A Baptism for the Dead Dilemma

Jeff Spector baptism, LDS, love, Mormon, ordinances, plan of salvation, religion, salvation, temple 41 Comments

Baptismal FontLast January 2009, I wrote a piece “Stop Baptizing Our Dead.” I spoke about groups who objected to the LDS Church baptizing the dead that identified themselves with their own religious group, mainly Catholics and Jews.

I faced my own personal dilemma after my Mother died in March of 2007. While she and my Dad did not disown me for joining the LDS Church, they were not happy about my decision. My Mother, in particular, made sure that she voiced her opinion strongly from time to time. She told me once that she was afraid I would give all the money I received from her estate to THAT Church. And she made it quite clear she was not interested in being Baptized a Mormon after she died. Even though I tried to explain the idea of having the right to choose to accept the ordinances performed for our deceased, she was still adamantly against it.

So, I always wondered what I would do after they were gone. Would I respect their wishes and not do their Temple Work or do it anyway?

I decided to go ahead and do the work.

Here was my rationale:

  1. It is better to do as we are asked to do to seek after our dead and perform vicarious work on their behalf.
  2. If I didn’t do it, who would? Maybe my children or their children? Could I count on that? At this stage of their lives, the answer is no. So who would do it?
  3. They will have the choice to accept or reject the ordinances. This is according to our theology. I assume that my parent’s eternal perspective has changed on the other side of the veil.
  4. What is the worst that could happen? Either they yell at me on the other side for not respecting their wishes, provided they even know I did it. Or, none of this true and it doesn’t matter anyway.

But, what is the best that could happen? That their perspective has changed so much, they embrace the Gospel and thank me for doing their work. And that we will be together as a family forever.

Seemed to me it is worth the risk to have it turn out for the best.

Besides, they’ve yelled at me before, I can take it.

Comments

comments

Comments 41

  1. I am going through the exact same thing and I completely agree with you. My mother was deceased by the time I found the LDS church, but she had voiced so many objections when I’d looked into Christianity in the past so the same thing applies.

  2. I’m not in this position, but I do have a brother-in-law for whom I plan to do the work. Alive, he would not have appreciated it, but I feel ethically bound to ignore that and perform the work anyway.

    And that’s what it’s about: given our theology we are ethically bound to do the work for everyone that we can. It doesn’t mean we should anger others, since we also believe that eventually there will be a time when the work can be done. So if the person has descendents that object, leave it be–the work will happen eventually. If they are one of your own ancestors, do the work. You have the obligation.

  3. Our loving Heavenly Father has said when we do ALL that we can do, he take care of the rest.
    He has also promised that He is bound when we do what He asks. I would much rather follow the word of the creator of the Universe and leave the rest of it all up to Him, which would include the ministry and counsel they receive on the other side of the veil.
    I’ve had so many experiences with them which includes visitations. Their minds are much more open and understanding. They are influenced and nurtures by abundant love with no boundries available, if they want that. Families are everything on the other side.
    Wonderful viewpoint about, if certain people do NOT believe it is true, it is a mute argument or disagreement anyway. Much bigger risk IF it is true…and I for one, have my own proof that it is.
    Hundreds of proofs, experiences, validated by witnesses in a lot of cases.(seen / heard by others in the room…followed up with MORE validation later)
    It is worth the work. Work now, joy forever.
    “Where much is given, much is required”.
    We are blessed, let us perform!!!

  4. Sorry was NOt clear about what I meant of leaving the rest up to God…..I mean for Him to touch the hearts of them on the other side…to reason and love them with His power, since our reasoning does not always work. He has promised He will in His way bring all those together again, when possible. We just have to do the smaller parts, He takes care of dealing with them…in His way. Even though that is in the spirit world.

  5. My Dilemma does not deal with a Family Member that would not want to be baptized by proxy. Mine comes with My mothers Father Who molested her much of her younger years. For all the problems he caused her over the Course of her life and our Family(My Mom was in and out of Mental Facilities all her life. She Passed away 15 years ago and I did do her work) His name appears on my Family Group Sheets and many times I thought of just submitting his work and letting someone else take his name through, but then the not so forgiving part of me wants nothing to do with the process. I am still trying to decide what to do after all these years.

