Killing Him Softly

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I’m not one for Christian celebrities. To me, the whole concept of a “Christian celebrity” loiters in oxymoron territory, like “jumbo shrimp” or “corporate ethics.” Still, Christian celebrities exist and hold a lot of sway in some circles.

Recently, Kirk Cameron (actor/hero of the Left Behind films) addressed a convention of Southern Baptist pastors on what he sees as a pressing need in the pastorate:

Can I speak to you from my heart for a moment? I realize that, theologically, I’m not worthy to wash your socks. But imagine this scenario with me, if you will: Imagine I’m a “seeker- I’m a non-Christian, sitting in your church week after week after week listening to you. Am I ever going to hear the message that will save my soul from Hell? Will you ever tell me the truth clearly enough so that I realize that my sin has made me an enemy of God: that I am currently on the path that leads to destruction, with the wrath of God dwelling upon me, and that unless I repent and put my faith in the Savior, I will perish? Or have you decided that it’s better to simply entertain me, and on Sundays I can come to have my “felt needs met with good music and good advice? Pastor, while I would appreciate that, it’s the ultimate betrayal of my trust in you if you don’t tell me the truth. Will I ever hear the words “repent, “surrender, “turn to the Savior, “be born again? If you don’t tell me those things, how will I ever know to do it?Please don’t leave it up to the Wednesday night small-group leader. They’re taking their cues from you. You’re leading the flock.

(HT: The Thinklings)

Awesome passion there out of Mr. Cameron. I’m certain a few hearty “Amens” will rise up out of the reading audience.

But on perusing that impassioned plea, I noticed a couple enormous problems.

Here’s another set of enormous problems (compiled by Pastor Darren Patrick):

  • Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • Fifty percent of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
  • Eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
  • Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
  • Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • Almost forty percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
  • Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons.
  • Eighty percent of pastors’ spouses feel their spouse is overworked.
  • Eighty percent of pastors’ spouses wish their spouse would choose another profession.
  • The majority of pastors’ wives surveyed said that the most destructive event that has occurred in their marriage and family was the day they entered the ministry.

While the issues Cameron confronts and Patrick notes appear unrelated, a general truth emerges about the flawed way we American Christians do church.

Consider the following verse:

And truly He gave some to be apostles, and some to be prophets, and some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
—Ephesians 4:11-12 MKJV

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…
—Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV

And indeed He gave some to be apostles; and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; with a view to the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ…
—Ephesians 4:11-12 LITV

I gave a few different translations there to provide a more thorough understanding of the passage in question. The Greek word used for pastor is the same as used for shepherd in the NT. Either way one looks at the word, it carries the meaning I wish to use in what follows.

My main criticism of Cameron’s exhortation is not that it’s wrong in content, but that it’s directed to the wrong people. Cameron’s talking to pastors, but he clearly gears his message to people inhabiting another ministerial office. Notice the meat sentences:

Pastor… it’s the ultimate betrayal of my trust in you if you don’t tell me the truth. Will I ever hear the words “repent, “surrender, “turn to the Savior, “be born again? If you don’t tell me those things, how will I ever know to do it?

Cameron’s mistake here is to charge the pastor with the job of the evangelist. Some will accuse me of drawing too fine a line on this, but you’ll have to argue with Paul. The apostle clearly noted a distinction between pastors and evangelists in Ephesians 4.

It’s popular today to speak of The Five-fold Ministry of Ephesians 4, and many churches adhere to the idea that the pastor should be an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher, but I can’t read the Bible and find folks who fit that mold. (The role of apostle itself appears to include many of the functions of the others, but let’s be real here: apostles are exceedingly rare.) I mentioned the NT prophet Agabus the other day, but no one called him a pastor or teacher. Paul told Timothy to do the work of an evangelist, but he didn’t tell him to also do the work of a prophet or apostle.

Why are we not asking what the genuine biblical role of the pastor is? Perhaps it’s far more limited in scope than we’ve made it out to be.

If we consider the finer truth of the use of the word shepherd for pastor, what does a shepherd do?

