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November 11, 2018, 6:00 AM

"Torn" Session 9: Chapters 13&14


Torn Chapter 13&14

Synopsis:

            Lee feels “torn” in his understanding of biblical texts.  He sees that an argument can be made for each text that means it wouldn’t apply to a modern committed gay relationship.  However, he can’t dismiss that every mention of same-sex acts in scripture is negative.  He can see how both interpretations are possible.  Lee doesn’t find a satisfactory answer until he comes to the conclusion that perhaps he is asking the wrong question.  This is far from the only issue in scripture that we struggle with: “Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything” (Titus 2:9), “Women should remain silent in the churches” (1 Corinthians 14:34).  Lee questions how we know which passages are limited by their cultures and which ones still apply.  He states, “If we simply disregard as “cultural” whichever passages we don’t agree with, the Bible becomes essential useless as a moral guide.  It’s only reaffirming our own views, not challenging us on what we may have gotten wrong” (p 194). 

Instead we have to have a clear, consistent biblical standard for interpreting the text.  (In the Lutheran church this is what we call allowing scripture to interpret scripture or understanding what is difficult through what is simple).  In help identifying this ethic, Lee quotes Paul, “…and whatever other commandments there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:9-10).  Truly living out God’s agape love for others always led to doing the right thing.  The freedom we have in Christ means the legalists are wrong.  We don’t follow God’s law by always following the letter of the law.  We follow God’s law by following the spirit of the law, which means living in Christian love toward one another.  Jesus expresses this idea in the Gospel of Luke.  He is accused of breaking Sabbath by doing work.  Jesus turns the accusation around asking if a child fell into a well on the Sabbath would we not pull them out?  The answer being, of course we would, even though doing so obviously violates Sabbath keeping by doing work.  Helping the child is the loving thing to do.  In Chapter 13 Lee finally concludes, “If every commandment can be summed up in the rule to love one another, the either gay couples were the one exception to this rule, and Paul was wrong—or my church had made a big mistake” (p 206).

In Chapter 14 Lee continues this revelation with his opening line, “Grace.  We had missed the point of grace” (p 209).  We cannot fathom the overwhelming hugeness of God’s grace, and we, as people, have no business putting limitations on it.  Always, therefore, we as Christians should err on the side of grace.  And whether we are right or wrong in our interpretation of scripture, the truth is, we Christians are failing to show grace to the gay community in the way Jesus would.  Whether we agree with one another, our command as Christians is the same, “A new command I give to you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John  13:34-35).

 

Question to consider:

How can we, as the church, better show Christian love and grace to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters? 

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November 4, 2018, 7:26 AM

"Torn" Session 8: Chapter 12


Torn Chapter 12

Synopsis:

            In Chapter 12 Lee explores the biblical passages often associated with homosexuality as he tries to discern how God wants him to live.  This is one chapter you really need to read for yourself.  There is no way to adequately sum up Lee’s points in a short synopsis, but here are the passages Lee addresses:

            Sodom and Gibeah (found in Genesis 19 and Judges 19 respectively)- these stories are about rape.  They are about violence and power and domination.  Lee delves into the OT’s hospitality culture and how it connects to the sin of these two cities of people.  These mobs of people were attempting to violently attack outsiders.  Lee goes so far as to compare them to lynch mobs.  These stories are not about homosexuality.

            Leviticus 18:22- this passage in found in the midst of many prohibitions.  Some we still follow (like the prohibitions against incest, stealing, and child sacrifice) and some we don’t (like the prohibitions against wearing mixed fabrics, getting tattoos, and sexual activity during a woman’s period).  The question is knowing which is which, which Lee admits is often difficult and ambiguous.  Lee explores this texts links to temple prostitution and thereby idolatry.  The “abomination” listed in this verse has connections to the worship of other Gods.  Lee concludes this text is not conclusive.

