April 12, 2009 by Stacy McDonald

Truth Hunt or Witch Hunt?

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Recently, I posted an interesting article by Richard Abanes, Don’t Believe Everything You Read, where he discussed the relatively new problem of bloggers “who, under the guise of discernment/apologetics (i.e., Online Discernment Ministries), attack other Christians… ” I know from first hand experience that this is a real issue; however, shouldn’t Christians be warned of false teachers? Shouldn’t we defend the purity of the Gospel?

In his second article, Another Apologist Speaks Out, Mr. Abanes clarified the important point that false teachers and heresies should be accurately, boldly, and lovingly rebuked:
Let me be very clear: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH ACCURATELY, LOVINGLY, BIBLICALLY, AND TRUTHFULLY defending the faith and the Gospel by pointing out the errors of public teachers/preachers (or churches and organizations). We are not only to defend our own personal faith when asked (1 Peter 3:15), but when necessary, we are to preach the word of God, as well as “reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2).

To that, I give a hearty Amen! We are not only to defend our faith by boldly proclaiming the Truth, we are also to point out erroneous teachings and rebuke those who threaten to lead other Christians astray. It is our duty as Christians to warn the flock when a false teacher is in their midst. It is also our duty to lovingly rebuke a brother or sister walking in error.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:15-16, ESV)

I’ve warned my own readers HERE and elsewhere about dangerous teachings that are creeping into the church, so I’m certainly not advocating “peace at all costs.” False teachers and those who are fleecing the flock must be held accountable; they should be publicly rebuked so that others may be warned. But there’s a way to do it…and a way not to do it.

Abanes goes on to say:
But these ODMs are not speaking the truth, let alone speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). They are not defending the faith. They are not engaging in actual apologetics. And they are not using biblical approaches to sound doctrinal critiquing. They are dividing the Body of Christ. They are falsely accusing the brethren…they are actually torch-bearing witch-hunters seeking targets of opportunity—i.e., public figures that they can conveniently mold and shape (via false accusations and misrepresentation) into some heretic/apostate using cult-like psychological manipulation tactics on those who read their cyberspace venom.

Tabloid Tactics
My husband and I have observed a rise in bloggers who appear to take pleasure in targeting other Believers by using tabloid tactics. They create “National Enquirer” type blogs because, after all, “enquiring minds want to know.” We’ve even been the target of some of these tactics ourselves.

As Tim Challies points out in Evil as Entertainment, these blogs attract our fleshly desire to be entertained by what is base, shocking, or “secret.” We want to believe the worst about others because it makes us feel better about ourselves. These blogs use as their “proof” unverified testimonies from anyone who is willing to speak against their target. They use ungracious speculation to imply the possibility of things that may or may not be true, imagining this exonerates them from spreading falsehoods. They act as self appointed judge, jury, and executioner.
Pathological Antagonists

[Note: Many of the descriptions below refer to antagonists in actual church bodies. However, with the advent of the Internet, we are seeing a whole new opportunity for the people he describes. In fact, the anonymity of the Internet breeds worse problems.]

Richard Abanes wrote a third article in his series called ODMs: A Cult is Born? where he discusses, among other things, the profile of the pathological antagonist. Abanes believes many ODMs fit this profile. He quotes a highly informative piece from Frontline Fellowship entitled, “Pathological Antagonists,” in which Dr. Greenfield, author of the Wounded Minister, defines the Pathological Antagonist. If you’ve ever had one in your church, or if you’ve ever visited one of their blogs, you’ll recognize what he’s talking about right away.

* “The arguments of a pathological antagonist are usually found in little or terribly misrepresented evidence … quibbling over petty details, offering strong proof of irrelevant points … exaggerating the position of one’s opponent … making an accusation that cannot be disproved and then claiming that this makes it true … outright lying or falsification. An antagonist, in his attempt to make the kill, will take certain facts and so twist them that they are blatantly false when presented. In time he convinces himself that his twisted facts are true.”