  • He protects the flock from harm.
  • He tends to their wounds and diseases.
  • He comforts them when they are afraid.
  • He takes them out to a place where they can find the substantial food and water weaned sheep need to reproduce, tend their lambs, grow, and prosper.

I think that’s an apt description of what a pastor does with his flock of believers. We can take this analogy one step further. The apostle is the one who supervises the farm’s staff. The evangelist is the one who coordinates the reproduction, overseeing the birthing of new lambs. The prophet communicates the will of the farm owner.

But we in the Western Church don’t run our churches this way, do we? I hear so many calls from big name Christians to raise up more pastors. But who is calling to raise up more evangelists? Do we even acknowledge that such a role exists in the modern Church? Should we assume that all pastors are evangelists?

I’m not sure we should. This doesn’t mean that a pastor should never address issues the evangelist lives for. He should. But that’s not his primary role! And we forget this to the detriment of pastors and their flocks.

Cameron’s exhortation opens up another problem as it relates to pastoring: making the elementary primary.

I’ve long contended at Cerulean Sanctum that we’ve bungled a major Gospel truth by turning our churches, which are meant as the assembly of believing saints, into a pre-natal ward. Our church meetings were never intended to be a place for unbelievers to hang out and hear an evangelistic message Sunday after Sunday. You simply can’t find evidence for that kind of idea in the New Testament.

We’re to go outside the church walls and lead people to Christ, THEN bring them into the church. This places the onus of evangelism squarely on the shoulders of the regular Joes and Janes in the pews. Spiritual reproduction is the mark of mature Christians. Real Christians lead other people to Christ. We simply can’t walk away from that truth.

But what we’ve done (erroneously) is make our churches into midwife clinics. The result?

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
—Hebrews 5:12-6:2

Does your church sound like the kind of church that reiterates the same elementary principles week in and week out? How does anyone go on to maturity in such a church?

The answer is that few can. The fallout comes when we look around and can’t find mature believers, the kind that reproduce spiritual children. And why can’t we? Because we rely on the pastor to do all the heavy lifting of leading folks to Christ. And because that’s how we run our churches today, we can never go on to maturity because we force pastors to dole out milk.

It’s a vicious cycle. And who gets killed softly in this vicious cycle? Yes, your pastor.

Considering that our pastoral model in the modern American Church may not even be biblical, should we be surprised at the damage a pastor endures? Tired. And he lost. Your pastor?When we ask him to be everything, how can he not fail? When he’s forced to constantly preach and teach milk, how can he ever grow enough mature believers to fill the other roles in Ephesian 4, crucial roles designed to take the pressure off him?

Folks, we need an overhaul in the way we do church and how we define the role of pastor. Perhaps then we wouldn’t grind up so many good men of God (and their families). Perhaps then we’d do a better job raising up evangelists. Perhaps then we could grow more Christians to maturity. Perhaps then we could bring more people to the Lord.

Perhaps then we could attain the fullness of the beloved Bride of Christ, the fullness the Bridegroom so longs for us to have.

See also

35 thoughts on “Killing Him Softly

  1. Noah

    While I agree that the primary responsibility of a church pastor is not necessarily evangelism, it is one of their duties. A good example from the NT is Timothy. He was a pastor/shepherd, and it does not appear that he had the gift of evangelism, yet in 2 Timothy 4:5, Paul instructs him to “do the work of an evangelist”. The pastor of my church admits that he in no way has the gift of evangelism, but he also frequently tells us that no matter what our spiritual gifts are, ALL Christians are called to evangelism. We are all called to share our faith with those around us. And this command extends to pastors. While every sermon they deliver will not necessarily explain the path of salvation, if none of their sermons include this, there is something wrong. The truth is that there are seekers in our midsts when we gather weekly. There are also people who consider themselves Christians because of their church attendance, but have never responded to the Gospel message. I agree with your contention that churches should not cater to the seeker and unbeliever, but I do believe that the seekers and unbelievers in our presence do need to be told how they can join the ranks of the redeemed and sometimes the pastor needs to take it on himself to be the one telling them.

