Persecution Complex

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Today’s guest post is from The Captain. The urban dictionary defines the term persecution complex as follows:

One of the top fifteen factors that can transform a reasonable, amiable, friendly person with reasonable, friendly beliefs and ideas into a ranting, screaming, judgmental zealot with poisonous, nauseating, self-righteous dreck for beliefs.

A member of the Church cannot go many Sundays without hearing about the fortitude of early Saints in overcoming persecution.  A fast and testimony meeting often includes statements about persecution against the Church in the past or present.

Persecution, persecution, persecution!

When Joseph Smith was murdered, the New York Herald printed:

The death of the modern mahomet will seal the fate of Mormonism.  They cannot get another Joe Smith.  The holy city must tumble into ruins, and the ‘latter-day saints’ have indeed come to the latter day.

Little did the New York Herald and many of the Church’s critics know that persecution and tragedy can bring a people closer and make them stronger.

Such is the case with Mormonism.  While there were divisions and schisms (schisms which included many prominent members), the majority of the early Saints followed Brigham Young after Joseph Smith’s death, building a strong and unified Church in the mountains of Utah.

The writings of Brigham Young and Church leaders found in the Journal of Discourses and other sources are filled with rants about the persecution the Church suffered.  It was a constant subject that was no doubt continuously on the minds of the entire Mormon Church.  This is understandable, as the Church was continually subject to misconceptions, unwarranted criticism and unfriendly government intervention.  They were living through persecution.

However, as the Church became more and more accepted by others and granted equal rights, the constant banter of persecution did not cease. And even today, with the Church enjoying many of the rights and privileges early Saints could only dream of, the Church continues to complain about persecution or reflect on past persecution.

With an “us vs. them” attitude, members will cry injustice or discrimination at the drop of a hat.  Some allow this attitude to grow into arrogance and bitterness toward others.

I have seen cool-headed members blow their tops at protesters at Temple Square.  I have seen missionaries jump into attack mode at the slightest mention of criticism from those they teach.

Does the church suffer from persecution complex?  And are the side effects of a persecution complex in some ways as dangerous as persecution itself?  What do you think?


Comments 30

  1. I think one of the worst side effects of the aftermath of Prop. 8 is it has given some LDS Church members an excuse to play the matyrs, a self-defeating behavior in my opinion, and not a very pleasant character trait to be around.

  2. The problem with just asking “Does the church suffer from persecution complex?” is that you are setting up a chance for those that have bad feelings towards Mormons to say “Yes sir! Mormons are so pathetic that they have a persecution complex!” But you are only setting up Believing Mormons to sound defensive at best. (i.e. “I don’t have a persecution complex! Stop persecuting me over it!”)

    So this question isn’t really fair or objective as currently worded.

    What would be more helpful is if you can actually identify a group that we can all agree *doesn’t* have a persecution complex and then we can do a comparison between them and Mormons.

    But is it even possible to identify a group that doesn’t have a presecution complex? The problem is that I suspect there is no such thing as a group that isn’t perceived as having a presecution complex by those that dislike them.

    But if all groups seem to have a presecution complex to their detractors, then was the question even valid to begin with?

  3. As an alternative to finding a group that doesn’t have a persecution complex in the eyes of their detractors — a group that I’m pretty sure doesn’t exist — I think a more productive way to tackle this question would be to ask:

    What types of things that Mormons cry “presection” over are valid and which kind aren’t? How do we tell the difference?

    We all know that there is the Evangelical Christian Anti-Mormon mill out there that willingly and gleefully says deceptive things that are obviously false. Example: I once saw such a person claim that Mormons did not consider Jesus to be any more (or less) divine than any other spirit child of God.

    I would think crying “presecution” over such a thing is, in no fair person’s mind, a persecution complex. Why? Because this is legitimate bigotry and/or misrepresentation.

    On the other hand, there are legitimate concerns that people do have about Mormons and/or Mormonism. Simply bring those concerns up for discussion, in a tolerant and respectful way, is not presecution. Thus crying “presecution” over it would, in most people’s minds, be legtimately a “presecution complex.”

    But how do we tell the difference between these two categories? I’d submit that there is a bold line between them, yet most people cross the line without thought or try to blur the line.