  6. #5. Hey Dan, I find your story compelling and troubling. I don’t know what I would do in your situation, honestly. The Scriptures say “I the Lord will forgive whom I will forgive but of you it is required to forgive all men,” yet this is the one area that almost seems impossible to forgive another person for. I know the Lord understands your dilemma, and I’m sure you will figure this out. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Arthur, Interesting you should mention that Scripture. It has been Sticking in my Head for a while. Maybe it is a message of what needs to be done.

  8. I agree with what seems to be the consensus here about how to handle this situation. Jeff, I think you were probably right to place the will of the lord above that of a human being, even if that person was your mother. That said, that is often easier said than done. In theory, I think it makes perfect sense, and I agree with you that there isn’t a whole lot of down side with your parents at this point. But what if there was a situation where you had siblings or other family members who felt as strongly as your parents (I don’t know your situation, Jeff), and your doing your parents work would cause serious family contention? I know Elder Oaks has stated that family relationships, while not necessarily expendable, are not important enough to thwart the will of the lord. I personally would not judge anyone in that situation, regardless of the course they take. It’s just too personal a situation. That definitely goes for your circumstances, Dan.

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    brjones,

    I think you are right. There is a bit of that in play here as our families would probably not want us doing the work. But my wife and I are both the oldest of our immediate families, so I guess we get to decide. No one has ever said anything, but I’d hate to ask, if you know what I mean.

    Dan S. I sympathize totally with you situation. Not sure what I’d do. He’s certainly one of those guys who are pretty down on the list as far as resurrection is concerned. On the other hand, Arthur has a good point as well.

  10. Dan S –

    I’m in a similar position with some of my family members, I think this is why I have difficulty starting my personal family history & there Temple file. I have suppressed my ill feelings for years but in doing so I have stifled many spiritual feelings towards genealogy.

    Is the way to forgiveness found in the process of conducting their genealogy ? or will God allow me to indefinitely avoid this part of the gospel.

    However I have a strong testimony that, if the restoration happened for nothing else than temple work for the dead, it is worthy of my service, tithing and much personal sacrifice. I just struggle when there actions have affected those I love.

    Jeff Spector – I completely agree with your rational their are something’s worth being shouted at for.

  11. Dan S-

    I have been through a situation where I was required to forgive in a situation that was very difficult for me to do so. It is very difficult to forgive people who have hurt those we love. It can feel like forgiving them is saying, in a way, that it was ok what they did, but hanging on to it will somehow cause them harm or send a message that they aren’t worth loving. I think not doing their temple work can bring a feeling of justice in an otherwise very unfair situation. I know that I would feel that way. If you don’t do it, then they are unable to progress and it seems fair considering what they have done. For me, I have focused on family members being God’s children first, and then people we knew as family here, second. I don’t necessarily believe that the people we have as family here are going to be our fathers, mothers, grandparents, etc. forever if they did things like molest, abuse or hurt us. As difficult as it is, I think if we turn over the actions of others to God, we will find forgiveness in our hearts and the ability to let God judge.

    I firmly believe that when we are merciful to others, God will be more merciful to us. The wonderful news is your mother’s father is not capable of hurting her any longer and she is free. He, on the other hand, is in a position now, where he is feeling the effects of all he has done. As difficult as it is, if we turn justice over to God and show that we trust Him, I believe we can do far more for our loved ones on the other side than we can imagine. I hope that you are able to peace and the answers you are looking for in this situation.

  12. I’ve never been in that position to know what I would do, as all my family are multiple generation mormons. However, when I’ve thought about it…I have thought this way:

    1) If the person while in life made me promise I would not do their ordinances, then I would respect that promise and have faith that they will learn later they need it or God will take care of it, and it will get done without me having to compromise my integrity and my respect for them.

    2) If they just said they didn’t want the ordinances done, but were never emphatic about it…there would be some wiggle room that I would rationalize that they never made me promise, so I would just do it and we’d all figure it out later.

    My feeling is it would be better safe than sorry, and if we find out it we were wrong and it didn’t matter…then who cares, and if we find out it DID matter, I would hope that further light and knowledge in the next life would justify the actions. However, if I promised…I would not break the commandment in Thou Shalt Not Lie…I would just trust it would get worked out.

