In God we trust

  • Jon Kelly
  • 15 Sep 08, 02:17 AM GMT

The Radiant Church in Surprise, Arizona, does a pretty good job of reconciling God and Mammon. With its own bookstore and drive-through coffee shop, the 22-acre campus felt more like an upmarket retail park than a place of worship.

This was quite deliberate. When he was building it in 1996, Pastor Lee McFarland - a former Microsoft executive - wanted it to look like a shopping mall. Hence the X-Boxes laid on for children and the free Krispy Kremes handed out to worshippers.

Radiant ChurchI came here because no less than 42% of Americans tell pollsters that they attend church each week. And as the Radiant church is one of the country's fastest-growing, I hoped it would give me some clues about which way religious voters were leaning.

When I arrived inside the main hall, a band was playing tasteful soft-rock with biblical-themed lyrics beneath a bank of plasma screens. Over 1,000 casually dressed congregants sang and clapped along.

Then Pastor McFarlane took the stage for his sermon. He was neither a demagogue nor a ranter. Wearing a Hawaiian shirt and jeans, he had the wry delivery of a New York stand-up comedian. He told a self-deprecating story about battling with a flying insect while riding his motorbike. I liked him.

When he talked about how bad things could still happen to people who went to church, the screens flashed up a montage of You've Been Framed-style home movie clips showing a baby wetting himself at a Christening and a priest dropping a communion wafer down a woman's cleavage. Like the rest of the congregation, I laughed.

Pastor Lee McFarlandAfter the service, I sat down with him to find out what influence churches like his had over political activity. He said that he never endorsed one candidate over another and left it to his followers to make up their own minds.

"I like to think that when I'm preaching, I'm not saying my own words," he said.

"We don't even look at the candidates, per se. It's more, 'What are the timeless principles in the Bible that we would give to the candidates?'"

It's true that he avoided political themes during the sermon I heard, other than to condemn racial prejudice - a statement that was greeted with loud cheers from his flock.

Nonetheless, most of the churchgoers I spoke to told me they were voting Republican. The party's anti-abortion principles were cited again and again. While John McCain had once been viewed with suspicion by evangelicals, the presence of Sarah Palin on the ticket appeared to have energised them.

In the lobby I met friends Laura Palmer, 39, and Janell Gallop, 48, sharing a coffee after the service. Both had opposing views on the relationship between faith and politics.

Janell GallopFor Janell, religion was absolutely paramount.

"I vote for people who have a basis in Christianity," Janell said. "This country was built on Christianity.

"I'm going to vote for McCain. I believe that Obama has a Muslim background. He doesn't have a Christian background."

Laura interjected that this wasn't strictly accurate. Although just as staunch a believer as her friend, she described herself as an independent voter who didn't like to see politicians giving sermons.

"Religion and politics don't mix," she shrugged. "I shouldn't tell you how you should live.

"I can't make you think the way I do."

She can't. But it's clear that there are enough Christian voters to sway an election. Whether more of them are thinking like Janell or Laura remains to be seen.


  • Comment number 1.

    I know more than a few Christian voters ... and so far they're split down the middle.

    Some mimic Janell (although they no longer believe Senator Obama is Muslim) and others look to the character of the two and prefer Senator Obama's path of empathy and peace.

    Most all are fairly entrenched in their stance (myself included) and it will be interesting for most, and painful for many, to see how it all shakes out.

  • Comment number 2.

    I don't know what to say about this one Jon. However it is probably the first time you have been to a church with so many worshipers........I think this election will be neck and neck and the candidates have some work to do to convince the American public to go out and vote. The last Conservative government lost in 97 because 4 million conservative voters didn't bother to vote. I think we should all be able to vote on line............think how much money that would save.....

  • Comment number 3.

    After hearing Gov Palin say, "They're our next-door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska -- from an island in Alaska", I wondered who was at fault for suggesting that absurdity as an answer to the implied question about her knowledge of Russia, her handlers or herself. Either is insulting!
    An interviewee on the pick-up from AZ on broadcast on the 15th cited that as proof of her knowledge, competence, it seemed. That's a sad commentary on the state of our politics if she is typical.

  • Comment number 4.