  4. I think it is a common attribute of Mormonism to be persecuted. My experience on the mission made it pretty clear that Evangelicals, Baptists and JWs would gladly go out of their way to wish any Mormon they could find a bad day. I had one guy come out and shout at us that he wished we got hit by a truck. I am as left as they get, but I think it is fair to say that Mitt’s religion derailed his chances with the religious right.

    I think that the problem with Proposition 8 is that by working with the very groups that have persecuted Mormons over the last generation against a group that has mostly ignored Mormons the effect is more pronounced.

    Now does the church deserve some censor over its political actions? I would say yes – but that is my political opinion. Do they deserve the white powder in the mail? Absolutely not. I am trying to figure out whether that type of activity is because there is undue persecution of the church, whether there are some absolute morons protesting or a bit of both.

    Looking at the big picture is probably the best way to figure out if there is persecution against the church:

    The current Senate Majority leader is LDS.

    One of the strongest GOP candidates for president in recent memory is LDS.

    Numerous promenient political leaders in the United States are LDS: from Orrin Hatch and Chris Dodd’s spouse to Assistant Attorney General to heading regional offices of the CIA and FBI – Mormons push far above their weight at every level of government.

    There are numerous business leaders that are LDS – Huntsmen, Marriot, Sorenson . . . the list goes on.

    The prior leader of the church was a regular guest on one of the most popular talk shows in the world and was awarded the presidential medal of freedom.

    In the end, I think that aside from the occasional wingnut the perception of persecution is overdone.

  5. “Do members of the Church focus on persecution in the past and present too much? What impact does that have on the Church?”

    Yes we do. The result is that any social or political situation can and will be misconstrued. I don’t know what the impact on the Church as an institution is but the Mormon community suffers because we Mormons have to see ourselves as victims of any or all situations. This prevents us from building bridges, from being more involved in the community, and from forging meaningful relationships with other communities. It also means that we end up holding some absurd views such as was expressed at church last Sunday when a speaker said that we are being persecuted by homosexuals! WOW.

  6. Bruce,

    I respectfully feel that you are over analyzing this.

    I think the question is simple and straightforward. Does the Church have a persecution complex, meaning does it focus too much on its past and present persecution?

    The history of the Church is much more interwoven in its teachings than most other denominations. Case in point, you don’t have Baptist Churches teaching many lessons based off of the persecution of Anabaptists or the lives of John Smyth and Thomas Helwys. But we are constantly taught lessons about the fortitude of Joseph Smith withstanding persecution, the strength of the early Saints in building the Salt Lake Temple during persecution, etc. etc.

    I would also add that the statement that Mormons “did not consider Jesus to be any more (or less) divine than any other spirit child of God” – there is truth to that. The teaching of the preexistence and we all being Spirit children of God puts us on a more level playing field with the Savior. To me, it is a beautiful doctrine. But I can easily see how some may feel that lessens Christ’s divinity – we are saying that just as we are Spirit children so was Christ a Spirit child of God. And I disagree that crying persecution over this would not constitute a persecution complex. I believe it does, and our common reaction to jump into defensive mode, or cry “Wo is me” should add to the discussion.

  7. Bruce’s point that all groups consider themselves persecuted at times is probably valid. To some extent, that’s how we define a group of people, by “insiders” (those that are for/with us) and “outsiders” (everyone else). That’s a pretty common trait in animal behavior also, I might add. Is it useful or enlightened? Perhaps not. And it also digs trenches of protectionism around the group rather than bridging the divide (doing good to them that despitefully use you).

    Persecution stories can stir patriotism (or religious fervor), but they also create a few negative by products: lack of responsibility for our own actions, loss of empowerment to make a situation better, and less understanding for other viewpoints. All 3 of which, BTW, are partly aims of both patriotism and religious fervor. See how they play out:
    1- lack of responsibility for our own actions can lead to a focus on obedience to religious (or even patriotic) principles to obtain what we desire (e.g. salvation, happiness, or government assistance).
    2 – loss of empowerment to make a situation better can lead to reliance on God and/or country.
    3 – less understanding for other viewpoints can lead to isolationism and more commitment to the group (church or country).

  8. captainmeldoy,

    I have to respectfully disagree with you.

    For exampmle: “Case in point, you don’t have Baptist Churches teaching many lessons based off of the persecution of Anabaptists.”

