Ravi Zacharias Update: Celebrity and the Psychology of Trust

We are learning more about the accusations against Ravi Zacharias, since I posted about the newer developments a few weeks ago.

Ravi’s relationships with some female employees at a spa he owned, that Christianity Today reported, has triggered Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) to hire a legal firm to investigate the claims. Ravi’s denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, also announced that they would open yet a second investigation of Ravi, since the one that they conducted several years ago. To complicate matters, the woman who was involved in a sexting controversy with Ravi several years ago, and her husband, have come forward to tell their side of the story, despite the fact that both parties had signed an NDA. The couple have done so claiming that Ravi and RZIM had already violated their side of the NDA, through a previous published Christianity Today article (which was updated this past week). The couple has hired Boz Tchividjian, a lawyer and grandson of Billy Graham, as their legal adviser.

I do not see a need to rehearse the specifics of the accusations. You can follow the links above to learn more.

What I want to do here in this post is to analyze some of the responses on social media, regarding how these accusations about Ravi have been received by Christians, and the general public. Vice President Michael Pence, at Ravi’s memorial service, called Ravi “the greatest Christian Apologist of this [the 21st] century.”  There is no doubt that Ravi Zacharias has been one of the most well-known Christian celebrities in the contemporary era.

Many, like me, are grieved about these accusations. As someone who has taught Ravi Zacharias material in adult Bible classes, and who has appreciated a few of his books, I have looked up to Ravi, just as others have done. Ravi’s ministry has benefited my life and the lives of others that I know, and students I have taught. So, I would naturally want to defend Ravi’s reputation here.

At the same time, truth must prevail above all else. Some who have stepped forward with their accusations have been hurt very deeply by all of this, and have seen their reputations tarnished (rightly or wrongly). Others have remained anonymous, due partly to the embarrassing nature of the accusations. Such voices need to be heard, and taken seriously. An independent analysis of the evidence needs to be made, and so it is troubling that a journalist like Julie Roys is skeptical that the investigation sponsored by RZIM will truly be independent. I sincerely hope Julie is wrong about this, and that the truth will come out. Regardless of what happens, we should not be fearful of the truth, recognizing even that if Ravi is shown to have been clearly in the wrong, that this only demonstrates that all of us are sinners, who stand in need of the grace of God to set us free from our sin. YouTube apologist Whaddo You Meme?? has the right perspective here.

But not everyone responds this way. The double-downing effect that some have, in defense of Ravi, is expected to a certain degree. We are called to uphold the reputation of Christian leaders. “A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume” (Ecclesiastes 7:1 NLT).

Sadly however, some who have rallied to Ravi’s defense have done so in a manner that is greatly troubling, that takes the teaching of Scripture and turns it on its head, completely upside down. Here are some examples that are disturbing:

  • Some have defended Ravi by questioning why such accusations have only emerged after Ravi died, this past May, thus raising suspicion. But in cases of abuse, particularly sexual abuse, it is very rare for victims to come forward right away, out of fear of repercussion against them. Trauma from abuse can take years and years to overcome.
  • Some have defended Ravi by assaulting the character of the accusers, claiming that the accusers are “in it for the money,” for example. True, there are cases where false accusations are made, in order to cause great harm on Christian leaders, etc. Nevertheless, everyone needs to be fairly heard. The problem with the Christian celebrity syndrome is that we are typically more inclined to trust the famous and powerful celebrity and dismiss the less well known, and less powerful person.
  • Some have made some completely outlandish claims, that Christian journalists at Christianity Today have adopted a compromising, liberal attitude towards evangelical faith, and therefore, they have used that liberal distrust to attack a good man. I then wonder what such folks think when other Christian news outlets, like WORLD News Group, ChurchLeaders.com, and the Roys Report, also report the same story, and even bring out new points of data. Is every Christian journalist out there who investigates a Christian celebrity simply a tool for the “far left,” “liberal” biased media?? Really??