* “The pathological antagonist is never satisfied. His demands are insatiable. No amount of accommodation on the ministers part will ever suffice. Attempts at appeasement will not calm him down, but will encourage him to make more demands. … he is persistent and unstoppable.”

*“The pathological antagonist will lead a campaign of attack on the minister … not trying to give constructive criticism …

*“The attacking behaviour of a pathological antagonist is selfish in nature … this person is rarely interested in authentic spiritual goals. If one rationale no longer works to his advantage, he will devise another … his stated reasons for opposition are a ruse for his own hidden agenda…

*“The attacks … are for destruction rather than construction. The antagonists’ actions divide the church; they do not pull the people together.

Dr. Greenfield points out that “a pathological antagonist tends to attract certain followers.” Greenfield points out that “without them, the antagonist’s efforts would fizzle. He usually does not have the courage to go it alone. He needs followers to bolster his campaign against the minister …calculating in his enlistment of a small band of followers. Each had a personal axe to grind …”

He goes on to say:

“The damage that they want to inflict is intentional and deliberate. They are not out simply to disagree … they want to inflict pain and damage persons. … clergy killers are determined. They are headstrong and will stop at nothing. They may pause for a time, change strategies, even go underground to reconnoitre, but they will come back with a vengeance to continue the intimidation, networking and breaking all rules of decency to accomplish their destructive objectives…

“These persons are deceitful … masters of manipulation, camouflage, misrepresentation and accusing others of their own atrocious deeds … experts at twisting facts.

“Intimidation is a powerful weapon … therefore, ministers and their supporters are easily intimidated by these persuasive and charming religious assailants.

“Clergy killers wound or destroy either by direct attacks or by inciting others to inflict the wounds. Sometimes they induce victims to self-destruct, by harassing them to the point of frustration and anger. … Because these people live in denial as to their true nature, they would not see themselves in this chapter, even if they were to read it.

“Clergy killers have surrounded and insulated themselves with a whole array of defense mechanisms and justifications for their actions. They firmly believe that what they are doing in harming and terminating a minister is the right thing to do…” emphasis mine

Using half truths, spin, twisted facts, hearsay, speculation, and innuendo Pathological Antagonists attempts to not only attack the minister’s teaching, they go to great lengths to attack their character and integrity as well. I found these articles fascinating (and disturbing) since my husband and I have experienced online attacks that ominously fit many of these descriptions.

Due to a handful of “creative” bloggers who have grossly mischaracterized us and our ministry over the last two years, we have spent a great deal of time clarifying our beliefs and disputing misrepresentations of our teachings. Recently, the attacks became so serious (even highly personal in nature) that, to protect our ministry and our family, we spent a great deal of time in prayer and counsel, considering our options. During this time, we felt led to carefully document the truth and make it available to anyone who asks.

While it has been tempting to engage these bloggers over the years, we’ve determined that it is fruitless (Proverbs 26:4). If you’ve ever been to one of these blogs you’ll know what I mean. The amount of time that it takes to clarify and reclarify your owns words (after they have been twisted and used to misrepresent you once again) is overwhelming. If anyone posts a dissenting view a feeding frenzy begins. I found the following statement by Abanes particularly true:

“It is also noted that, while the targets of the antagonist are frequently too busy to do their homework and respond to the vast amount of accusations, the pathological antagonists always have an excessive amount of free time.”