    Enough, Enough! Just because you don't vote for Obama, that doesn't make you a racist! As a matter of fact, if you did vote for him because he is black or "half black" that would. Besides, there are plenty of people of mixed race as myself that really don't give a damn about race politics. Come to think of it, I think I will vote for Obama because he is black. Then maybe the likes of BBC would once and for all stop talking about race and
    America as being a dividing issue and remove that ridiculous statement regarding “housing segregation” in America from the “Country Profile section for the U.S. This is 2008 not 1958. Get a new story BBC.

  • Comment number 5.

    I had to get up and turn the program off after a while. It went on and on and on about McCain. What would one expect with a bunch of gun toting Republican women in Arizonia? Not much insight there!
    As for their responses about how great Palin is because she lives NEAR Russia and this gives her an understanding of foreign policy. What fools! They had no sense of the depth of what a Vice President needs to do to be ready on day one. Palin is not the right person and neither is McSame.

  • Comment number 6.

    I think it unfortunate that you chose to pull your bus up to the house of an Arizona Republican and provide a free propaganda forum to that party.

    Arizona has a lot of places to go and things to see. Your listeners would have been better served, for example, if you had chosen to visit the Navaho, Apache, Zuni and Hopi nations.

    You might also have considered a visit to the governor of the state, Janet Napolitano, who is a Democrat.

  • Comment number 7.

    "After hearing Gov Palin say, "They're our next-door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska -- from an island in Alaska", I wondered who was at fault for suggesting that absurdity as an answer"

    What's absurd about that? Its factually correct. A few people have even managed to swim the Bering sea. Alaska even used to be a Russian territory until fairly recently.

    I expect a governor of Lousiana to know more about French culture than a governor of texas. In the same way I expect a governor of Alaska (where even during the cold war Russian factory ships used to call in for shore leave) to be a bit more understanding of Russian culture than the average American.

  • Comment number 8.

    ysbytynewsjunkie, it's true - a lot of money would be saved. But how many people would this disadvantage? Especially if we consider 'race' - there is still a grave imbalance in the ratio of personal computers owned by non-African Americans as compared to African Americans.

  • Comment number 9.

    Abortion appears to be the defining issue to many Americans. It trumps issues such as the eecoomy; energy independence, universal health insurance coverage, fair taxation, the war in Iraq, quality education for our children and the future direction of the United States.

    Why is this? Why are folks so focused on Abortion? Abortion affects a very small percentage of the population?

    Perhaps abortion is the only issue on which the average American believes they can make a difference ? Or is it because many of the political and religious leaders in the USA see Abortion as their meal ticket? It is a sorry state of affairs that the United States of America has become so obsesed with abortion. and has allowed it to eclipse the "real stuff of life".

  • Comment number 10.

    Krispy Kremes are the new indulgences, apparently.... Someone should remind voters that separation of church and state is important to protect both, and that the USA was not founded to become a bastion of Christianity. Furthermore, these "churches", which are no more than Wal-Marts for religion -- and just as cheap -- are in fact sects and sectarian. They exclude, they are uppity, they believe that they are better than others. And that is lethal, especially for the poor folks in forign countries who get bombed because the American midwest believes firmly that they are inferior and infidels. God's great pecking order, huh?

  • Comment number 11.

    #10. In which case they're no worse than the Vatican or Wahabism. Both of those have very clear ideas of who is better than whom.

    If you want proof of how far state and church are seperate in the US look at a dollar bill... each one says 'In god we trust'.

  • Comment number 12.


    We know what the people you interview are thinking...What are YOU finding about Americans? Are we as uncultured as the London Times and Guardian make us out to be? Or are we merely confusing because it takes living here to figure us out?

    Where next?

  • Comment number 13.

    Why is Obama referred to as "black" when his mother was white? Is there a race-thing going on here or are people lazy in getting their adjectives correct? Religion has a big influence in USA, much more so than in the UK, a bad thing in my view, but I'm not American so I don't really care what they think or do as long as they keep themselves to themselves (which they don't generally) Voters in the UK are very often ignorant or the issues and of the politicians and parties, it's no different in the USA.

  • Comment number 14.

    I must question 42% of Americans saying that they attend church weekly. Where was this sample drawn from; people sitting in a pew at Sunday services? Even then I would question the 42% weekly. As an American Christian pastor, albeit retired, I KNOW better.