  13. Heber13, I guess it depends on what you consider “safe” and what is “sorry”. My uncle told me a few years ago that his philosophy is “shoot first and ask questions later.” Granted, that was in the context of nail guns and minor building code infractions (while finishing a basement), but I’ve since learned that he has the same philosophy with this kind of a situation. And I agree.

    If everything we’ve been told regarding temple work is true, then it doesn’t seem like anyone loses, aside from personal choices. If it turns out that we aren’t right on with the approach to temple work but did it with the right spirit, it seems we would be the only ones punished (if you want to call it that). (I think this would also work in gradients of accuracy and intent, specifically in that we would only really have ourselves to blame.) If we’re all wrong theologically like some anti-LDS folks insist, we’re probably headed to hell anyway. And if everyone’s dead wrong about the afterlife then I suppose there’s nothing much to do about it now.

  14. “I assume that my parent’s eternal perspective has changed on the other side of the veil.”
    There is nothing like a one way trip to the spirit world to expand and edify one’s eternal perspective. Do it and don’t worry about it, as their agency to reject it is still intact.

    Dan, I’m not ready to forgive most grievous acts commited against me to this very day, but I know that Jen is correct. Hopefully, some day I’ll actually be able to incorporate her wise insights into my heart. Until then, I just manage by knowing that perfect justice requires payment to the last farthing. At some point in the future, people are held accountable for their evil ways by having to experience their evil ways from the perspective of their victims.

  15. Jeff, a friend of mine faced a similar problem with her grandmother who was Southern Baptist and very opposed to The Church. For years she avoided doing the Work. Just recently, she began having dreams about her Grandmother – chocked full of fond memories, and the issue of having her Work done came to the forefront again. Thoughts of this beloved grandmother were on my friend’s mind constantly, so much so that she drove 500 miles to try to find her grave. After much thought, she decided to do the Work. Her granny hasn’t bothered her since. 🙂 What do you think? Maybe, after all these years, Granny finally accepted the Gospel.

  16. 4.What is the worst that could happen? …

    Well, you could demonstrate to your children that respecting the wishes of your parents does not mean that much to you.

  17. We have the right to conduct our own lives as we wish.

    We do not have the right to control how other people remember us – even our own children.

    Your mom was eventually trying to control how you remembered her.

    Which is something that is out of her hands. If you want to remember her life and think of her as possibly joining the LDS faith in the hereafter, then you have a right to do so. It’s not something she can control.

  18. #16 – or that you want them to make their own decisions about their own lives and don’t expect them to live their lives in submission to you.

    I think I’ll take the lesson I mentioned over, “Do what I demand you do even after I’m dead.”

  19. …to add.

    Mom is not asking anyone to change how they live. What she asked for is that the way she lived her life, and the beliefs she held, be respected by her family. Just as we would want our beliefs respected.

    It is this lack of respect for the beliefs of other groups that causes the offense with this practice.

  20. If you had given your word to not perform those ordinances then it would seem only correct to honor that. I agree with Imperfection (21) the parent is not forcing the individual to live or act a certain way.

    Even with our current temple work rate there are millions and millions who will not receive these ordinances in the foreseeable future. It would seem right to keep your honor and the Lord work out the rest. However, I’m also reminded of the Anti-Nephi-Lehites who promised to lay down their swords. It didn’t mean that others could not fight in their defense. There could come another who will do the temple work who did not give their word.

    Of course, If no such word was given then I think that’s a different story.

  21. While doing initiatory one day, it occurred to me that doing ordinances one-on-one for the dead was a pretty inefficient way for God to organize salvation. Then I realized that one of the blessings of work for the dead was for the living to return to the temple and renew their own covenants.

    Maybe temple work is really a blessing for the living more than a necessity for the dead since, as mg pointed out, not all the dead can possibly have their work done in LDS temples this side of the millenium. The idea that God would keep righteous people who hadn’t had the opportunity to receive ordiances in this life out of the celestial kingdom because no one did their temple work seems as unreasonable as Calvin’s doctrine of salvation only for the elect.

  22. Dan–

    If you choose not to do the work, historical precedent is on your side. For many years, all of the US presidents had their temple work done EXCEPT Martin Van Buren (who refused to aid the Mormons when driven from Missouri) and James Buchanan (Who sent federal troops to Utah). The temple department refused to clear their names. Sometime in the last twenty years, they’ve finally been baptized.