    No, but you will find that Baptists very much define themselves in terms of the presecution of the world to Christians in general. I was watching the Christian channel recently where they had a whole program showing all the presecution of Christians in Hollywood movies and even went so far as to claim that recent violence against Christians, such as Columbine, was caused by the presecution of Christians.

    I might add that I don’t see this as a “persecution complex” on the part of Baptists (or other Christians) because I believe it all to be accurate and factual. (Though obviously we can’t definitively show the cause and effect being asserted in the latter example.)

    Likewise, I have to disagree with you over your response to my (carefully chosen) example of someone saying Mormons “did not consider Jesus to be any more (or less) divine than any other spirit child of God”

    You go on to make an accurate statement that Mormons do see Jesus in a different light and that it is, perhaps, understandable that other Christians might interpret the literal Fatherhood of our spirits as meaning Jesus is “less divine” in some sense, especially from the point of view of certain theological concepts they accept that Mormons don’t. (i.e. the ontological separateness of God and His creations.)

    But that’s not what I said. More to the point, it isn’t what the person I’m paraphrasing said.

    If they had said “Well, Mormons believe Jesus is a child of the Father spiritually, as are we are. I personally see that as less divine.” I would have had no concern, other than to respectfully disagree with them since *I* don’t see it as less divine. (I’d probably also point out that what matters is how I see Jesus, not how they see me seeing Jesus.)

    But deciding to paraphrase it as “Mormons believe Jesus is not any more Divine than anyone else” is not only not acceptable, it’s intolerance. And yes, it’s presecution if it persists out of hatred instead of mere ignorance. (In this case, it wasn’t mere ignorance.)

    There is a difference between crying “wo is me” and calling bad behavior what it is. If correctly labeling deception as deception (or intolerance as intolerance) is a “presecution complex” SIGN ME UP! (And you’d do well to join as soon as possible.)

    Let me meet you half way. Is it problematic that Mormons self define in part by the presecutions of the past. Isn’t that your real question? I suppose that’s not the same as what I’m discussing. (I wrote my posts before I even saw yours, btw.)

    But I think it’s a huge mistake to start labeling “persecution complex” like we are doing without first asking what we are comparing to and if the persecution is real or imagined. Oh, and if it’s really harmful or not.

    1. I have never heard anyone in any of the Baptist or any other evangelical churches cry they’re being persecuted. However, my Mormon wife often claims that LDS church has been and is still under constant persecution. She even accuses me of trying to persecute her when I try to ask about why she believes certain doctrines that conflict with my reading of The Holy Bible which effectively shuts down any opportunity for dialog. I have however read many accounts of REAL PERSECUTIONS of Christians in many other countries such as China Iran Syria North Korea and on and on. Millions of Christians are being slaughtered for standing strong in their Christian witness in those countries. Even Christians in the U.S. Have been killed for their faith such as at Columbine ect.

  9. Oh, it helps to realize that the example I’m using wasn’t an Evangelical talking to me, a Mormon, it was an Evangelical acting like they were deeply knowledgeable about Mormons speaking to other Evangelicals about “what Mormons believe.” (It was on the internet, I just “overhead.”)

  10. 9. Hawkgrrrl

    You make great points (and I’m not just saying that because I love your posts on RS/MP Lessons).

    10, 11. Bruce

    You also make great points. I hope that I haven’t offended you in any way. If I have, please let me know. I love the respect shown on this blog, and I know that I can be harsh and defensive at times.

    I guess I have never seen misrepresentations of spriritual beliefs as persecution. Not that they aren’t, but I usually equate persecution with intolerance that extends past misrepresentations of beliefs and involves actions to harm the people of that religion. A lot of the persecution the early Church faced far exceeded mispresentations and escalated to violence. Comparitavely, the persecution we face today pales in comparison. Do we have a right to continue to look to our past and feel persecuted? Or should we move on and admit that we face the same persecution many other Churches face.

    If I were to answer the question, I would say that the LDS Church does focus a lot on its history of persecution, drawing strength from it. But sooner or later as history fades away; becoming older than minds can comprehend, the Church will have to find more of its strength from the teachings and doctrine itself. And I would ask why can’t we start that process now?