            Romans 1- This passage describes people who had turned from God to worship idols instead.  God responds by “giving them over” to sexual immorality, which involves same sex acts.  Lee questions, “Was being gay a punishment for turning from God?”  He, however, does not see himself as turning from God.  He recognizes that he is not perfect, but he has tried to live a Christian life.  Next he questions if homosexuality is an effect of humanity’s fall in a larger sense.  But this doesn't seem to line up with the verses references to specific people.  Lee notes, again (as in Leviticus) the connection to idolatry making a link between this passage and the practice of same sex acts during cult worship.  Lee then points out Paul’s use of rhetoric.  In Romans 2, Paul tells his audience that they are no different than any he has just named, so by passing judgment, they judge themselves (one of Paul’s awesome mic-drop moments).  Lee is still left wondering what this means for him.

            1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (& 1 Timothy 1:10)- Here Lee explores Paul’s use of the Greek word arsenokoitai, which is a compound word made from the Greek words for “male” and “bed.”  The exact meaning of this word is unclear as the word is not used outside of these two passages.  It is used in the Greek translation of the Leviticus passage leading some scholars to speculate that Paul coined the term in reference to that passage.  If so, the word once again has links to idolatry and temple prostitution.  Other scholars think aresnokoitai is intended to be interpreted along with malakoi (translated ‘male prostitutes’ in the NIV and ‘effeminate’ in the KJV).  This suggests a reference to the Greek practice of pederasty.  Lee asks, “Was this passage a condemnation of corrupt same-sex practices in Paul’s day- either pederasty or idolatry? Or was it a condemnation of all gay sex for all time?”  He concludes that he can make a convincing argument for either side and thus is still left wondering what God wants for him.

 

This synopsis is full of quotes… and questions.  What are your thoughts?    

 

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October 28, 2018, 6:00 AM

"Torn" Session 7: Chapter 11


Torn Chapter 11

Synopsis:

            At the beginning of Chapter 11, Lee summarizes what he feels are the affects of the church’s negative “us vs them” message toward gay LGBTQ individuals:

  1. It did not make him straight
  2. Gives people a reason to lie to fit in (which Lee says he refused to do)
  3. Made him hate himself

The chapter then shifts to Lee’s experience in the gay community.  He admits that his initial experience (or lack thereof) and understanding of what it meant to live as an openly gay individual came from gay magazines and the internet which portrayed “sleazy, near-pornographic imagery” and a sex obsessed lifestyle.  To all of this Lee says, “But this isn’t me.”  Through books like Bruce Bower’s, “A Place at the Table,” who asserts that sex-laden images and stereotypes of gat culture are both unfair and harmful, Lee is able to find common experience and takes some comfort, finally, in not being alone. 

            Lee is able to find a gay Christian chat room and finds others who share both his orientation and his faith.  These were individuals who were all in or seeking relationships.  Lee still has problems reconciling this with scripture.  But he finds this group at least, does not have a good answer.  He finds their engagement with Lee’s questions to be just as “anti-intellectual” as the ex-gays.  They are just on the other side.

            Lee begins to participate in an LGBTQ campus group (GALBA), going from one of just a few members to its vice president in a short amount of time.  Lee begins to feel like two different people: Christian Justin and Gay Justin, each with his own completely separate group of friends.  He finds he has little in common with other GALBA members who are seemingly uninterested in religion.  This group, too, seemed to buy into the “gay vs Christians” culture dynamic.  People felt like they had to choose one or the other.  When Lee mentions reaching out to his Christian group (CCF), in order to open dialogue, he is met with resistance and even hostility.  Lee feels more and more like these two parts of himself are irreconcilable, and that leads him to depression.  When he reaches out to his parents about his depression, they get him in to see a therapist… who tells him that the bible makes it quite clear that being gay is a sin.  Lee doesn’t go back.  In the final sentences of Chapter 11, Lee makes the choice not to be defined by this culture war.    

 

Quotes of note:

            “This is why, even while admitting I was gay, I felt the need to constantly apologize or explain myself; I didn’t want to be associated with the kind of hedonistic, sex-obsessed lifestyle that was my only image of gay people.  I didn’t know where to find any other image.” –pg150

            “The one big thing the gays and Christians had in common was that they both believed in a Gays-vs.-Christians culture dynamic.” –pg157

            “And so, in this microcosm of society, as the Christians judged the gays and the gays shunned the Christians, the misunderstanding and resentment fed into itself, giving all the more reason for people to feel a need to pick a side.” –pg158

 

Question to consider:

            Given the quote above, what do we do about it?