    Sometime, it takes time (in this case, more than 100 years) for the pain and ill will to diminish.

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    Yvonne,

    “What do you think? Maybe, after all these years, Granny finally accepted the Gospel.”

    That might be it or her wishful thinking. the question is, would any of us want to face a family member on the other side and have to admit you didn’t do the work? And the reason was because at the time, they didn’t want us to? And there is no one left to do it some, it will be happenstance as to when it might get done?

    That is what drove me and what drives me now.

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    Imperfection,

    “It is this lack of respect for the beliefs of other groups that causes the offense with this practice.”

    I am not sure we cause the offense as much as they choose to take offense. All we are doing is taking a name and performing a ritual. Nothing else is affected by it. in the end, it either matters or it does not.

    Honor also means doing what right in spite of opposition. As I said, I’d rather get yelled at than not having done it. I was doing what I thought was the right thing to do.

  25. #26 – Jeff, I agree generally with this position, but I also think it’s less black and white when you’re dealing with family members who have expressed their wishes. I find offense much less warranted when you’re talking about groups who have no personal affiliation to those doing the work. I’d like to say that such offense comes from a misunderstanding of the nature of the ordinances, but I don’t think that’s always the case. I think some groups are just looking for offense. With family members, I think often the offense is not just about the act, but it’s about the disrespect of the person’s direct wishes. It’s definitely a sensitive issue.

    Ray, I agree with Imperfection that this isn’t about showing your kids how you live YOUR life. I think it would be a huge mistake to make such an issue about you. It is clearly about the family member who has passed on, and their potential salvation. Like I said, that doesn’t mean I think it’s wrong to do the work, but I think it’s a little flippant to basically act as if the wishes of the individual are meaningless in the equation. I would respect the decision of someone NOT to do the work out of respect for his or her parents’ wishes, just as I would respect the decision of someone to go ahead and do it. Frankly, as long as the person approached the issue thoughtfully and sincerely, I find it impossible to believe that the church or the lord would juge them for having made the “wrong” decision.

  26. Very interesting post Jeff. I have a slightly different story. My dad is a convert. He grew up on a pretty dysfunctional family, and he didn’t get along with several of his sisters (he had no brothers), but it had nothing to do with the church–he just didn’t get along with them. In fact, it was so bad, that when a sister called him to tell him that she had cancer, he said he didn’t care. Wow.

    She died about 15 years ago. About 5 years ago, I caught the genealogy bug, and discovered her work had not been done. I asked my dad if he cared if I submitted her name to the temple. He said, “Go for it,” but of course did not want to participate in any of the ordinances. My sister and I did her baptism, my mother did the endowment, and my wife were proxy as we sealed her to her husband. (I did most of her husband’s temple work.) My dad still acts pretty indifferent to the whole thing, but it was a nice experience to do some temple work for someone I actually knew (though I only met her one time when I was about 7.)

  27. I thought Temple work was to perform ordinances for deceased individuals who did NOT have the opportunity to receive them in this life. If they heard about the church and rejected it, can they still receive all the saving ordinances?

  28. #29, I think the only way to know if someone really rejected it is to know in their heart they understood everything. Since we can’t know that (only God can), then we can’t ever make that judgment, so you basically have to assume the work needs to be done for everyone, and let God figure out if they are worthy of that opportunity or if they reject it.

    Jeff, #26: “I am not sure we cause the offense as much as they choose to take offense. All we are doing is taking a name and performing a ritual. Nothing else is affected by it. in the end, it either matters or it does not.”

    With the gajillions of folks not having records to do their work, surely there is a way to provide the opportunity to everyone who wants it (in the millennium or whatever). So it either matters or it does not, it will either happen in our temples now or later…surely there is a lot to figure out how it will all work…so with all that said, it comes down to do YOU feel you MUST do it or you’ll be accountable, or do you honor their verbal request and have faith the Lord will provide a way?

    I can see it either way working out. Are we running out of names in the temples? Why not just let that one name slide for said reasons, and go do 10 other names and receive blessings for helping others?