  11. *rolls his eyes*

    Of course it’s not the “ranting, screaming, judgmental [gay/liberal] zealot with poisonous, nauseating, self-righteous dreck for beliefs” and therefor feels free to call his opponents bigots and refuse to concede that they might have any non-bigoted reasons for disagreeing- no they are not the ones that have the persecution complex.

    It’s the Mormons! who dare to put out a statement requesting that they be treated with civility, while continually admonishing their own that they should be civil towards opponents- they’re the ones with a persecution complex!

  12. captainmelody,

    “You also make great points. I hope that I haven’t offended you in any way. If I have, please let me know”

    I forgot to add a 😛 after my “SIGN ME UP!” No worries, captainmelody.

    “A lot of the persecution the early Church faced far exceeded mispresentations and escalated to violence.”

    No arguments there. But then can we really say modern Mormons cry persecution to anywhere near that level that 19th century saints did?

    My point of view is:

    1. Mormons *are* sometimes persecuted via intolerant treatment… but so are a lot (or all) groups
    2. Mormons do cry persecution, but it’s often true
    3. Mormons sometimes cry persecution when the person was actually being tolerant in their objection. But of course that is true of all groups too. There are few people that, once I know what political/religious beliefs they hold dear, I can’t, very easily stir up without saying anything that isn’t factually true and worthy of consideration. Crying “persecution” over tolerant objections is very common in and out of Mormonism.
    4. Mormons DO NOT dredge up their persecuted past to the degree that other hated minorities from that time frame do. They refuse to make a big deal out of Hans Mill. They didn’t lobby for apologies, etc. I’ve never heard of Mormons demanding that they are paid back for property lost.
    5. But, this is probably because Mormons don’t need to because those other groups suffer from more significant persecution today than Mormons do today.
    6. So, in the big scheme of things, ricercar is right. In perspective, Mormons aren’t doing bad considering how much bad feeling there is towards them from certain sectors. In fact, they are doing quite well, all things considered. Maybe even better than average.

    Somewhere amongst all those is the truth. There is plenty of room to accuse Mormons of a persecution complex. There is plenty of room to not.

    I do want to add one thing, though. Persecution through misrepresentation has to come first before violence can follow. So that’s where it should be nipped in the bud.

  13. I came from three generations of Baptist preacher and my mom was a Methodist. I had never heard anything said about another religion but “Those poor misguided (insert your favorite religion here ) we should pray for them. Now if you are a Mormon that’s all together a different story. You here spawns of the devil. They are all going to burn in hell. Not most of them. All of them. I was at a bus stop once and heard a woman rant and rave for several minutes. She probably strung every curse word she knew with about every fourth word Mormon. She had just came from her home so I don’t know how “those Mormons” could have offended her.
    The funniest thing about this incident is that lightening struck a tree at the house next to where we were standing. There was a really loud clap of thunder and then it was quiet. Those two poor women didn’t say another word. This really happened.

  14. I think the legitimacy of a persecution complex for modern Mormons depends largely on where those Mormons live. When I lived in Utah, such a personal complex would be laughable; when I lived in MA, there were very few moments of real persecution (including verbal and physical) – certainly not enough to justify any kind of complex; now that I live in Ohio, I almost never experience any kind of real persecution. On my mission in Japan, there was one instance of rather extreme persecution, but I really think the perpetrator was not mentally stable.

    Otoh, when I lived in Alabama . . . Let’s just say there are situations and areas where a “persecution complex” is not really a “complex” – it’s the result of real and steady persecution (of varying degrees of seriousness).

  15. I know that almost every Sunday we spend at least 10 minutes discussing how the world is out to get us in priesthood. I call it more paranoia then persecution though. It is a need to be disliked or hated.

  16. I just watched the Emma Smith movie tonite, and reflected on how much the early saints really did suffer. I think it’s not a bad thing to acknowledge that.

    I think playing the martyr, though, isn’t consistent with our leaders’ teachings. Consider recent talks like Elder Hales’ talk on Christian courage or Pres. Packer’s talk, too.

    In the end, if focusing on persecution causes us to end up persecuting others or justifying our own misbehavior, then we are missing the big picture.