    • I’m not aware of one scriptural reference that indicates that Timothy was a pastor/shepherd. He is uniformly described as an assistant to Paul but never a pastor. The only reference I’m aware of where his office is mentioned is the one you cited and that specifically tells him to do the duties of his ministry, which was the work of an evangelist. That all Christians are called to be winsome examples is beyond doubt, or even that all are witnesses of Christ in some fashion is completely reasonable, but to say that all are evangelists only serves to confuse the actual ministry, and to diminish our sense of need for evangelists. I think it instructive that the only biblical reference to the unevangelized in our midst doesn’t say that they are won by a good evangelistic presentation of a pastor, but by the prophesying of the laity.

      • SLW,

        I’m not sure if Paul specifically addresses Timothy as a pastor, but he certainly lays out before him pastoral duties. His first comment on how to govern a church is to the overseer (which I would equate to pastor) in 1 Tim 3:1. Later, in 1 Tim 5, Paul lays out a series of duties and how to perform them that certainly lines up with pastoral care. More of this kind of pastoral care admonition fills both letters to Timothy, certainly more in line with the role of pastor than evangelist.

        Still, I’m willing to be wrong on this, though all my life I was told that the Timothy letters were to a young pastor.

        Readers, what say you?

        • David Riggins

          The command given to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:5, besides doing the work of an evangelist, is to “discharge all the duties” of his “ministry”. The word for “ministry” used is diakonia, where we get the word deacon, but which can be translated to mean “of the office of Moses” or “of the office of the Apostles”.

          A pretty heavy mantle for a young man. Indeed anyone who aspires to the office of deacon should take a close look at Stephen and question whether passing the offering tray on Sunday measures up to the expectations the Bible has of deacons.

          But I’ve always considered Timothy a pastor, based on the concept of the “rod and staff” of a shepherd: Discipline and Direction, indicated in Paul’s instruction to Timothy. Timothy was sent by Paul to correct error in the growing Church in Ephasus. (This does not mean that Timothy would fit in to our modern perception of “pastor”)

          But as Jethro explained to Moses, that doesn’t mean he has to deal with every issue in the body. That’s what other people who have various gifts should be doing.

          Our particular method of Church construction places too much emphasis on “leaders” and not enough on the responsibilities and roles of the flock. What we end up with is a flock of unweaned sheep still looking for an udder. No ewe has 100 teats, I don’t see why the shepherd should have his arms full of bottles while the wolves prowl at the gates.

          • At the end of 2 Timothy, in an unnumbered passage, Timothy was “ordained the first bishop of the church of the Ephesians” in the King James. Not all editions of the King James Bible have this passage, but it is listed in the Strong’s Concordance under “bishop” with the Greek term corresponding; therefore, it should be in the original Greek. So Timothy was a bishop.

    • Noah,

      While I am firmly aware that God has given me a gift to challenge and disciple others in the faith (and I feel I do that well), I confess that I, too, am not a good evangelist. But you are absolutely right; we are all called to be evangelists. Some just possess that gift to a greater degree. Our problem is when we make excuses for not possessing it.

      My issue here is that we often turn the pulpit into an unending source of evangelistic sermons. I had one reader who said he was part of a church that preached an evangelistic message every Sunday and never got beyond that. He had to leave that church in order to get any sort of real learning beyond “You need to be born again.”

      Obviously, the mistake is in the other direction, too, and this is what Cameron addresses. Still, I think he wants to hear it more often than may be suitable for an assembly of the already believing. It also removes the responsibility of the people in the seats to evangelize the few unsaved stragglers who may come into their assembly.

      On any given Sunday, unsaved people come into my church. I’m not stupid; I keep my eyes open for people I don’t recognize. That becomes my opportunity, not the pastors, or else I’m forcing him to do all the work. If more people in the pews got this, we’d be helping our pastors focus on what they are to do as pastor.