  29. I would respect my mother’s wishes., My Mother wants a funeral; I think they are creepy and a waste of money. I’m going to pay for a funeral because that is what she wants. My Father wanted a plain wooden casket, which scandalized his brothers; he was buried in a plain wooden casket. I respect an individuals right to exercise agency.

  30. 31,

    1. Jeff’s mother DID exercise her own agency. Performing a posthumous baptism in her behalf violates her free will no more than her asking Jeff not to perform the ordinance violates HIS agency. If on her deathbed she had asked him to never again wear anything blue, should he honor that request? If so, what is the limit for fulfilling the requests of the deceased? What Jeff chooses to watch (the endowment video), listen to (ordinance texts), speak (oaths), and where he chooses to go (the temple), is entirely his decision.

    2. If the LDS Church happens to be true, doing her temple work actually increases her agency, broadens her opportunities to choose. NOT performing the ordinances ties her hands.

  31. re: 32
    I inferred from Jeff’s post that his mother was a serious person and that her request of him was serious because she ” expressed her opinion strongly from time to time” and “she was adamantly against it.” However, if posthumous baptism is as trivial as the wearing or not of blue clothing, then his mother’s request deserves no greater respect than the act being performed: both are trivial.

  32. The trivial nature (or not) of the act is immaterial. My argument in 32 was primarily a response to your comment:

    “I respect an individual’s right to exercise agency.”

    My point is that her deathbed request violates Jeff’s agency to precisely the same degree that a posthumous baptism violates her own. If you “respect an individual’s right to exercise agency,” that respect must extend to Jeff’s agency as well.

  33. cbiden, can you understand that what you are saying applies exactly the same to Jeff’s mother?

    That’s why this is a dilemma – not a slam-dunk, easy question. The best argument applies equally to both parties – exactly the same.

  34. So…if anyone makes a deathbed request, they are violating their children’s free will?

    re: 35 & 36
    cbiden seems to be one of the ONLY people who understands “it”. Jeff’s mother is deceased. She is out of the realm of this existence. We are talking about an earthly ritual that, according to your belief system, can’t be done in the afterlife (for some bizarre reason, despite the resurrection of the physical body).

    While alive, she had the choice to accept or reject Mormonism. She made her choice. Why are you going to make her choose again? Now she’ll have to make a gazillion phone calls, be on hold listening to horrible elevator music, fill out a bunch of confusing forms, wait six months for the letter to arrive inviting her to a Court of Love, only to have her be counted as a member anyway (uh oh, did I digress into my personal life experience? Shame on me.)

    I guess my question would be this–Jeff, why didn’t you go ahead and forcibly baptize her while she was alive? She could just have rejected it here.

    As conflated as that sounds, I think it effectively makes my point.

    If she didn’t believe the Mormon Church to be true, then her request was not to keep her from being arrested by the Posthumous Mormon Police; it was a final request asking her son to respect her wishes and beliefs.

    Jeff chose not to.

    That is something with which he will have to live and from what I gather from his comments, he is comfortable with his choice.

    Either way, it isn’t about free agency, it’s about respect.

  35. Ahh, a tempest in a baptismal font. Jeff sets up his logical premise in a way that invites conflict and division and creates a dilemna where none exists. If you set up the logical dilemna correctly, no problem and no conflict, which of course doesn’t create 37 comments and for the most part a lot of back slapping for Jeff’s devoutness in denying his dear old departed mother, heathen that she was.

    Let me take a stab at this:

    1. Nonbelievers/Athiests/Christians (other than the Mormon kind)/Buddhists/Shinto Fundamentalist Taoists/etc. — approximately 99.99% of those who have ever tread on the planet (You’ve got a lot of dunking to do folks — maybe you should be getting wet instead of posting on blogs — oh wait, the temple isn’t open on Sunday.) don’t ascribe to the belief in the need to baptize the dead and except to the extent that it interferes with the belief of those currently living on this planet who find it offensive to their heritage to have the Holocaust victims submerged after being gassed — kind of insult after injury. For these folks, not submersing mother in the watery grave after being placed in her earthen one is a non-issue.

    2. Jeff is a guy. He can’t be baptized for his Mom because he dangles. End of argument. No conflict.

    To end with some scripture of my own:

    But that the dread of something after death,
    The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
    No traveller returns, puzzles the will
    And makes us rather bear those ills we have
    Than fly to others that we know not of?