    But that said, even the Savior said that men would revile and persecute His followers, so it’s not out of line, imo, to consider that that might happen. The question is what the Savior teaches about how we respond. The key isnt’ to focus too much on the persecution, but to use that as a trigger to remember the Savior and what He taught us — anyone who wants to follow Him — about what following Him really means. Loving your enemies, blessing those who curse you, doing good to those who hate you, praying for those who use and persecute you.

    So if we talk about persecution and then talk about that, then I see no problem with it.

    Am I making sense?

  17. I think a careful study of the Mountain Meadows Massacre puts persecution and paranoia into perspective. The danger to us as a church would be if we let our p. complex and our paranoia prevent us from being sensitive to honest questions about our own health and the direction of our heading.

    -Are we persecuted only and never persecutors?
    -Are we offended only and never offenders?
    -Do we sooner see unwelcome actions and issues as “persecutions” or as “outreach”?
    -Are we “right” or are we “becoming right”?

  18. For comparison, we are asked to remember the sacrifices of the soldiers of the Revolutionary War, the World Wars and Viet Nam. Our lives and the relative peace we enjoy is attributed to their sacrifices. I believe we learn of the persecutions of the past to appreciate our current circumstances. Our lives are so far removed from theirs. We rarely have to make physical sacrifices or endure personal discomfort for the Gospel sake. Perhaps our emphasis on ‘remembering’ has the unintended consequence of a persecution complex in some.

    I am so appreciative that the church leaders don’t play the victim. When others expect them to play the victim card, they refocus the discussion to our mission and the future – preaching the Gospel, perfecting the saints, redeeming the dead.

  19. Little did the New York Herald and many of the Church’s critics know that persecution and tragedy can bring a people closer and make them stronger.

    I’m a little off topic here, but it should be noted that the New York Herald was (at least prior to the announcement of polygamy) the Church’s biggest friend among New York newspapers. Publisher James Gordon Bennett included a lot of pro-LDS articles and was the only New York newspaper to reprint items from the Times and Seasons.

    You can find a number of the articles published there transcribed in the New York LDS History wiki.

  20. For your consideration: an e-mail that was forwarded just yesterday by my mother-in-law, who seems to be on all the best distribution lists for questionable Mormon rumors. Note the many examples of persecution-as-welcome-sign-of-our-righteousness. (And someone in the forwarding chain had tacked on a paragraph claiming that one David Christensen taught in a BYU Education Week class last August that the Second Coming will be in 2021, so we only have 13 years to get ready):

    Date: Saturday, November 15, 2008, 6:16 PM

    My dear family, brothers and sisters, friends and leaders:

    My heart is overflowing with joy and gratitude to our Heavenly Father for His tender mercies and mighty miracles in our behalf. I just have to share this with you. As most of you know, I am a Temple ordinance worker and work the morning shift in the LA Temple every Saturday. Today, I had the privilege of translating sister Martz-the new assistant Matron’s-message during our devotional.

    She started like this “The prophet Joseph Smith said that no unhallowed hand would be able to stop this Work from progressing. These past few weeks when mobs have combined and armies have gathered against the saints, the Lord has protected His house”. She went on to say that those, like her, who were inside the Temple when mobs were surrounding it, did not realize how scary and terrifying this looked on TV to the rest of us, because inside the House of the Lord all was calm and there was peace abundant.

    After Proposition 8 passed, the Temple began receiving threatening calls and mail from those opposing it. They were warned that more than 5000 people would come to the Temple and burn it to the ground, and stop Its work. The first Thursday when the mob came, the new LA Temple President called the Salt Lake City Temple Offices for instructions. He was instructed to call the local police and to insure the safety of those attending the Temple by closing the gates. The assistant Matron said today, that it was a tender mercy from the Lord that the mob chose that Thursday to come since they had only one person coming to receive his own endowment that day, which he received in time to leave before trouble started. The LAPD and the FBI responded quickly to the Temple Presidency’s summons and patrolled the grounds and kept the mob from entering the same. Most of them had never been there before and expressed their surprise at how beautiful and peaceful all around was. They were invited to come back during the Christmas season to see the lights and they promised they would.