    Now, the issue of politics in church is something that occurs in only a very small percentage of American churches. They are about as common as the flag-burners they are always yammering about.

    I would like to suggest that the BBS stick to ACTUAL news; or even better a topic they actually have knowledge of.

  • Comment number 15.

    You went and got yourself some Sunday religion! Glad you were able to experience one form of Sunday worship in America.

    I have to say that I was impressed by your objectivity. I read the title and thought this was going to be an all-out massacre on us backward, Bible carrying, Jesus loving Americans.
    You reported on what you saw, those you met, what they said, and basically kept your opinions out of your journalistic blogging (although it must have been difficult---how many more times do we have to tell people Obama is NOT a Muslim???).

    In short, whether or not you agreed with the tenet of religion, you showed enormous respect. And not one wise-cracking, country bumpkin, pew-hopping joke. Okay, in spite of my initial entry on your journey, I'm definitely in your corner now and happy to be along for the "ride".

    THANK YOU!! If only this could be done more and more often. Objectivity in reporting---what a concept! Keep it up, as I am enjoying your journey very much.

  • Comment number 16.

    Where do these nuts get their facts? "I vote christian. America was founded as a christian country." Have they ever heard of something called the constitution, or maybe separation of church and state?????????

    I agree - religion and politics don't mix.

    And that this ignoramus could still believe that Obama has a "muslim background." What does that mean, anyway? Is it because he spent a few years in a country that has a large muslim population? Does that mean that one automatically has a Christian background if one lives in the U.S.?

  • Comment number 17.

    13- Obama is hardly white is he?

    There are two reasons he's refered to as black is because under slave rules there were nearly 80 catergories of 'black' but only 1 category of white. As he was 50% black Obama would have been called a mulato (a horrible term), a 1/4 black would have been a quadroon, 1/8 black octaroon etc. Any black blood and you could have been a slave.

    The 2nd reason is more relevant and more important. Obama calls himself black and is happy to capitalise on the fact.

  • Comment number 18.

    "I agree - religion and politics don't mix. "

    Religion and politics are interchangeable. How do you propose sorting out the Arab-Israeli conflict while ignoring religion? If people's religious beliefs (like abortion) influence how they vote then it is a very foolish politician who will try and ignore those religious beliefs.

  • Comment number 19.


    Your experience at the Radiant Church is illuminating. I am a freethinker - don't choose to believe but not arrogant enough to deny the existence of a higher power. Most evangelicals I have met are rather libertarian in philosophy. They strongly believe in their faith but are pretty nonjudgmental when it comes to others. That is the interesting paradox of America - strong religious belief coupled with a tolerance of others. The Bible versus the Constitution. That does not mean that evangelicals do not want to see their beliefs prevail but they seek it by conversion and political action, which is their right, not coercion. That is why I laugh when some foreigners rant about America being a Christian version of Saudi Arabia. They should spend some time in this country. Forget the headline-seeking televangelists - this pastor is more typical of what you will find.

    On another note, I envy your roadtrip - wish I could do it someday. Cheers.

  • Comment number 20.


    Your comments on this page are somewhat bizarre:

    1) Sarah Palin knows a lot about Russia because she lives in Alaska.

    That shows ignorance both of the geo-political and geographical world we live in.

    Her (alleged) physical proximity to Russia in no way suggests that she has any clue about the Russian political system, economy or social fanric.

    Alaska may be close to the far NE tip of Russia, but you do know that it's quite a big country, right? I live a lot closer to the political and social centres of Russia than Sarah Palin does.

    2) Obama is hardly white, is he?

    I am going to assume that you didn't intend that rant to be quite as objectionable as it sounds. To suggest that anybody with any trace of black blood is somehow non-white sounds very strange to me. What would you say about someone who is tanned with dark hair and brown eyes - also non-white in your book?

    3) If people's religious beliefs influence how they vote, politicians would be foolish to ignore them.

    True, as far as it goes. I would argue, however, that it is the precise intention of Republican politicians to ensure religious beliefs influence how people vote. If they stuck to the issues that matter (the economy, stupid), those would be the issues that counted.

  • Comment number 21.