  2. Rick

    This wasn’t just a Kirk Cameron thing – it’s all over the place where some Christians call out pastors who simply aren’t preaching the word as they think they should be preaching the word. I’ve got other bones to pick with Kirk, but just in his statement he may have had a point. There’s enough truth in his statement (I don’t see the 5-fold statements in this same discussion that you do, but I’m good with it) to make it at least give challenge for a self-check. At best, it’s a balancing statement to folks who may spend too much time on one extreme and not delve into the other.

    • Rick,

      I left a church because I felt that the pastoral staff was no longer preaching the Gospel, either the milk or the meat! So I’m not unsympathetic to Cameron’s call here. We just need to frame it right and consider if it needs to be adjusted to fit another group of hearers. Honestly, where’s the convention for evangelists? Why have we eliminated that role in our ranks?

  3. Great post!

    Kirk is right that when we preach the gospel we should do it clearly and biblically and that the unbelievers should hear a clear and biblical presentation of sin, judgment, wrath, redemption, reconciliation, etc.

    Dan, you are right by pointing out the fundamental flaws in the unbiblical expectations placed on pastors and the unbiblical models for fulfilling the Great Commission. I completely agree that we have so many baby Christians running around who are only able to drink the milk and pastors are all too willing to only give them milk.

    Noah was right when he pointed out 2 Tim. 4:5 and how the pastor evangelizes WITH the body. He was also correct in our need to preach the gospel to the churched (professing believers, yet unbelievers) and the unchurched. Of course totally agreeing with you that the emphasis is not the “seeker”.

      • Dan,

        Our denomination struggles in evangelism. Both in church planting and in general witnessing. Here are the steps I would take.

        1. You gear almost all of your messages to the church congregation to edification, but never forgetting there will always be lost people in your services. I am talking about strong Bible exposition. If we are trained disciples we will have much greater confidence when talking about our faith. What you saw in the church you left was a seeker-driven approach. You teach people that all they need to do is “invest and invite” and the preacher will give the gospel and lead them to Christ. I believe that model is disastrously flawed and only seems to have results in mega churches.

        2. You plead with God to light a fire and you do all you can through God’s power to point people to loving God with all they have. If they love God they will love others as He does and then they will begin to WANT to reach out.

        3. You give some specific training concerning witnessing and sharing your faith and then you challenge everyone to begin building relationships with those around them (neighbors and co-workers). Keep evengelism within natural and normal relationships and contacts.

        4. Do all you can to develop a culture and an atomosphere of evangelism. Share stories. Encourage one another. Pray together and plead with God to bring the harvest! Depend on Him totally for the results.

        I do like your idea of having a pastoral position of evangelist. Many churches have a pastor filling that role and it can be effective.

  4. The elementary — “For while we were yet sinners, Chris died for us” — is primary.
    I tend to think many of the problems the Church has, the biggest problem in fact, is not that we aren’t teaching meat (we aren’t, and that’s a problem), but that we aren’t doing Gospel-driven teaching at all. The Gospel should permeate and punctuate every message a pastor delivers.

    I have lots of issues with Cameron and Co.’s mode of ambush evangelism, but when he says pastors ought to be calling people to repentance, he is dead on right.
    The gospel of grace is a message I need to hear every single day, much less every week. Maybe that makes me a “baby Christian,” but I don’t think it does. I think it makes me someone who’s been around the block and realizes what people, Christian and non-, need is Jesus.

    • Jared,

      I agree that “For while we were yet sinners, Chris died for us must be central to everything we preach, but it is not the only thing.

      I also agree that we’re not delivering good milk that leads to good meat later on. We don’t teach the Faith to mastery (an issue I’ll be writing on later) and that’s a huge oversight. When I read the NT, I don’t see the writers setting up this idea that people will naturally feed themselves. I see a very intentional process of growing people in the faith. That process may be slightly different from church to church, but the core is the same.