While I am surely grieved about the accusations against Ravi, I am probably more grieved by supposed defenders of Ravi who are willing to risk tarnishing other people as merely “pawns of Satan” in an effort to make an idol out of a Christian celebrity. Christians sometimes overuse the language of “tools of Satan” and the “demonic” to attack other people, and avoid the hard work of listening. Yes, Satan is at work to tear down what God is building. But when we attribute “Satan” wrongly to the pursuit of truth, no matter how painful it is, we only do tremendous harm. Any sort of ad hominem attack against a person is no substitute for an honest look at the evidence. Instead, we are called to worship Jesus, and not any fallen man.

Granted, most people have neither the time nor the energy to do full blown investigations themselves. When it comes right down to it, we all have to trust other people to a certain degree. Most of the time, we simply have to defer to trusting in some other authority, believing that such authority is speaking truth and willing to do the hard work of investigation, sorting fact from fiction, on behalf of others occupied with the many other aspects of life.

It interesting to observe how when trust is broken that it is almost impossible to rebuild that trust. For example, there are Christians who have already prejudged Ravi to be completely at fault, simply on the basis of believing that Ravi had long been a false teacher. Some still have not forgiven Ravi for having spoken at the Mormon Tabernacle, the first high-profile evangelical preacher to have done so since Dwight L. Moody was invited to speak there, over a century ago. Such Christian critics of Ravi contend that by preaching at the Mormon Tabernacle he was giving tacit approval of Mormonism. So, for such critics, who believe that Joseph Smith was an unrepentant adulterer, they have already concluded that it is no surprise to them that Ravi Zacharias fell into the same kind of sin.

On the other side, many critics of the Christian faith conclude now that Ravi Zacharias is just another in a long line of hypocrites: Just another reason why the Christian faith should be rejected. For many of such critics, if you dig deeper, it comes down to broken trust. Why trust what a Christian says about the Gospel when they speak lies about other matters?

But the Gospel tells us that we need not be fearful of the truth, as even with hypocrites, Jesus had them among even his “elite” group of followers: Peter promised to defend Jesus to the uttermost, but he denied Christ three times, did he not?

Hopefully, Christians will be known as truth-seekers, even when certitude on certain things remain elusive. My confidence in Christ is strengthened, but not entirely built on, the testimony of others, including Christian leaders like Ravi Zacharias. The argument for the truth of Christianity is based on an aggregation of different evidences, of which the personal life and testimony of others is but one component of a much larger mosaic of realities, that point to Jesus. If one component is shown to be unreliable, or at least somewhat shaky, it need not cause us to reject the whole.

According to this Julie Roys’ podcast, it was Ravi Zacharias’ teachings about prophecy fulfillment in the Book of Daniel that first drew skeptic Steve Baughman to consider Ravi’s arguments in defense of the faith. But Baughman was not entirely impressed with Ravi’s treatment of Daniel, which led him to look more closely at Ravi’s ministry, which eventually led to the disclosure of how RZIM did not properly represent Ravi’s academic credentials, in RZIM’s promotional materials. As it turns out, RZIM’s failure to address the academic credentials issue in a more timely manner was but the first in what has now become a series of far more damaging allegations. Why it took an “outsider,” like Steve Baughman, to force RZIM to begin to address these matters in the first place, instead of some hard looks within RZIM itself, still boggles my mind.

I am not sure if Steve Baughman will ever read this, but if he does, I hope he knows that there are still some Christians who value truth above celebrity-Christianity.

It is quite possible that we may never know the full story here, this side of eternity. Ravi Zacharias is no longer here to defend himself. To repeat, I do hope for the best outcome for Ravi’s reputation from the impending investigations. If such is not the case, for which the mounting evidence points more and more towards, then it would be good for Christian parachurch organizations, like RZIM, and the local churches that care for Christian celebrities, like Ravi Zacharias, to do some serious soul-searching. If all, or even some, of the accusations do turn out to be true, it looks like we are dealing with a man who had immense pressure placed on him to perform in a such a way, that he himself could never achieve. His way of relieving the pressure placed upon him, and his own depression and doubts, sadly impacted the lives of others in a hurtful way (listen to the WORLD News Group broadcast on October 15, 2020, starting about at the 27 minute mark to the 30 minute mark for more). Ravi’s own testimony indicated that he wrestled with suicidal thoughts on at least one occasion, as part of his conversion experience as a young man.