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October 21, 2018, 6:00 AM

"Torn" Session 6: Chapters 9&10


Torn Chapters 9&10

 

Synopsis:

            In chapter 9 Lee states that he finds it difficult to reconcile his experience with Christians before he came out and after.  He admits that if his experience with Christians after coming out has been his first exposure to Christianity, he’d have wanted nothing to do with it.  Lee blames much of this on misinformation.  Christians are basing their judgments on what they’ve been told.  Lee confronts an “ex-gay” speaker, Mark, at a Christian conference who says biological explanations for sexual orientation should be dismissed because they can’t be proven by asking if his reparative drive model can be proven.  He answers in the negative.  A conversation between the two leads Mark to ask probing questions regarding Lee’s childhood until he finds something less than idyllic to blame his orientation on.  Lee pointing out that no one has idyllic childhoods does nothing to persuade Mark from his insistence that some childhood “trauma” made Lee gay.  Lee’s conclusion is that he needs to continue to fight this kind of misinformation. 

            In chapter 10 Lee counters the view that the church is under attack from gays by suggesting that the church is actually under attack from its own people.  Christians, he says, are killing Christianity as Christians have a reputation, not for love and grace, but for condescending judgment.  He brings up his experience waiting tables and how no one wanted to work on Sunday afternoons because that’s when the church crowd goes out to eat and they are usually very demanding and lousy tippers.  (On a side note, I waited tables for nearly a decade and can personally attest to the fact that this is absolutely true.  The after church crowd is the WORST).  This kind of behavior turns people away from the church.  It also turns people away from God.  Lee quotes that old saying that Christians are the only “Jesus” most people will ever see.  The way we act matters.  We represent God to people.  Lee highlights the importance living out the love of Christ.  We are called, as Christians, to be known by our love.

           

Quotes of note:

            “The reputation of Christianity in our society is poor because the reputation of Christians in our society is poor.” pg136

            “If our reputation can be damaged by poor tipping, how much more can it be hurt by the perception that we are actively hostile to an entire group of people!” pg138

            “Instead of Christians sometimes looking like jerks in spite of our faith, it now looks like we’re jerks because of our faith.” Pg139

 

Questions to consider:

            How can we, as Christians, better reveal Christ through our actions?

            Is it possible to be judging and loving at the same time?  If so, how? 

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October 14, 2018, 6:00 AM

"Torn" Session 5: Chapters 7&8


Torn Chapters 7&8

 

Synopsis:

            In chapter 7 Lee explores the prospect of being alone.  He questions whether being gay means he is destined to spend his entire life without a sexual relationship, and more particularly, without a loving romantic relationship.  He highlights God’s statement in Genesis, that “it is not good that the man should be alone” and points out that, for most people, a loving, romantic relationship represents the single most important factor in our lives after God.  While there are those who are wired to be alone, most of us are not.  For a far majority of people being single is a burden rather than a blessing.  He is adamant that he does not want to be alone.  He doesn’t want to face life alone.  He doesn’t want to face aging and the end of life alone.  He recognizes that, as a gay man, a marriage relationship with a woman would be a sham.  It would be unfair to both him and his wife.  He looks briefly to scripture and admits that while the bible condemns same sex acts, he still struggles with how to live as a gay person.  Does being gay disqualify him from a romantic loving relationship?

            In chapter 8 Lee makes reference to an episode of South Park to highlight what he sees as the church’s message to him and to those who identify as gay: “Don’t be gay.”  After revealing his sexuality to his pastor, he is told he will continue to be welcome at the church as long as he in not in a relationship.  He is banned from his favorite Christian chat room when one of the moderators somehow finds out he is gay.  He begins attending a Campus Christian Fellowship group at his college.  He is troubled by one of the speakers who has been invited to speak on “Homosexuality: Combining Compassion and Truth.”  The speaker was a proponent of “ex-gay” therapy.  The speakers stance was that homosexuality was a choice and inherently sinful.  Lee attempts to talk to the leaders of the CCF group to voice his concerns.  This does not go well.  The leadership reiterates to Lee, that they consider homosexuality to be sinful.  He is told he is allowed to continue to be part of the group as long as he leaves his “agenda” out of it.  Lee doesn't feel like he has an “agenda,” but the message of rejection of who he is is clear.