  36. The spirit of baptism for the dead is to provide opportunity, not to force anyone’s will. Some comments here have born some pretty deep resentment and even hate towards the LDS church and it’s beliefs, which places a very heavy burden on the shoulders of the resentor. My sympathy to you for whatever has caused this ill will. However, the doctrine is plain and simple… do the work and let God and the individual take it from there. That’s all it’s about, and that’s pretty much what Jeff Spector was doing. For other religions to resent when it is done for others of their own sect, they clearly have little faith in their own beliefs. Because… if they believe in their own faith, then what the LDS people do have no meaning. If they are angry at the LDS church for doing this work, then it means they believe that what the LDS church is doing is in some way binding. Saying that they are “offended” at the LDS church only covers up their failure to believe in their own religion. My question then is who are they to decide one way or the other for the deceased, and if they don’t believe the LDS faith then why should it matter at all to them anyway? Respect? Respect goes both ways. They should respect the fact that the LDS believes the practice and leave them alone to do what they feel is right. But people seem to have this belief that they have some claim over the dead… they don’t, and to be offended about whether the LDS church baptises them by proxy shows both selfishness and a lack of faith in their own beliefs. As to the LDS church “causing” offense… there was never any intended and only the intent to hold to the church’s principles with obedience towards God and love for their fellow man. They do not believe they are “saving” anyone, only that they are attending to the practical matters at hand and then leaving the rest to the deceased invidual and God.

  37. So…if anyone makes a deathbed request, they are violating their children’s free will?

    No, that’s silly. Just as silly as saying vicarious baptism violates someone’s free will.

    cbiden seems to be one of the ONLY people who understands “it”.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one.

    Jeff’s mother is deceased. She is out of the realm of this existence.

    Ten points to Griffindor! SHE isn’t here. SHE has been buried (or cremated). SHE is not involved in any subsequent temple rituals whatsoever. If her work is performed, her NAME will be spoken, but it will be spoken by a living person (or persons) with his/her OWN free will.

    While alive, she had the choice to accept or reject Mormonism. She made her choice. Why are you going to make her choose again? Now she’ll have to make a gazillion phone calls, be on hold listening to horrible elevator music, fill out a bunch of confusing forms, wait six months for the letter to arrive inviting her to a Court of Love, only to have her be counted as a member anyway (uh oh, did I digress into my personal life experience? Shame on me.)

    Cute. Irrelevant, but cute.

    I guess my question would be this–Jeff, why didn’t you go ahead and forcibly baptize her while she was alive? She could just have rejected it here.

    As conflated as that sounds, I think it effectively makes my point.

    No, not even remotely. Forcible baptism WOULD have been a violation of her agency. But as you yourself stated, “She is out of the realm of this existence”! Thus, whatever rites and ceremonies may be performed concern the free will/agency of the LIVING. What THEY do in the temple violates HER free will no more than it violates your own. Should no living soul ever be allowed to speak your name without your permission?

    If she didn’t believe the Mormon Church to be true, then her request was not to keep her from being arrested by the Posthumous Mormon Police; it was a final request asking her son to respect her wishes and beliefs.

    Jeff chose not to.

    That is something with which he will have to live and from what I gather from his comments, he is comfortable with his choice.

    Either way, it isn’t about free agency, it’s about respect.

    Again, as you stated, “Jeff’s mother is deceased. She is out of the realm of this existence.” If respect is the issue, then Jeff’s choices deserve as much consideration as his mother’s. What HE does, what HE says, what HE wears, etc., in the temple is his own business. (And, yes, Ulysseus, I am aware that the proxy for those ordinances would have been a female, but the principle remains the same; what SHE did/does is ALSO nobody’s business but her own.)

    In any case, some people will disagree with Jeff’s decision and that’s fine. But let’s not have any more disingenuous (and frankly ridiculous) hypocrisy about respecting wishes and protecting free agency, when it’s clear that you feel Jeff’s wishes and free will don’t deserve the same protection.

  38. I came across this article and your previous one and it is AMAZING!! You are straight to the point and so honest.. you have inspired me to do baptism for the dead again, not only for my family but others that need that chance in the next life.. THANK YOU!!

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