      As to The Way of the Master’s techniques, I agree. They’re a throwback in an age when the throwback isn’t as effective. People seek genuine relationship. They want to see that what they are being told is not only told, but lived out day to day by the tellers. Only then does it become real. This is not to say that a logically laid-out apologetic doesn’t work today, only that it must be coupled with more than just talk.I hear people saying, “If you really care about my eternal destination, then be willing to walk with me and show me your truth by how you love me and love the Christ you say you serve.” We’re still not getting that understanding.

      Again, I am not saying that pastors should not preach evangelistically from time to time. I just don’t think that is their main role. That’s the role of an evangelist. Are we raising up evangelists? Where are they? Why, if the Bible states their necessity to the functioning of the Church, do we act as if they don’t exist?

    • David,

      Don’t ask me. I don’t get it, either. I think we’re damaging what we can do in our churches by dumbing them down for seekers all the time. Our believers never get the meat they need to be effective.

  5. Rick

    Thanks, Dan – I think I overstepped my omniscient bounds 🙂 and wanted to say that this was a post building in you that didn’t necessarily need Kirk Cameron to make it come out.

    Something I haven’t seen here – what if the five-fold idea has been misunderstood, that it’s not necessarily about five offices, but about five gifts given to the church overall. Does the question then become why am I not walking in that at least some of the time? Or why have I not been living a life that would work in evangelistic ways?

    Thanks for sparking the thoughts.

    • Rick,

      I think all of us must ensure that we recognize people’s spiritual giftings and utilize those to the max. Sadly, I don’t believe that’s being done to the extent it should be.

  6. brian

    good thots, brother.
    I have to occasionally remind the congregation that our assemblies are first and foremost about the Almighty God, worshipping Him, secondly about edification (1 cor 14), and maybe third-place about evangelism

    some believe the greatest act of evangelism is inviting someone to church. then they expect the preacher to preach evangelistic sermons each week while the church never gets a diet of meat to grow past the basics

    as for the terms and roles, I also have a big problem with how much of Christiandom uses them.

    doesn’t it seem that a pastor/shepherd/bishop/overseer is more or less synonymous (check acts 20 and 1 pet 5).
    and the preacher/evangelist is different, even though most churches call him the pastor whether he has believing kids, or kids period (a la titus 1 and Tim 3)

    what do you think?

  7. Pastor Brian

    This problem can be solved by doing two things. Fearing God and teaching through the Bible. If we fear God we will seek to please Him rather than have a “seeker friendly” church. If we teach through the word of God chapter by chapter and verse by verse the sheep will be fed and the unsaved will be envangelized even though it won´t necessarily be every Sunday. Part of the problem is that people in the Stated tend to want everything quick. We want the person to be saved the first Sunday he attends. The newcomer may not have an adequate understanding on scripture to be legitimately saved (although I don´t deny that many receive Christ the first time they hear the gospel). I firmly believed that if God is calling someone, some good Bible teaching for a few weeks will do no harm to a person as long as they hear the gospel at some point. In our church I teach the word and if there are newcomers that haven´t heard the gospel through my sermon I know that someone will certainly share the message of salvation with them after the service is done. Teaching through the Bible we make healthy sheep and healthy sheep beget healthy sheep.

    Pastor Brian
    Lima Peru

    • Brian,

      I think we need to have believer-friendly church first and seeker-friendly second. Paul said that unbelievers might drift into our meetings, but he also said we weren’t to change our meetings to make seekers comfortable!

  8. Diane Roberts

    I was going to write a comment but then I read the first comment by Noah and that is pretty much what I was going to say.
    But I will add that your point is well-taken. There ARE others in the church that need to be heard from. Forcing the pastor to teach 48 weeks a year (two weeks for vacation nad the other two weeks have guests/missionaries come to speak) is not only a burn-out for them, but also two other things come into play. First, the congregants do not get a balanced message because one person cannot do that. Second, most pastors I’be been under really do not what is going on in their church because they cannot visit various Sunday Schools and other groups in their church. Why? Because they is tied down to the pulpit 48 weeks a year.
    As an aside, I recommend highly the book by Phillip Keller, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.” Keller is now a pastor who used to be a real professional shepherd. I didn’t realize what a shepherd really does, but after I read this book I realized what pastors are really supposed to be doing.