Was Ravi really healed from these suicidal thoughts after his conversion? Was there sufficient accountability at RZIM? What was really going on at the RZIM board? Was there sufficient accountability at Ravi Zacharias’ local church? These are difficult questions that probably deserve concentrated attention.

All in all, even if Ravi Zacharias is exonerated, I stand by my original plea from several weeks ago: For the sake of those fine apologists who have risen to take the baton from Ravi, to uphold the message of Jesus Christ for a new generation, RZIM should change the name of their organization, in order to more properly reflect the purpose and vision of the ministry, instead of clinging to a legacy of a manLet us encourage the Vince Vintale’s, the Abdu Murray’s, the Amy Orr-Ewing’s, the Sam Allberry’s, and many other fine apologists at RZIM to flourish in their ministry efforts, without having some dark cloud hanging over them, resulting from any possible reproach, driven by controversies surrounding Ravi, that might impede their work for the Gospel. Let us encourage this new generation of apologists to be set free to boldly spread the love and truth of Jesus across our world today!!


“Should Christians Vote for Trump?” Eric Metaxas & David French Debate

Well, there was supposed to be Presidential candidate debate tonight. But not anymore.

I have a better idea: What about watching a civil-minded discussion among two Christian leaders, who take very different positions on the 2020 U.S. Presidential election? Eric Metaxas and David French offer a good model for how Christians can engage in a difficult conversation on a controversial topic, without descending into vitriol, which seems to be the norm these days in social media. Recorded just a few weeks ago at John Brown University, a Christian college in Arkansas. We need more discussions like these, as it will help us as believers to have better conversations on the most important matters of all, namely, that of sharing the Gospel of Christ with a needy world.


Does Science Make the Biblical Doctrine of Original Sin Obsolete? … (Glenn Morton’s Last Stand)

Neo-orthodox theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once famously said that original sin is “the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith.” But what was once “empirically verifiable” is now questioned, and even science is being enlisted as its primary foe.

As the story goes, modern science indicates that it is impossible for the breadth of humanity today to have been derived from a single human pair. If there was no single human pair, there was no Adam and Eve, as the fountainhead of all of humanity. If there was no Adam and Eve, there was no cosmic Fall. Without a cosmic Fall, there was no original sin.1

The conclusion? If the core element of Christian teaching is that Jesus saves us from our sin, then without original sin, the entire Christian story regarding salvation falls flat. Therefore, science has made original sin obsolete. … To continue holding to an obsolete doctrine means that the Bible can not be trusted… The Christian story of sin and salvation implodes…. POOF!!

This is a narrative that has become increasingly popular in the West, as seen from different angles. Many former Christians and other agnostics/atheists point to this as one of the primary reasons why Christian faith must be rejected. Liberal-minded Christians will tend to look the other way and ignore such difficulties. Others from a Christian background will use this objection as a means of rewriting the whole of Christian theology to build a completely different worldview.

Glenn Morton (1950-2020). A maverick creationist(?), who defied labeling, finished his final book, Eden Was Here: New Evidence for the Historicity of Genesis, within days before his death. Morton makes the case for an historical Adam and Eve, thereby linking the Fall of humanity, and its association with original sin, to a specific event in the very ancient past.

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Why Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) Should Change Their Name

The recent allegations of inappropriate sexual activity, dating back several years ago, by the late apologist Ravi Zacharias, are heartbreaking. I discovered this latest news several weeks ago about the spa workers on Julie Roys’ blog, which now is news at Christianity Today magazine. I corresponded with the “whistle blower,” Steve Baugham, several years ago, and you can read some of my interactions with him on the Veracity blog.

Jesus Among Other Gods, by Ravi Zacharias, 2000. Perhaps my favorite Ravi Zacharias book.

My main interest with Ravi Zacharias from several years ago was over the inaccurate promotion of Ravi’s academic credentials by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). I was aware of a sexting controversy involving Ravi as well, but felt like I had nothing to say about it, as the exact details were unknown, due to a non-disclosure agreement that Ravi had with another party.