 

Quotes of note:

            “To go without sex was one things, but to go without romance and companionship was quite another.” Pg103

            “Whatever the future might hold, I was committed to endure whatever God called me to.  And God was going to be with me.  The church, however, was another matter.” pg105

            “For years I had been praying for God to change my feelings and make me straight.  Now I had started praying for God’s will to be done, whatever that way.” pg107

            “Bit by bit, I was learning a painful lesson.  In this Christians-vs.-Gays culture, Christians weren’t such great people to be around if you were gay.  They might lecture you, talk down to you, but there weren’t very likely to make you feel loved.  Quite the opposite.” pg115

 

Question to consider:

            How do we hear God’s pronouncement in Genesis that it is not good for man to be alone in light of sexual orientation?

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October 7, 2018, 6:00 AM

"Torn" Session 4: Chapter 6


Torn Chapter 6

           

Synopsis:

            The focus of chapter 6 is Lee’s experience with so called “conversion therapy.”  Lee has realized he is gay.  He does not want to be gay, so he puts his effort into trying to become straight.  He begins to search for groups/programs to help him with this.  Most of the resources he was able to find locally were for men who were or had acted on their attractions.  He was unable to find help for a teenage boy with same-sex attraction and no sexual experience. 

            With his parents, Lee attends an “ex-gay conference” out of town.  The conference was advertised as being for ex-gays and their parents.  However, most of the people Lee meets at the conference are parents of gay children who are living openly.  The keynote address included admonitions to fight against the “gay agenda,” and painted the issue in a very simplistic, “us vs them” (gay vs Christian) way.  Lee states that the speech made him very uncomfortable.  He says, “It didn’t seem very much like Jesus.” 

            Next, he attends a break out session on “The Root Causes of Male Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic,” which upheld Moberly’s “reparative drive” model stating that all male homosexuality is due to a poor father figure that leaves a boy unable to properly relate to the same sex.  Lee knows that this is not his experience.  He says as much during the question and answer portion of the session.  Other people come up to him after to thank him for his comments.  They too do not have families that fit the model being presented as fact. 

            Lee then takes on some of the larger players and organizations across the “ex-gay” movement.  His basic conclusion is that ex-gay organizations do not do what the claim to do.  The ex-gay movements that Lee investigates define success as people refraining to act on their same-sex attraction, not an actual change in orientation.  Lee concludes that ex-gay movements do not help gay people become straight, as they do not actually bring about a change in attraction.  At best, they encourage gay people to live as straight people in terms of how they act.  This, he points out through examples, leads to more secrecy, denial, and betrayals in relationships.

           

Quotes of Note:

            “…therapy can’t make gay people straight and that what’s typically happening is behavior change, not orientation (that is, attraction) change.”  -pg91

            “In a Gays-vs-Christains world, admitting you’re gay makes you an enemy of Christians.  After hearing some of these people’s horror stories, I'm amazed that any of them have any faith left at all.” –pg86

 

Questions to consider:

            What are your thoughts on the topic of “ex-gay therapy” and the stories Lee highlights?

            Think about Terry’s story.  Lee states that he was blind to the “pain and damage” the church was doing.  What is he talking about?  What can/should be done differently?

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September 30, 2018, 12:00 AM

"Torn" Session 3: Chapter 5


Synopsis:

            In Chapter 5, Lee explores the question, “why are people gay?”  He starts by defining what the term “gay” means.  While this may seem unnecessary, Lee accurately points out that different people may define the term differently and thus come to very different conclusions to his original question.  Lee states, “if one person believes that ‘gay’ means ‘someone who is attracted to the same sex’ and another person believes that ‘gay’ means ‘someone who has sex with members of the same sex,’ then it shouldn’t surprise us when they come to two very different conclusions.”  Lee states that he uses the word “gay” in reference to people’s attractions, not necessarily to their behaviors.  This is typically how the term is used in our culture.  Also, Lee argues, it makes the most sense.  He gives an example of someone who commits his/her life to celibacy.  Society would call that person “straight” if his/her attraction was for the opposite gender regardless of whether or not he/she ever acted on those desires.