Steve Camp posted a must-read article last Wednesday called Blogging, Watchblogging, and Ministry. In it, he points out how each of us, those of us who actively defend the faith on our blogs, could be called “watch blogs.” Pointing out error isn’t the issue; but, the spirit and method we use is significant, and can be sinful. Mr.Camp gives the following “self checks” to bloggers:

“So may we consider asking the following questions of ourselves before we debate someone’s proposed methods or answers…

1. How does my post glorify God and exalt Christ? Or am I seeking to only expand my daily readership by addressing controversial issues just for controversy’s sake? (1 Cor. 10:31)

2. How does it equip the body of Christ biblically to be better Bereans on any issue they face? (Acts 17:11)

3. How does it convict and challenge me in my own life before I turn its truths on another? IOW, what do I need to learn, model, obey and repent of first before calling others to do the same? (Psalm 119:10-17)

4. How does it bring truth and foster change to the one I am disagreeing with? (Eph. 4:13-16)

5. How does it edify and encourage – not just exhort? (Eph. 4:1-3; 26-32)

6. How does it communicate real biblical resolve? (Roms. 12:1-2)

7. How does it enable others to live more like Jesus as salt and light in their communities, ready to serve their church and world? (Matt. 5-7)

8. Am I filled with the Holy Spirit as I write and unfold God’s Word, or am I only giving knee-jerk reactions to what is the hot potato of the moment? (Eph. 5:17-21)

9. And lastly, in what I have just written and confronted caused me to focus more clearly on the person of our Lord Jesus Christ and something He would find pleasure, delight and honor in? (Heb. 12:1-3).”

I would add to Steve’s list, the following:

1. Use facts; not hearsay or speculation to prove your point. Quote from the teacher’s own words, in context. Don’t imply a different or “hidden” meaning to their words and don’t put your own words (or your own hang ups) in their mouth. Graciously give others the benefit of the doubt. (Proverbs 18:13)

2. If you “hear” a rumor about something that the teacher supposedly did or believes, verify it with the teacher before repeating it as fact. Unless you can prove his/her words with legitimate published material, treat it as suspect. Don’t spread gossip (Exodus 23:1).
4. Don’t treat others as if they are “guilty until proven innocent.” Treat them as you would want to be treated (Matthew 7:12).

5. The goal of rebuking a brother or sister who is in error should be restoration, not condemnation. Your goal should be to win your brother. This is why it is crucial to correct in love.

6. Remember that you are responsible to God for your words. It is likely that unbelievers are reading your words – the Internet is a big place. Is your post a good testimony to the holiness of God? Are you tearing others apart? Are you taking pleasure in the supposed sins of others? Are you arguing and debating over things that have little to do with what is eternal? Are you loving your neighbor as yourself? Read Janet’s excellent article, Loving the Brethren.

Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers.” (2 Timothy 2:14, NKJV)

Slanderous words, arguments, gossip, and vain ramblings produce no fruit in the Kingdom of God. They just succeed in causing confusion, heaviness, and anger. Do you find yourself edified after reading such blogs; or do you feel like you need a shower?

But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer…” (2 Timothy 2:16-17, NKJV)

Remember what servants of Christ are called to:

And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26, NKJV)

Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-18, NKJV)

Are You a Target?

If you find yourself the target of ungodly attacks, online or in person, remember, God is watching. He has orchestrated these events for your good and His glory. You may not be able to keep others from sinning against you; but, by God’s grace, you can respond biblically to sinful behavior. You can show grace to those who are ungracious. Don’t add more sin to an already shameful situation. Glorify God in the face of trouble…or troublemakers.

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called…” (1 Peter 3:9, ESV)

Be sure to stay in the Word. Stay at the feet of Jesus. Ask Him if there be any truth to the accusations made against you. Perhaps God will use the wickedness of others to do a good work in you (Genesis 50:20). Ask the Lord to examine your heart (Psalm 139:23). God has shown me my own sin so many times this way. I remember RC Sproul Jr. once saying “Whatever my internet critics have accused me of, none of them are as bad as this – I crucified the Lord of Glory. And each Lord’s Day when I come to the table I publicly confess exactly that.”

Our highest concern should be our own sin against a holy and just God. Who am I? I am a wretched sinner who relies fully on the inestimable grace of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:13-17, ESV)


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32 Responses to “Truth Hunt or Witch Hunt?”