I personally reached out to a member of RZIM’s team that year, and received a personal phone call, for which I was grateful. My concern back then was that RZIM had delayed in resolving the academic credentials, a matter which should have been resolved within a matter of weeks, but that actually took about 2 years to get rectified. I received assurance that RZIM was doing their due diligence and doing the right thing. I have a tremendous amount of confidence in many of the persons who do great apologetic ministry work with RZIM, so I was grateful that RZIM was taking the steps to put these matters behind them.  May their efforts in building the Kingdom increase.

However, in view of the recent allegations, I believe that now would be a good time to take an additional step, and rename Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, to honor and respect the new generation of Christian apologists, many of whom were personally discipled by the late Ravi Zacharias (Frankly, I think that a name change would be a move that even Ravi would applaud!).

According to the CT article, RZIM has engaged a law firm to investigate these new allegations. I would sincerely hope that these allegations could be proven false, and Ravi’s full legacy could be restored. As a long time enthusiast of Ravi Zacharias, having taught several adult Bible classes using his teaching material, I would greatly welcome that outcome.

Nevertheless, it has bothered me for several years now that Ravi Zacharias had been wrongly put on a pedestal, by many of his supporters. Sadly, I have known of several admirers of Ravi who have doubled-down in defending certain aspects of Ravi, when they really have not done the hard work of actually listening to different points of view, and investigating different perspectives, that conflict with the narrative that Ravi portrayed in his public ministry…. and I am not just talking about the scandals, I am also talking about sincere criticisms of certain apologetic methods and arguments used by Ravi.

On the one hand, Christians should do their very best to defend the honor and reputation of their leaders. The Gospel does cause an offense, and so, we should not be surprised when the Enemy sows seeds of distrust by making false accusations against Christian leaders.

At the same time, Christians should be seekers of the truth. We should be willing to admit when we are wrong, when presented with convincing evidence. We should embrace the truth, even when it might be painful to do so.

The line between defending the reputation of Christian leaders and the pursuit of truth can be sometimes difficult to find. I wrestle with this a lot. Yet President Ronald Reagan’s adage offers some sound wisdom here, “Trust, but verify.”

Some of us can become overly skeptical and fail to trust anyone, other than themselves, which is not the best path to take, considering that we as humans have the unavoidable tendency to deceive ourselves immensely. Christian doctrine has another name for this: it is called “original sin.” Nevertheless, others of us can be so trusting that we fail to take the necessary steps to verify that what our leaders are telling us is indeed truthful and reliable. We need discernment. We need more concentrated study into God’s Word to gain wisdom.

So, what if the latest accusations against Ravi hold true? It would not mean that everything about Ravi’s ministry should be invalidated. If we were to judge everyone on this type of standard, then our Bibles would become very small indeed. Abraham pimped his wife. Moses killed a man in cold blood. David committed adultery and had the woman’s husband killed. These are patriarchs of our faith. The Bible is quite clear that all of us have skeletons in our closet, that we would prefer would just remain there.

Ravi’s career as a Christian apologist offered a display of a number of good arguments for the Christian faith, that personal failings themselves can not undo. The many gifted students of Ravi’s, who are now leading RZIM, need not be lumped together and taken down by any of Ravi’s supposed failings.

Would I continue to recommend Ravi’s books to others?… Mmmm… I am not sure about that….. No matter what, the failures of Ravi’s life should serve as illustrations for up and coming apologists to take heed, and learn some tough lessons, and engender a better sense of accountability.

Let us pray for Ravi’s family and RZIM that things will turn out for the best. Until the investigation makes a conclusion, hard though it will be, I want to do my best to prefer to honor the tradition commonly upheld in American jurisprudence, “Innocent, until proven guilty.”

However, even if Ravi is exonerated from these latest accusations, I am afraid that his legacy has been sufficiently tarnished, that it would not be good for RZIM to continue their work, with the name of Ravi Zacharias so boldly displayed on the masthead. Ministries like RZIM should be focused around a common vision statement, statement of faith, and a shared covenant held by staff/supporters, and not around a particular personality. When a ministry becomes solely attached to the name of a famous, yet ultimately flawed person (which we all are!!), it can easily sink the reputations of others who are not associated with lingering scandal.