            Lee then processes through several theories regarding why it is that people are gay.  Theory 1- people choose to be gay.  He lifts up that this was in no way his personal experience, nor was it the experience for people he knows.  He most definitely did not want to be gay.  He also brings up the fact that we are not attracted to all people (either gay or straight) and that who we are attracted to is not a matter of choice.  His conclusion is that being gay is not something a person chooses.

            Theory 2- People are seduced or tricked into identifying as gay.  He states that this too was not his experience.  No one tried to convince or woo him into a relationship.  He didn’t even know any other gay people.  He was not abused as a child.  So these things could not have made him gay.

            Theory 3- People are gay because of their parents.  This is a theory that became popular in the 1960’s and continues today.  There are variations, but mostly this is called the “reparative drive” model.  It states that there was some kind of disorder in the relationship between a child and their same gendered parent resulting in an emotional deficit that the child then seeks out in same-gendered relationships as adults.  Again, Lee points out that this is not his experience.  He was raised with loving and attentive parents and had and continues to have good relationships with both.  Lee also points out that studies do not back up this claim.  Yes, some homosexual people have poor relationships with their parents.  But so do many heterosexual people.  And there are plenty of homosexual individuals who don’t.

            Theory 4- People are gay because of their biology.  Lee highlights several scientific studies that seem to point to a difference in brain chemistry amongst gay people that may correlate to a difference in hormone levels in utero.  So while Lee ultimately concludes that we still don’t know exactly why some people are gay and others are straight, as nothing has been scientifically proven, the theory that sexual orientation is biological has support amongst scientific circles.

 

Quotes of note:

            “[Christians have] argued that if gay sex is a sin, then God wouldn’t allow people to be born with a biological attraction to the same sex.  But that doesn't seem like a very good argument to me.  Just because an attraction or drive is biological doesn’t mean it’s okay to act on, so whether behavior is sinful or not doesn’t tell us anything about whether the related attraction has biological roots.” –pg62

            “If you believe that gay relationships are sinful, for instance, it’s more appealing to assume that gay feelings result from childhood trauma- because if people are born with them, that leads to the uncomfortable thought that God might have created people with a deep longing for intimacy and no legitimate means to fill it.” –pg68

            “For now, the important thing is to keep an open mind and listen compassionately to people’s stories.” –pg69

 

Questions to consider:

            What are you thoughts on Lee’s main question in this chapter, “why are people gay,” and what do you think of his responses?

            Reread the quote from page 68 above.  Lee is saying if people are born gay, but acting on that desire is sinful, then those people are born with a need for intimacy that can never be rightly fulfilled.  What are your thoughts about this?

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September 23, 2018, 6:00 AM

“Torn” Session 2: Chapter 4


Synopsis:

            The fourth chapter in Lee’s book focuses on his personal story.  In it we hear the growing internal conflict regarding his same sex attraction.  Lee realizes that he is attracted to men.  He also begins to admit that he does not have the same attraction for women.  The personal feelings of safety in thinking of himself as bisexual provided for a period of time begin to evaporate.  He finally comes to the conclusion: he is not bisexual; he is gay. 

            This creates overwhelming feelings of shame and self-loathing for Lee.  He feels this way because his church upbringing has so firmly impressed upon him the sinful nature of his attraction.  Far from thinking he could ever accept this about himself, Lee believes that in order to be a good Christian he needs to “fix” himself.  He needs to rid himself of his same sex attraction, and with God’s help, he believes he can do so.  He sets his focus on becoming straight.