  1. richardabanes says:

    Awesome…..just plain awesome.

    peace in him,

    Richard Abanes

  2. Mrs. Sewell (Professional Wife and SAHM) says:

    Thank you so much for this post! It is so relevant for this day and age!

    God Bless
    Crystal <><

  3. SJ Camp says:

    Stacey
    I received tonight an email from your husband about this blog and article. I am so grateful he sent it to me. Excellent post: biblical; balanced; and benevolent.

    I didn’t always approach others with humility and Christlike charity when disagreeing or confronting theological driftings or error. I needed to repent of this. Your article, IMHO, brings that necessary balance between truth, motive, demeanor, and purpose.

    I also appreciated your words of caution to be factual and not spread gossip and/or slander. Very good!

    Thank you again for your circumspect words. I was also honored and humbled to be included in your post.

    His unworthy servant in His unfailing love,
    Steve
    2 Cor. 13:11

  4. Stacy McDonald says:

    Hello Mrs. Sewell – Sadly, you are right – it is relevant. May it not always be so!

  5. Stacy McDonald says:

    Hi Steve – Thank you for writing. I haven’t always approached others with humility and Christlike charity either. That is something God has shown me. God has used this experience to teach me many things. To Him be the glory!

  6. Stacy McDonald says:

    Richard – Thanks, and welcome to my blog! I’ll look forward to reading your next article.

  7. Janet says:

    Well done, Stacy! You’ve spoken the truth in love. I pray that this post will be quoted often, and that it will convict the guilty– leading them to repentance — and ultimately will bring a measure of peace and a better testimony to cyber-space.

  8. Dee says:

    With the stands you & your husband have taken on Biblical family roles, I can only imagine what kind of attacks have been hurled against you. Stand strong! You are an encouragement to many!

  9. Kim says:

    I for one am glad to see people talking about this growing problem. I know you’ve been accused of trying to squelch criticism of your book and ministry, and I also KNOW that’s not true. You’ve always been open to HONEST criticism, which is something I’ve appreciated. It’s the flaming and dishonest criticism that has bothered me (and plenty others). I hope you don’t mind, but I am going to quote your own words here:

    “Let me be clear, I don’t believe that an honest critique, or a godly debate or discussion, is an act of slander, libel, or gossip. Book reviews (that actually review a book — not the personal “impressions” the reviewer has about the author), discussions on email lists and blogs regarding a specific teaching or biblical truth, and even respectful debates can be fruitful. Iron sharpens iron and we can all learn a lot in these settings.

    But let’s stick to the facts. When a critic makes a statement that purposely misrepresents his/her neighbor (public figure or not), then that’s called slander (or libel). It’s bearing false witness, it’s a violation of the Ninth Commandment, and it is sin. This is especially true when the critic has been corrected and still insists on continuing with what she knows to be a misrepresentation of what her neighbor has stated, done, or believes.”

    I am praying God will use your post to convict and heal hearts.

  10. Stacy McDonald says:

    “It’s the flaming and dishonest criticism that has bothered me…”

    It’s bothered me too, Kim; but, God is in control and He is our ultimate defense.

    I welcome (and hope for) constructive criticism. It helps me in my writing, my thinking, my spiritual growth, my communication skills, and in figuring out how to better serve others. But you are right; this post was not about honest critique. Attack blogs do not critique (they just hide behind the claim).

    “Whoever hides hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool.” (Proverbs 10:18, NKJV)

  11. Webfoot says:

    Thank you for this post.

    It’s wild on the internet. Very wild. Don’t give up, Stacy. Be encouraged in the Lord. You guys have been villified, but you’re still here!

    If anyone takes the time to read primary sources and listen to what your husband and you are really saying, the truth comes out clearly. I may not agree with everthing, but the genuineness of your love for God, His Word, and His people is evident.

    I enjoy your blog. It’s beautiful and refreshing.

    At this point in time, I want to know Christ and fellowship with His people. You encourage me in my walk with Him.