Sadly, Protestant evangelicalism has developed a reputation of promoting a type of “celebrity pastor” culture that does more harm than good.  It harms those who follow after such “celebrity pastors.” It reinforces the skepticism and distrust of those who stand outside of the church. Furthermore, the pressures of trying to fit into the role of the “celebrity pastor” is an impossible task for that “celebrity pastor” to fill, which if the CT story is correct, goes a long way in explaining the current controversy involving Ravi Zacharias.

Therefore, changing the name of RZIM to something that more reflects the common vision of purpose of the band of apologists that Ravi once mentored, and who now lead the ministry, would be the prudent thing to do.  Let us not attach ourselves to the legacy of sin-prone human, failing persons. Instead, let us refocus on lifting up the unfailing name of Jesus. To God be the glory.


The Whole Christ, by Sinclair Ferguson, A Review

How do you know if you are truly a Christian? Can you be sure about that?

In our 21st century age, we tend to look down upon Christians of earlier eras, particularly the Puritans. Their world seems so far removed from ours. But such an opinion only reveals our chronological snobbery. A wealth of wisdom lays hidden with the Puritans, that we need to need to hear from today. The assurance of one’s salvation is one area of wisdom we need to recover from those Puritans,

If you ever read the writings of the English Puritans, they often speak of the tension between “legalism” and “antinomianism,” in the Christian life. On one side, is the tendency to reduce Christianity to a set of rules and regulations to follow, a bunch of “do’s and don’ts” (legalism). On the other, is the tendency towards lawlessness, a faith that has no real regard for the commands of God (antinomianism). What Christian does not wrestle with that tension today?

Between these two extremes, it can sometimes be like walking a tightrope, maintaining a sense of balance to keep from falling down one way or the other. We have plenty of controversies in church history that testify as to how difficult it is to maintain that sense of balance.

Martin Luther was accused of being a libertine by his Roman Catholic opponents, while his Papal accusers were accused of their own “works-righteousness.” Anne Hutchinson was exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, for her claim that the Puritan fathers were teaching a “covenant of works” as opposed to a “covenant of grace.” Late 20th century evangelicals argued over the “Lordship Salvation” versus “Free Grace” controversy. In recent years, megachurch pastor Andy Stanley told his congregation that they must “unhitch” themselves from the Old Testament, largely because of the Old Testament emphasis on law, causing quite an uproar.

In all of these controversies, the assurance of one’s salvation has hung in the balance. At the core of this, the relationship between Law and Gospel is something with which every new generation must wrestle.

Sinclair Ferguson, in his The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters, looks at one of these controversies in church history, as a lens on which to try to tease out how this balance might be properly maintained. The “Marrow Controversy” was an otherwise forgotten controversy over an otherwise forgotten book, by Edward Fisher, a Puritan author from the 1640s, entitled The Marrow of Modern Divinity.

The Whole Christ centers around the story of an early 18th century Scottish preacher, Thomas Boston. Early in his preaching career, Boston was frustrated by the lack of positive response to his preaching message, among the callous in his Scottish congregation. Yet Boston took great comfort in reading Edward Fisher’s book, when he stumbled across it one day, while visiting someone else’s home. Fisher’s book sought to find a way between legalism and antinomianism (a term which means, “against the law”). The abbreviated title, “The Marrow,” meant that Fisher was trying to get at the innermost substance of the Gospel. Boston credited The Marrow for correcting his own posture towards the Gospel, and it revolutionized his ministry.

So, when the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland banned the book in 1720, as promoting antinomianism, some 80 years after it was first published, a theological fire erupted. Thomas Boston and his like-minded preacher friends protested the ban. These pastors, known as the “Marrow Men,” did not view the book as dangerous at all, but rather saw its message as liberating with the truth of the Gospel. The censure of the church, which subsequently was never revoked (even to this day!), would not stop the “Marrow Men,” for they sought to republish The Marrow of Modern Divinity, with some notes added by Thomas Boston, in 1726.

Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ endeavors to explain the “Marrow” debate that engulfed the early 18th century Church of Scotland, as a means to help us today to properly understand the relationship between the Law and the Gospel. There are a couple of added, standout benefits gained from Sinclair Ferguson, from this book:

The last issue, regarding the assurance of salvation, is something that still needs sharpening in our day. For on one side, it is very easy to have a false assurance of one’s salvation, by presuming upon the grace of God, and thereby leading a life of recklessness, marked by a distinct lack of holy living. If you dwell among Christians who act one way on Sunday, but who act completely different on the other days of the week, you will know exactly what this means.

