supply of food and water, and to maintain a "72-hour Kit" (or "3-Day Pack") containing necessary supplies to immediately sustain oneself in the event of a natural disaster. The church is equipped with necessities which are available for rapid distribution, but members are expected to see to their own immediate needs, as well as assisting their neighbors and communities. The church's response to emergencies or disasters is directed through the bishop's storehouse, and is not limited to assisting church members.
The church also supports programs to help members become amateur radio operators, to provide communications between church facilities during disasters. HF amateur radio equipment enables logistics needs to be met worldwide, while VHF operations link local leaders. In areas with high expectation of needing such services (such as quake-prone southern California), license classes and exams are periodically held in local meetinghouses, and open to all, regardless of age or religion.
The LDS Church has a long and rich tradition of public speaking. Public speaking is common for both leaders and other lay members. This speaking tradition continues today. For example, during worship services on the first Sunday of each month, members of the congregation are invited to extemporaneously share their testimonies of the gospel, faith-building experiences, and other uplifting messages with other members of the congregation.
On each of the other Sundays during the month, members of the congregation ages 12 and older are selected in advance to give a "talk" (a "sermon" or "homily") on a particular gospel principle or topic. Children under age 12 are given the opportunity to give short talks in their Primary meetings.
Church leaders and missionaries are also encouraged to speak boldly and freely about the church, and are often given opportunities for extemporaneous public speaking on various gospel subjects.
Since the early days of the church, talks given by leaders (especially those given in the church's biannual general conference meetings) have been recorded and widely distributed in written format. A digitized collection of these talks dating back to 1971 is available on the churchofjesuschrist.org website, and talks dating back to the 19th century are available in printed format through various university and community libraries. In recent years, the LDS Church and BYU have also made audio and video versions of selected talks freely available on their websites.
One of the most commonly used visual symbols of the church is the trumpeting angel Moroni, proclaiming the restoration of the gospel to the Earth (often identified as the angel mentioned in Revelation 14:6-7). A statue depicting Moroni tops the tallest spire of most LDS temples. Other common symbols associated with the church are the letters CTR, meaning "Choose the Right", often depicted in a shield logo; the Christus statue; and images of the Salt Lake Temple.
The modern LDS Church does not use the cross or crucifix as a symbol of faith. Mormons generally view such symbols as emphasizing the death of Jesus rather than his life and resurrection. The early LDS Church was more accepting of the symbol of the cross, but after the turn of the 20th century, an aversion to it developed in Mormon culture. However, there are individual Latter-day Saints who tolerate (or even embrace) the use of a cross as a personal symbol of faith.
By current policy, no pictures or icons are depicted in the chapel within modern LDS meetinghouses, in order to avoid an image becoming the focus of worship rather than the reality of God. However, images such as paintings of Christ and photographs of LDS leaders and temples are common in other parts of church buildings.
In 1994, church president Howard W. Hunter encouraged church members to "look to the temple ... as the great symbol of your membership." When questioned on the subject of symbols in 2005, church president Gordon B. Hinckley said that Latter-day Saints themselves are the best symbols of their religion.
Members of LDS Church often address each other as "Brother" or "Sister" and then usually append the surname (for example, Brother Smith or Sister Jones). Additionally, those that hold specific leadership positions may be addressed by their title and then their last name (for example, President Brown). The most frequently-used titles are as follows:
- Bishop: The local bishop of a ward is addressed by the title of bishop. He is assisted by two counselors who are not addressed by title. Together, the three men constitute the bishopric. The title "bishop" is sometimes used when referring to a member formerly served as a bishop. The church's Presiding Bishop and his counselors are also given the title Bishop.
- Elder: While most adult male church members hold the office of elder in the Melchizedek priesthood, only full-time male missionaries, members of the Quorums of the Seventy (both general and area authorities) and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are properly addressed with this title.
- President: All members of a stake presidency, district presidency, temple presidency, and mission presidency are properly referred to with the title of president. In a branch, the branch president is referred to as president, but his counselors are not. Together, the three men constitute the branch presidency. Among the general authorities, only members of the church's First Presidency and the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles use this title. In individual congregations, an elders quorum president may be addressed as president. A teachers or deacons quorum president may be addressed with this title also. Other presidents of auxiliaries within the church unit, such as the Sunday School president and Relief Society president, are usually not addressed by title.