            Lee confesses his feelings to his pastor, who invites him to participate in a group of other men in the church who also have same sex attractions.  Lee attends one meeting but finds it so disheartening, he does not return.  He also enlists his pastor’s help in telling his parents he is gay.  His parents believe, as he does, that being gay is a sin, but they tell him they will always love him no matter what.  They join in his hope that he could be “healed” and become straight.  Lee ends his chapter with advice for parents about how to support their gay children with some specific things not to say like, “don’t tell anyone,” and “how could you hurt us like this.”

 

Quotes of note:

            “Some parents have kicked their kids out, disowned them, and written them out of their wills.  Some have even told their kids they wished they were dead.”  p45

            “If we can’t get this right within our own families, how are we supposed to get it right on a larger scale?  A loving response starts at home.”  p46

 

Questions to consider:

            We often think of God as our divine and loving parent.  When Lee tells his parents that he is gay, his mother responds, “We’ll always love you… no matter what.”  How does this response relate to how we might imagine God’s response to be?

            Lee struggles with the notion of what God wants for him.  What do we think God wants for us? 

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September 16, 2018, 12:00 AM

"Torn" Session 1: Chapters 1-3


Synopsis:

In chapter 1 Lee recounts a call that came in to the Christian organization where he worked.  The female caller is in tears.  Her son has come out as gay.  She talks about how much of a “good kid” her son is.  She has always been so proud of him.  But now she is afraid.  She is afraid for his soul and his future, for the dangers of AIDS and hate crimes, but most of all, she is afraid of their church.  She fears her son will be rejected.  She is so afraid that she doesn't even feel comfortable talking to the pastor.

            Lee goes on to cite a 2007 Barna Group study that asked 16-29 years olds to choose from words they associate with the Christian church.  The most selected word was “antihomosexual.”  Lee talks about his church experience growing up as a conservative southern Baptist.  The Christian church’s anti-gay rhetoric has created the cultural assumption that one cannot be gay (or an ally) and Christian.

            In chapter 2 Lee tells a story from his time in high school.  An anti-gay poster is anonymously hung in his school.  The next day 6 students pass out pamphlets calling for tolerance and understanding.  Those six students are punished for doing so.  When asked by another student his opinion on the issue, Lee is confident in his response.  “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”  At this point, his church upbringing has taught him that homosexuality is a sin, but he doesn’t think it’s right to hate people for it.  His classmate is not impressed. 

            Chapter 3 describes the beginning of Lee’s own struggle as he starts to understand his own sexuality.  As a teenager, he realizes he is attracted to men rather than women.  At this point in his life, he also fully believes these feeling to be wrong.

Quotes of note:

On parents of gay children, “If the things their churches tell them about gay people doesn’t match what they whom from their own children, who are they supposed to believe?” p7.

On the generation gap, “Today’s young people have gay friends whom they love.  If they view the church as an unsafe place for them… we might just be raising the most anti-Christian generation America has ever seen, a generation that beleives they have to choose between lovng and being Christain. 

“Loving people doesn’t always mean agreeing with them.  Sometimes you show your love for people by telling them what they need to hear instead of what they want to hear.” p17

On loving the sinner, but hating the sin, “I thought I was sharing the gospel that day, when in fact I was probably only confirming Sean’s negative views of Christians.” p18

Questions to consider:

Why might “love the sinner, hate the sin” be problematic? 

What is our response to the idea that “you can’t be gay (an ally) and Christian?” and how does our faith inform this response?  

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September 11, 2018, 2:37 PM

Justin Lee's, "Torn" Bible Study Series


This Fall, our adult Sunday School and Thursday evening Bible Study will be doing a book study on Jason Lee’s “Torn.”  “Torn” is a memoir of sorts in which Lee shows his struggle with being both Christian and gay, especially having grown up in a very conservative denomination. 

Lee is incredibly open and honest with his thoughts and emotions, and the book gives a human voice to these issues.  It is my hope that this book study will help us in our continuing conversation around becoming a Reconciling in Christ congregation.  For those who cannot attend the sessions, but would still like to participate, each week, a synopsis of the chapter(s), along with some key quotes and questions to consider will be made available on this website.  

If you would like to engage in conversation, comments are absolutely encouraged.  Comments that are unchristian in character will be deleted.

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