We may think we have a right standing before God, when in fact, we have merely fooled ourselves, placing our own demands and wishful thinking upon God. On the other side, we can become so restless concerning our final state before God, that we lack confidence in the power of God to save sinners. In our insecurity about “going to hell” we forget about the love of God, which brings us into the joy of God’s presence. People who fret and fret over whether their faith is fully acceptable, in the sight of God, reveals this sense of spiritual insecurity.

Sinclair Ferguson takes us on a trip through church history, that might not be familiar to readers. Ferguson draws connections between the teachings of the medieval church, similar teachings found in contemporary Roman Catholicism, and other crucial theological figures, such as the 16th century French/Swiss Reformer, John Calvin, and the 19th century Scottish “heretic” John McLeod Campbell. But this is not theological history to satisfy certain intellectual curiosities. Instead, Ferguson weaves a theological tale that will assist the reader in avoiding common pitfalls, that can easily derail the life of any Christian.

The forward of The Whole Christ, written by Tim Keller, helps to orient the reader to understand the book’s purpose, regarding how the Law and the Gospel relate to one another. Keller writes that Ferguson “wants to help us understand the character of this perpetual problem—one that bedevils the church today. He does so in the most illuminating and compelling way I’ve seen in recent evangelical literature.” But the book’s audience should not be restricted to pastors, for The Whole Christ seeks to set out a reasoned, biblical approach to how a balance between legalism and license can be lived out.

How can this be done?  By preaching the whole Christ. A proper understanding of the Gospel, in its fullness, is the antidote that helps believers to avoid a sense of making the Christian faith into following a list of do’s and don’ts. It also helps us to avoid a faith, where we can fool ourselves to think that we can do whatever we want, with no restraints upon our conscience. The subtle danger, as Ferguson tells us, is that often we can have a very “orthodox” sounding theology, but that on the inside, our hearts’ disposition is completely out of whack. The way the message is presented is just as important as the message itself.

By emphasizing the whole Christ, Ferguson insists that it is all too easy to separate Christ Himself from the benefits He gives to the believer. A proper grounding for the assurance of our salvation is found in loving God for who He is, and not simply for what He gives us.

The last few chapters of The Whole Christ explore the details of what it means to have the assurance of one’s salvation. These chapters make for the densest reading in the book, but it forced me to read slowly and think more carefully. Does one have an unhealthy preoccupation with anxiety about their eternal state? Or does one settle for a kind of presumptive expectation of salvation, when actually, their hearts are far, far from God? Sinclair Ferguson endeavors to find the right balance and nuance, to get at the truth.

Again I ask: What genuine Christian does not struggle with these matters? But notice how easy it is to trick ourselves. If I find myself easily condemning other Christians for their “loose-living,” that might be an indication of legalism in my own heart. On the other hand, if I am quick to dismiss the rigidity of how another Christian seeks to be obedient to God, it might be a good sign of a latent antinomian spirit residing in me.

What is the solution to avoiding these spiritual traps? Knowing the whole Gospel: The Whole Christ. How do we equip ourselves to fully understand and implement this truth?

One way would be reading The Whole Christ, by Sinclair Ferguson. I listened to the audiobook format, but if you like a video teaching format, you should consider the video teaching series, available at Ligonier Ministries. The clarity of doctrinal teaching that Ferguson offers is exceptional. I have read through the entire book once, and several other parts multiple times, and I continue to learn vital Scriptural truths to be applied to my walk with Christ, in every chapter. This is a book to savor, and re-read, so that the Scriptural truths it conveys might become imprinted upon our hearts.

  • ….

UPDATE: September 26, 2019, 10am

This just came in…. a debate between William Lane Craig and Gregory Boyd on penal substitutionary atonement (PSA). Haven’t viewed it yet, but it looks to be very good, and quite relevant to the topics covered in The Whole Christ.  I side with William Lane Craig here, but Gregory Boyd is probably one of the most able critics, whose perspective should be taken seriously by other Christians. I see the PSA view as complementing the Christus Victor view of the atonement, and not a contradiction.


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