    I am amazed that religion plays such an important role in American politics.
    The majority of religious leaders seem to be snake-oil salesmen with the exception, I suppose, of Billy Graham.
    I dont ever remember religion playing a major role in British politics. But, of course, I have not returned home in 30 years and maybe things have changed.
    In Canada, religion does not play an important role in our political decisions. Our politicians will touch on gay rights and abortion, etc, but that's about it.
    Maybe the Americans feel such guilt for the catostrophies that their government has inflicted on the world that prayer will correct them.

  • Comment number 22.

    to the founding fathers via the constitution and what the USA is firmly about is not religion, or one religion - but it is about freedom of religion and that religion is not imposed via the government. The people saying that this country is a Christian country are not correct.
    How Christian, and Christ-like is it to exclude others becasue they are not the samme as you? That they believe differently than you.
    What does it matter that Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain or Mr Lieberman or any other person is not a Christian or no the same as you.

    People who belief that a person other than a Christian ( and exactly what kind of Christian would you approve of? How selfish.)
    should not being a president or senator. The ideas you have a not right and not good - either religiously or historically, ie USA consitution.

    My faith is that I belief in Christ. I practice my faith by thinking and feeling. I am bound by God, not man made religions and rules and interpretations for they know no more or less than I. What I know of Christ is that he would in all likelihood not be pleased with those that say that in his name they would exclude others. Because one does not believe, or believe as you do, Christ will not and did not exclude, and certainly not in the affairs of state.

    BBC please find the real stories and not all foolish and unkind, small thinkers.
    Meryl Lancaster

  • Comment number 23.

    "Maybe the Americans feel such guilt for the catostrophies that their government has inflicted on the world that prayer will correct them."

    Abiquiu, that sounds like utter rubbish to me. The English colonies were VERY religious... many people came to avoid persecution for their beliefs.

    While our government has done a whole lot of damage in the world, please remember that we are not the source of all ills. And please remember that not all of us south of your border are religious.

  • Comment number 24.

    Unfortunately the vast majority of US voters are uneducatected members of fundementalist, freakish sects. This is a sad fact of life. as the country grew so fast they missed out the important evolutionary stage of civilisation. (For US readers this comes between barbarism and decadence)

  • Comment number 25.

    I doubt very much that Janell Gallop and others who think like her would themselves take physical actions to prevent neighbors, associates or even strangers from reading books they did not agree with, from obtaining birth control measures (including abortions), from using chemicals of which they do not approve, etc. or steal money from these others to finance activities that they think ought to be done. But these people will vote for politicians who want to start (if running the first time) or continue to enact or execute (in the case of the President) legislation that gives orders to enforcers who will do these same actions. And the very same type logic applies to those nonreligionists (of any flavor) who would vote for opposing politicians - in this case the promised legislation will be slightly different measures for controlling voluntary interactions between individuals. Neither of those who put themselves in either of these political groups appear to realize that they are using the same basic reasoning - that it is OK to get government's legalized use of force to prevent voluntary actions between others.

    Jon, I hope that you will seek out those in Arizona and elsewhere in the US who do not hold this, unfortunately, current common view.

    Kitty Antonik Wakfer
    Casa Grande AZ USA and Harcourt Park ON Canada

  • Comment number 26.

    As I said, you will find a Jordan Peagler in every town, city, etc in the US, and here we have Janell to prove it.

    Obama has a Muslim background ? Even if he had it, SO WHAT ?

    I would say the US is founded on xenophobia vs. any coined up religion/sect/dogma since the colonization.

    The big problem is they are taking their xenophobia outside their territory. I really don't care who wins. If north americans again vote, if so, for looks and popularity, it is their problem, as long as they keep their politics within their borders.

  • Comment number 27.

    In response to Peter_Sym, I would expect a two-year-old to know more about culture (French or otherwise) than a Governor of Texas, I'm sure he would also know that Texas is spelt with a capital "T".

  • Comment number 28.

    If abortion were made compulsory in the USA the world would be a better place.

  • Comment number 29.

    Religion in the U.S. is a very big deal.

    Starting with the fact that most of our original immigrants came here to escape religious persecution.

    Freedom of speech and all those other "rights" were secondary, freedom of religion is what got people to leave their homeland.

    If you are willing to leave everything behind for freedom of religion, that means your convictions are probably very strong.

    This conviction and history has not been lost on the people who live there today. Especially for people who live in "bible country" and can probably trace their ancestry back that far.