    On Thursday, November 13th, sister Campbell, a secretary in the Temple, was opening the mail and upon opening a large manila envelope found inside a smaller one. When she opened this one, a white powder flew all around her desk. She thought this could be related to the demonstrators and feared the worst-ANTRAX. She contacted the President, who in turn called the Salt Lake City Temple office again for instructions. The FBI, the LAPD, and even the SWAT teams were once again in the grounds to investigate, and the Temple once again had to close from around 11:30 AM to 5PM. They closed the gates and were instructed to keep all the people there wherever they were found at the time. Those in the parking lot had to remain in the parking lot. Those entering the Temple had to remain in the first floor and those already upstairs were taken to the Celestial Room. Then, the miracles began to happen: A brother serving as a recorder that day is a Microbiologist by profession and used to deal with hazardous substances every day. He was the first to say the white powder in the envelope was only talc, and put every one at ease. Then the sister coordinator upstairs was impressed to call upstairs to the sealing area, and said “They said we can’t go down but no one said we can’t go up, and I have many people in the Celestial room with their ceremonial clothes on ready to work. Could they do some sealings?” As it happened, there were four sealers present that day and they ran four sealing sessions non stop while the Temple was closed. Downstairs, someone else thought to invite those in the Lobby to do some initiatories, which they promptly did for all those hours too, brothers and sisters alike. Among those waiting in the parking lot there was a large group of young men and women with their leaders who had come to do Baptisms for the dead, and who waited patiently all those hours and decided when the Temple was reopened to go ahead and fulfill their assignment instead of driving back home. The Temple reopened in time for the 5:30 PM session. The next day when recording the ordinances, they discovered that they had performed 2000 sacred ordinances on Thursday, only one less than the day before when three stakes had been visiting the Temple. Once again the assistant matron reminded us of the words of the prophet Joseph Smith, “No unhallowed hand can stop the Work from progressing…”.

    But, this is not all, a prophecy was fulfilled also. When the new LA Temple President was set apart by President Uchdorft of the First Presidency, he received a blessing and these words were pronounced: ” The time has come for the LA Temple to come out of obscurity and become an Ensign for Righteousness to the world under your presidency.” The pictures of the Temple have been shown on TV, newspapers and the internet, not only in this country but worldwide. People of other faiths have called and sent letters to the Temple thanking the Church for defending marriage and protecting the family, and commenting how impressed they are by how beautiful and majestic the Temple looks . One minister of an African American church, who by his own admission had harbored ill feelings against the mormons before said ” I am impressed by your integrity and Christ like behavior, and even if I am not ready to consider you my brothers and sisters in Christ, we can be first cousins!”.

    I asked the assistant matron if I could share her comments and she said to go ahead. I can only add my own testimony that I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has the power and authority of God on earth. God Lives and Jesus, His only Begotten Son and our Savior is coming soon to redeem His people. I am grateful to know this and I pray we stand firm, steadfast and immobile while the prophecies of the signs before His Coming are fulfilled. “Be not afraid, only believe” He has said, and also “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” I testify that this is true and testify it in the Holy Name of Whom I strive to serve, even Jesus Christ. Be faithful and safe is my humble prayer.

    Your sister in Christ, Patricia H. Arnazzi

  21. I believe many Mormons do have a persecution complex.  I also believe that convert Latter-day Saints do not.  Notice I have made a distinction between Mormons and Latter-day Saints. 
     I was born and raised in Southern California but I come from “pioneer stock” during the hand cart period.  I have observed clear distinctions between Mormons and Latter-day Saints.  I believe the LDS church has been around long enough now that there are people who culturally are Mormon but they are not Latter-day Saints.  I am referring to some percentage of “active” or practicing Mormons.  Even here in California there are enough Utah transplants that have brought their persecution complexes with them that suburban Orange County wards have many cultural Mormons that are on what I call “auto pilot”.  There are many members that will stand up and willingly offer uninspired yet professional sounding prayers with all the Thee and Thou correctly placed.  I too often went home from these wards more spiritually hungry than when I arrived.  If I did not get away from those auto pilot ward I would have gone inactive. 
    I now attend and serve in a small branch in South Central Los Angeles – Watts.  The branch is filled with probably 90% converts.  It makes a huge difference.  I attend with people that truly know the Lord but don’t get the Thee and Thou  right.  I attend church with Latter-day Saints that don’t have all the Utah baggage.  This branch has an overabundance of rich spirit.
    Verlin Richins   

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