A number of songs and hymns are unique to the church. Among the most famous of these are "Come, Come, Ye Saints", "I Am a Child of God"', "The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning", "Praise to the Man", "O My Father", "High on the Mountain Top", and "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet".
According to LDS Church tradition, only the church president or First Presidency have the right to establish doctrine and policies for the entire church. In general, the perceptions of faithful members are expected to be in line with the current views of the church's general authorities.
However, topics which are related to doctrine, or are based on cultural ideas and norms, and were often informally taught or debated among Latter-day Saints. These topics change over the decades, and include (but are not limited to):
- Outer darkness
- What it actually means to be a god or an exalted being.
- Pre-existence issues including divisions by valiance, pre-mortal sin, and the war in heaven.
- The nature of pre-mortal intelligence, and how it (and/or/if spirit and spirit matter) was created.
- Purposes of the past LDS practice of plural marriage, and whether it will ever be reinstated or exist in the celestial kingdom.
- Location and nature of Kolob.
- At what point a spirit enters the body of a fetus or baby.
- The building of Zion, the New Jerusalem in Missouri
- Eschatology and signs of the times
- Miscellaneous Mormon folklore, such as encounters with the Three Nephites.
Topics which were once controversial in the church but are now officially rejected (but not forgotten) include:
Although members may be correct in their conjecture, the church is careful about what is declared official doctrine.
Cultural restrictions and taboos
The church has clearly defined views on abortion:
In today's society, abortion has become a common practice, defended by deceptive arguments. Latter-day prophets have denounced abortion, referring to the Lord's declaration, "Thou shalt not ... kill, nor do anything like unto it" (Doctrine & Covenants Section 59, Verse 6). Their counsel on the matter is clear: Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints must not submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for an abortion. Church members who encourage an abortion in any way may be subject to Church discipline .... Church leaders have said that some exceptional circumstances may justify an abortion, such as when pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, when the life or health of the mother is judged by competent medical authority to be in serious jeopardy, or when the fetus is known by competent medical authority to have severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth. But even these circumstances do not automatically justify an abortion. Those who face such circumstances should consider abortion only after consulting with their local Church leaders and receiving a confirmation through earnest prayer."
Alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea
The LDS Church's health code, called the Word of Wisdom, prohibits the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and "hot drinks"; church leaders have defined "hot drinks" as "coffee and tea". Caffeinated beverages other than coffee and tea are not prohibited by the LDS Church.
After Joseph Smith, all of the presidents of the LDS Church wore beards until 1951. However, since David O. McKay became church president in that year, LDS Church presidents have all been clean-shaven. Since the 1960s, the LDS Church has discouraged men from wearing beards, particularly those who serve in ecclesiastical leadership positions. The church's current preference for clean-shaven men has no theological basis, but stems from social changes associating facial hair with the hippie and drug culture aspects of the counterculture of the 1960s.
The church maintain no formal policy on facial hair for its general membership. However, formal prohibitions against facial hair are enforced for young men entering missionary service. Students and staff of the church-sponsored schools that make up the Church Educational System, such as Brigham Young University, are required to adhere to the Church Educational System Honor Code, which requires that men be clean-shaven. A beard exception is granted for "serious skin conditions", and for approved theatrical performances, but until 2015 no exception was given for any other reason, including religious convictions. In January 2015, BYU clarified that non-Mormon students who wish to have a beard for religious reasons, such as Muslims or Sikhs, may be granted permission after applying for an exception.
In 2014, BYU students started a campaign to loosen the beard restrictions, but it had the opposite effect: some who had previously been granted beard exceptions were found to no longer qualify, and for part of a week LDS Business College required students with a registered exception to wear a "beard badge", which was likened to a "badge of shame". Some students joined in with shaming fellow beard-wearing students.
Gambling and lotteries
The church opposes gambling in all forms, including government- or charity-sponsored lotteries.
The LDS Church has stated "[r]evealing and sexually suggestive clothing, which includes short shorts and skirts, tight clothing, and shirts that do not cover the stomach, can stimulate desires and actions that violate the Lord's law of chastity." The church therefore encourages its members to dress modestly. Men and women who have undergone the endowment ceremony in church temples are instructed to wear a temple garment as undergarments for the remainder of their lives; the temple garment is intended to cover the trunk of the body from the neck[dubious ] to the knees as well as the upper part of the arms.
During a sermon criticizing the federal government, church president Brigham Young said, "[i]f the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so." (The "seed of Cain" has generally been understood to refer to black people of African descent.)