    There is nothing wrong with being very religious, so long as those people also remember that "seperation of church and state" is what is allowing them to practice as they see fit. And should allow the rest of us to live without being judged by the laws of the church.

  • Comment number 30.

    As a Mennonite in America,

    I'd rather worship with the local Bikers for Christ and with a bunch of right-wing mega-church Amerikan Evangelicals any day.

    Presently, I worship in 'Center City' with a bunch of Brethren body-pierced, tattooed social workers and advocates for peace and justice.

    I figure we wouldn't quite fit in at "Radiant Church".

    Oh - and if Obama's Muslim, than I'm a Conservative Mormon. Give me a long dress and send over another wife, will ya?

    Philly Mom

    PS: The Red Rock of Arizona is Gorgeous. The Grand Canyon is breathtaking. Great place to visit... wouldn't want to live there. Scorpions, snakes, 120 degree heat in the shade... they kinda' take the fun out of the SW Deserts.

  • Comment number 31.

    It amazes me how people interpret freedom of religion as a restraining order between the two. Separation of Church and State prevents the state from making laws to benefit or harm a religious body.
    It does not mean that the two can't occasionally attend the same party and have a good time.

    Jlarkin: I'm glad to see that this blog has found its bigoted grammar nanny. It's fairly obvious that you have never been to Texas and are basing your opinions on a very small portion of the population. (i.e. our fearless leader)

    Secondly, while Texas is spelled with a capital 'T', I highly doubt that a 2 year old who has no ability to write his own name is going to know that.

    Thirdly, while were correcting grammar, governor is not capitalized in the context of your sentence.

  • Comment number 32.


    I apologise for my sweeping remarks.

    When I mentioned "I dont ever remember religion playing a major role in British politics." I was referring to events that have taken place in the last 30 odd years.

    "While our government has done a whole lot of damage in the world, please remember that we are not the source of all ills." Again, you are perfectly correct.

    "And please remember that not all of us south of your border are religious."
    I am certainly going to curtail any further all inclusive remarks!!

  • Comment number 33.

    creationism is a fairytale which your leaders use to justify illegal wars and torture,like i say a completely illogical irrational racially divisive nation and a very dangerous one to.

  • Comment number 34.

    #31 - not that jlarkin needs someone to stand up for him, but I do believe he was being Ironic.

  • Comment number 35.

    To Jon Kelly

    You were able to find a 'christian' church that DID NOT tell the congregation how to vote in Surprise Arizona!

    This is not totally typical of many churches and ministers in this country who have no problem dictating politics to their congregation as part of the Sunday sermon.

    With all who have said so, I TOTALLY AGREE, that RELIGION HAS NO PLACE IN POLITICS!!!!!

  • Comment number 36.

    As an American, I am completely embarrassed by the political situation in my country. The lack of sophistication and the wholesale naivete among American voters is an abomination.

    I see no desire on the part of much of the population to investigate the issues. In fact, I don't think they even know what the real issues are. They could be sitting in front of the TV, unemployed and uninsured, and they would be more concerned about gay marriage and abortion than they would the plight of American workers, global warming, the Iraq War, etc. The Republican Party defines what's important to them and leads them by the nose to the voting booth.

    I asked a woman at work to tell me specifically what she didn't like about Obama. She gave me the same answer she gave me the last time I asked her in the spring- "He's the anti-Christ." Mind you, I am a college educated teacher, and so is SHE!

    I just hope there are enough discerning and intelligent Americans to make a difference in the coming election or this country is completely doomed.

  • Comment number 37.

    I too am completely embarrassed and saddened by the political situation in my country. Just consider the talk on possible percentage of Clinton's previous supporters who would vote for McCain. Now why would any person who made up their mind to vote for Hillary choose to vote for McCain? Is Hillary's view on issues closely related to McCain? Or just a sad state of our political situation?

  • Comment number 38.

    "I am going to assume that you didn't intend that rant to be quite as objectionable as it sounds. To suggest that anybody with any trace of black blood is somehow non-white sounds very strange to me"

    And to me. However that was the law in the US for several centuries and the convention remains. Someone who is 1/8th black can enter 'miss black america' so clearly very little has changed at a grass roots level.