    • Diane,

      Yes, I think we’ve developed this model that the pastor is always the one doing the preaching. That not only creates a burned out pastor (given his other roles), but also creates a cult of personality around the pastor. Should something happen to him, the church goes into a death spiral. We simply must have a church where people are replaceable, even extremely gifted people.

    • This is something our pastor is good about doing. Last month he had one of the other men in our church teach on Sunday mornings.

      I expanded a bit on Dan’s premise at my site. Read it if you’re interested.

  9. Thanks for posting this! We all know that Mr. Cameron isn’t lazy about personal evangelism, but I would gamble that much of the lay population with whom his admonishment would resonate have simply relegated the evangelism responsibilities to their pastor.
    Jesus did not preface the Great Commission with a job description or other qualifier that limits the command to professional clergy. It’s for everyone!
    The basic tenets of the Gospel should indeed come from the pulpit, but to the same extent that they come from the mouths of Joe Christian.

    • Russell,

      I don’t blame the pastor or even the people in the seats, specifically. We’ve created this model. We didn’t trust the people in the seats to do the work, which is odd considering that we’re Protestants and that’s a backbone of Reformation thought.

      How we undo this model is the tougher question. Yet it must be undone.

  10. marie

    I have a Pastor who is confined to a wheelchair, paralized from his chest down. He can only be in his w-chair 8 hours each day – the rest of the day has to be spent on his airbed. His life preaches the Gospel of the Kingdom – the Gospel that Jesus preached. We, as his congregants, are witness to his living out of the very life of Jesus Christ. Not once in the 9 months I have been attending this fellowship, has he spoken on the “death, buriel, and resurrection”. No, he preaches the life that is ours when we choose to die to self and live out of the life of Christ – the life that so few preachers speak of – the life after resurrection. Kingdom life.

    The pastors that were mentioned in the statistics, are they living out of Christ or out of their own flesh? Believe me, the LORD has done more in me in the last 9 months than I thought possible! As one dies to self, all these other things begin to take place. The LORD brings opportunity to witness and evangelize and it doesn’t always look like what men tell you it should.

    My point is, as individuals, if we are living the life of surrender to our King – and that means dying – His life will be manifest in us and people will be attracted to Him. Our Pastors could then go about doing what the LORD has called them to – living and preaching through Jesus Christ, just as the rest of us are called to do, however that may look.

    Did I get off the point? The Gospel of the Kingdom rules! 🙂

    • Marie,

      Wow. That’s a tough role for a pastor to be in.

      Pressing on past the elementary doctrines of Christ is where we find true freedom and maturity. If we’re always teaching the basics, how do we get any work done. Can you imagine taking your car to a mechanic who is always being taught “Now this is a car. It has an engine…” and expecting to get your car fixed? No way. So it is with us. It’s why the people in the pews have relegated all the work to the pastor.

      • marie

        And the “people in the pews” are also wondering where that “abundant life” is…been there, done that…no life there…

  11. gina

    “I’m not one for Christian celebrities. To me, the whole concept of a “Christian celebrity loiters in oxymoron territory, like “jumbo shrimp or “corporate ethics.

    That’s very judgmental. You might not like a Cameron’s style or anything else about him, but to suggest that being a Christian and being famous are mutually exclusive is ridiculous!

    • Gina,

      The cult of personality that afflicts us in the United States is a damnable thing. That it has permeated the Church is even more damnable. It gives too much power and authority to people who haven’t earned it other than that they’re famous.

      But God is no respecter of persons and neither should we be. I have no bone to pick with Kirk Cameron. But let’s be honest here: he got to address the SBC Convention floor largely because of his fame. I know he’s attached to a well-known ministry, that’s fine. But why Cameron and not some lesser known pastor from Africa who did it the hard way? We Christians love our celebrities as much as the world loves theirs.

      I think that’s a mistake. The Chinese Church continues to oversee revival and their leaders are nameless and faceless people. We would do better to imitate that model than the cult of personality we love here in the USA.

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