    God bless,
    Mrs. Webfoot

  12. Lisa says:

    Excellent post and well written. You have written from your heart in love. May others feel a conviction regarding their error.

    May God continue to bless your ministry.

    Lisa Q

  13. Anne Basso says:

    I am one of the White Washed Feminist Bloggers and as such have taken a different stand on certain topics of our shared faith. That said, I agree with you on this topic. I would add, however, that it is always easy to see when these tactics are being used against us, but not always when we are using them against others.

    May we all be vigilant to guard against the vilification of one another and focus instead on the Gospel of Christ, the Truth of our faith, and living it out to it’s fullest.

    Peace.

  14. Stacy McDonald says:

    Anne – thank you for writing. And I agree. We all have a propensity to be blinded by our own sin.

    “May we all be vigilant to guard against the vilification of one another and focus instead on the Gospel of Christ, the Truth of our faith, and living it out to it’s fullest.”

    Amen!

  15. Persuaded says:

    just the other day i stumbled across a blog with the top post entitled “EXPOSED!” and the name of a prominent Christian leader… i am ashamed to say that i went on to read a few lines *blush!* it was just as you say in this article… a few things he’d said and done seemingly taken out of context and twisted. this type of thing is so sad and such a damaging thing to the body of our dear Savior. i don’t often stumble across these types of things in my wanderings online, but i resolve from this moment forward to immediately leave any site which publishes this sort of thing.

    what we write and *read* should be honoring to God.

  16. Jennifer says:

    Anne, good to see you here! I’ve definitely seen you and yours villified by rather weak sources, but your grace precedes you.

    Thank you for this vital post, Stacy. The witch trial picture is so fitting; I’ve always had such an anger against those slandering teen girls of old, I actually began writing a story about them back in middle school. Thank God justice is in His hands.

  17. The Henderson Family says:

    Stacy,

    Very wise words, very well said.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Stacy,
    I am unaware of the apparent slander, etc. being talked about, but I want to thank you for your ministry. God uses you and I am blessed by your writings. As a pastor’s wife I have experienced the slander of those who seek to destroy, and I find encouragement in your post to be reminded of what my responses need to be. May all we do be for the glory of our great God. May our vision be eternal and not temporal. Thank you for your faithfulness.
    K.

  19. Tonya says:

    I have been made more aware of blogs like this in the recent days. My reaction has been sadness. How sad that we are letting Satan gain a foothold and tarnish the name of Christ! How sad that God fearing people are having to feel the need to defend the truth in their lives. I can only imagine how Christ feels with all of this. And I can picture Satan grinning an evil, wicked grin as he scores a point against Christ.

  20. Hannah says:

    Hello Mrs. MacDonald,

    I’ve never met you, but have read your blog for a while now. I just have to say that as a pastor’s daughter, my heart goes out to you in this. My dad had his share of antagonists who eventually won, and it is so difficult to know how to respond sometimes.

    This was an excellent post, and I’m especially glad you folks are not going to engage these people in debate. They act like parasites, draining you of time and resources with no benefit in return. They are really grown-up bullies, who should be handled wisely and circumspectly, and whenever possible not given the time of day.

    I know it really hurts, but one thing I think about is the fact that the servant is not greater than his Lord. Isn’t this exactly what they did to Christ at His trial? The fact that they are doing it to you is in itself evidence that you are following Him.

    So, don’t be discouraged. I remember reading that “when He was reviled, reviled not again, but committed Himself to Him that judges righteously”. Keep on the firing line and don’t give up! It will be worth it all when we see Jesus!

    Hannah

  21. Emma says:

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been on both sides of the story… I’ve had people attacking me and being hypocritcal behind my back, but just recently I had to stand firm and leave a ministry who I felt was going amiss in the Core Leadership. My husband and I spoke to the board face to face. THey laughed and the spoke behind our backs. Four weeks later someone was praying over me at a conference, a man I never met and he began to share a word that I had to depart something and stand firm, upright. God sees and He rewards. It was God you heard, and not the other. Wow, was I blessed! http://www.strongquiver.blogspot.com I know they were all calling me a legalist behind my back, by my Abba was looking down and saying WELL DONE!