    Also I didn't say Sarah Palin knows a lot about Russia because she lives in Alaska. I'm saying that Alaskans generally know more about Russians than other americans because proportionally far more Alaskans have actually met Russians.

    Sarah Palin may know diddly-squat about Russia, but does Obama know any more? Given the amazing racism in Russia (even chechens are called 'black') I can't imagine he'll get any respect from them.

  • Comment number 39.

    Churches in the US enjoy a tax exempt status. One of the reasons religion and politics do not often mix at church services in the US is because any church that starts talking politics during services can lose their tax exempt status.

    They're free to say what they like of course, but there's no constitutional right to a tax exempt status.

  • Comment number 40.

    #39. Bona Fide religions in Europe (NOT cults like scientology) also get tax exempt status.

  • Comment number 41.

    I just have one more thing to say to those who think 'mega churches' " exclude, they are uppity, they believe that they are better than others", I invite you to one of our amazing services. It is not 'cheap' by any means. You will be a changed person. Once you get involved, you will find that this 'mega church' isn't quite so 'mega', you'll find how small it really can be. Plus, we'll get you saved!!!!

  • Comment number 42.

    "I believe that Obama has a Muslim background. He doesn't have a Christian background."

    People who still think Obama is a Muslim make me ashamed to be an American.

    Perhaps this woman should stop watching Fox News and start watching real news instead.

  • Comment number 43.

    A couple of years ago Lee McFarland fired a guy for "allegedly" smoking marijuana between services. Then, a few months ago this gentlemen’s wife was tragically killed in a car accident and his daughter was severely injured. Lee McPharisee attends the wife’s funeral and a week or two later, in a sermon on “Spiritual Unity”, mentions the smoking pot incident in a negative light.
    ( --- @15 mins.)
    Granted, he doesn't mention the man by name... but what kind of spiritual leader, pastor, man of God rubs salt in a family’s wound. Kicks them at their lowest point.
    Jude 1:12

  • Comment number 44.

    He did not speak about it in a negative way. He was talking about why people have been fired, laid off, or asked to resign, b/c people are always asking him. Apperently there was more to the story than just 'alleged' use, and the person in question doesn't have ill feelings towards Pastor Lee, or he wouldn't have informed him of his wifes death. If he is so bad of a person then why do you still listen to his sermons?

  • Comment number 45.

    So,what's wrong with Walmart? They support American jobs and workers, and sell mainly American made products? I am proud of my church, I am proud to call it home. I am proud of Pastor Lee and what he has done w the gifts and the vision and the difficult job God has bestowed upon him. Most people have no clue about all the wonderful things our church and other so called 'mega churches' do for people around the world, not only by bringing people to Jesus and saving their souls but by providing food to people who have none, by coming together to give Christmas gifts to kids in our city and surrounding cities who otherwise would have nothing, we support missionaries around the world so they can share God's word. We pulled together and were able to send semi loads of things to help the victims of Katrina. Our teens have provided water wells in Africa. The church doesn't profit from the coffee shop or the bookstore, money goes right back out to provide for Gods people and bring more people to him. God is the center of our focus and our lives so of course religion is going to play a role in this and all elections. To those who don't believe our nation has a religious foundation, why then throughout the documents of the Constitution does it say"..and on this day...the year of the Lord"? And of course you know our Pledge of Allegiance says "One nation under God"...

  • Comment number 46.

    Ignorance certainly must be bliss. Mega churches seem to attract the sort of people who do not question what they hear, ie; Obama is Muslim, this nation was founded on religion, etc. Therein lies the problem.

    "..and on this day...the year of the Lord" was the customary introduction of the day, not proof this nation was founded on religion. Even nonbelievers used the term back then. Some of my forbearers helped found this great country and consequently appear in history books. A few of their families came here for freedom FROM religion - not FOR freedom of religion. They knew the importance of the separation of church and state.

    "One nation under God"... was not in the Pledge of Allegiance originally. It was added on Flag Day, June 14th in 1954 by President Eisenhower, and I personally would like to see it removed. Actually, the pledge, which has had a number of other changes, was originally written in 1892 and meant to be accompanied by a Nazi like saute. Roosevelt changed it to the hand over the heart in 1942. How about that!

  • Comment number 47.

    I'm obviously no historian, but thanks for the little details, either way its the big picture that matters to me, we wouldnt be here if it weren't for God...


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