In 1954, church apostle Mark E. Petersen: "I think I have read enough to give you an idea of what the Negro is after. He is not just seeking the opportunity of sitting down in a cafe where white people eat. He isn't just trying to ride on the same streetcar or the same Pullman car with white people. It isn't that he just desires to go to the same theater as the white people. From this, and other interviews I have read, it appears that the Negro seeks absorption with the white race. He will not be satisfied until he achieves it by intermarriage. That is his objective and we must face it."
In a 1965 address to BYU students, apostle Spencer W. Kimball told BYU students: "Now, the brethren feel that it is not the wisest thing to cross racial lines in dating and marrying. There is no condemnation. We have had some of our fine young people who have crossed the lines. We hope they will be very happy, but experience of the brethren through a hundred years has proved to us that marriage is a very difficult thing under any circumstances and the difficulty increases in interrace marriages."
The official newspaper of the LDS Church, the Church News, printed an article entitled "Interracial marriage discouraged". This article was printed on 17 June 1978, in the same issue that announced the policy reversal which allowed men of black African descent to be ordained to the priesthood.
Throughout history, there has not been a church policy on interracial marriages, which had been permitted since before the 1978 reversal. In 1978, church spokesman Don LeFevre said that "there is no ban on interracial marriage. If a black partner contemplating marriage is worthy of going to the Temple, nobody's going to stop him .... if he's ready to go to the Temple, obviously he may go with the blessings of the church."
Speaking on behalf of the church, Robert Millet wrote in 2003: "[T]he Church Handbook of Instructions ... is the guide for all Church leaders on doctrine and practice. There is, in fact, no mention whatsoever in this handbook concerning interracial marriages. In addition, having served as a Church leader for almost 30 years, I can also certify that I have never received official verbal instructions condemning marriages between black and white members."
A church lesson manual for adolescent boys, published in 1995 and in use until 2013, contains a 1976 quote from Spencer W. Kimball that says, "We recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background (some of those are not an absolute necessity, but preferred), and above all, the same religious background, without question".
The LDS Church has stated that, "Latter-day prophets strongly discourage the piercing of the body except for medical purposes. If girls or women desire to have their ears pierced, they are encouraged to wear only one pair of modest earrings."
Latter-day Saints are counseled not to partake of any form of media that is obscene or pornographic, including media that depicts graphic representations of sex or violence.
The LDS Church has stated that, "Latter-day prophets strongly discourage the tattooing of the body. Those who disregard this counsel show a lack of respect for themselves and for God."
- Uchtdorf, Dieter F. (26 May 2011). "Los Angeles World Affairs Council - President Dieter F. Uchtdorf - 26 May 2011". Los Angeles World Affairs Council transcript. Retrieved 1 November 2013.
And since 1997, the majority of Church members live outside the United States.
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The basic dinner was meat in cream-of-something soup on mashed something... No one comes to Utah for the food... 'Mormon food' should be seen as part of a larger Western tradition of hearty meals, seasonal eating and food preservation that is in keeping with modern farm-to-table ideals .... As the church becomes more international, that Utah Mormon food is no longer the standard... Mormon home cooks are unusually adept in the kitchen by modern standards .... In the 1960s, Mormon women (like most Americans) enthusiastically embraced inexpensive convenience foods like canned fruit, instant potatoes and, of course, Jell-O. For some reason, the Utah Mormons took longer to come out of that phase... Powdered milk and eggs; dried beans; canned vegetables, fruit, and even canned meat and cheese are staples of many kitchens. (This may have something to do with the stereotypical blandness of traditional Mormon food.) ... For most Mormons over 40, two standard dishes sum up the tradition: green Jell-O and funeral potatoes. Green Jell-O, a fluffy dessert of whipped cream and crushed pineapple folded into lime gelatin, is a constant presence at parties. Funeral potatoes, a rich casserole of grated potatoes, sour cream, cheese and cream-of-something soup, is delivered to the bereaved, and serves as a side dish for ham on Christmas and Easter. It tastes like the inside of a baked potato mashed with plenty of sour cream and Cheddar, and it takes only one savory, fluffy forkful to see why the dish is a classic.
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We are not unmindful of the fact that there is a growing tendency ... toward the breaking down of race barriers in the matter of intermarriage between whites and blacks, but it does not have the sanction of the Church and is contrary to Church doctrine.
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