  22. simplegifts3 says:

    Stacy, I want to encourage you to look on the bright side of things. ;-) Some of us would not have known about a really nice youtube, designed to encourage our troops (and I am all for encouraging and supporting our military, especially in these days), if others weren’t blogging about you.

    I suspect that youtube was originally posted online so that wherever these troops are, when they have internet access, they can see it again and be encouraged.

    I sent an email to a moderator of a rather large Yahoo email group (who sometimes emails some of us his appreciation for how we are protected by the military) and he too, thought it was great!

    I have to confess getting snarky online at times myself. I agree it is best to focus on the teachings and established facts, not innuendo and speculation and endless “psychologizing” of people with whom you disagree. One thing I’ve tried to do is study principles of critical thinking, and have found this endeavor very helpful at sorting what is probable from what is certain, and to try to stick with known facts. I confess I’m not perfect yet, but I am striving to get there.

    Lynn

  23. Stacy McDonald says:

    Thank you, Lynn. Me too.

  24. Sherrin says:

    Thanks for taking the time to share on this topic. I went to one of these sites last year (or maybe the year before) and was honestly shocked at what was on it. I was also shocked at how much time these women apparently had to devote to this activity – which hardly leaves you feeling edified! It is much more “I need a shower” territory!

  25. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Stacey for this excellent article. I have only seen this carried out on one blog, I didn’t realize it was so prevalent. If we do what you have suggested in your post, we will do well. A very good article, thank you. Antonia

  26. Sarah says:

    Your post really spoke to me, thank you. I feel convicted, and that’s always a good place to be.

  27. Dulce Domum says:

    I think this was a truly excellent post. Like my friend, Sarah, I feel convicted. I have not behaved with due integrity in my online life, lurking on Christian sites and reading things which have not sat well with me, but going back for more, just for the “what will happen next?” factor. I would never gossip, or seek out sensation in my real life, and I abhor the kind of popular culture which trades on the pain and discomfort of others (gossip mags and reality telly), yet I used to find it acceptable to do so online. I hurt my Creator when I behave in this way.

  28. Webfoot says:

    Lynn, I’m glad to see that you are taking a stand against the “psychologizing” of people online. I have seen people branded insane, bipolar, sick, in need of help, psycho, and even worse all because they dare to disagree with what is being said in the course of discussion.

    I hope that you will stand against it whenever you see it done to another. It causes great hurt when a person is trashed that way.

    Good comments. I know you are dedicated to doing all you can to refute patriarchy, which is your right.

    If we can all focus on issues and not personalities, using the ever prevalent ad hominum kind of arguments – i.e., that person is bipolar and psycho, as well as one who has been proven to be a liar, therefore she should not be listened to – then maybe we can all see things more clearly.

    Good for you, Lynn.

    Mrs. Webfoot

  29. Webfoot says:

    Correction:

    Make that NOT using ad hominums…

    “If we can all focus on issues and not personalities, using the ever prevalent ad hominum kind of arguments…”

  30. The Dischers says:

    A very relevant article, Stacy. Thank you! I could sense your heartfelt cry for the church to “speak the truth in love.”

    My husband and I are so very burdened for the damage done by those who label true brethren with minor doctrinal differences as “heretics”.

    To say that one has “all truth” in the interpretation of the scriptures is to say that one is on equal footing with God. Where is the humility in this?

    We agree that so many of these “witch hunts” are rooted in pride. May God help us to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God.

    Beth Discher

  31. Dawn says:

    Carl Trueman has a great commentary on how he deals with this issue. http://www.reformation21.org/counterpoints/wages-of-spin/thank-god-for-bandit-country.php

  32. jntskip says:

    Just wanted to express my gratitude for this post and for a job well done in writing it.

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