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My Take: Billy Graham and Ralph Reed are putting politics before God
November 1st, 2012
01:43 PM ET

My Take: Billy Graham and Ralph Reed are putting politics before God

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

(CNN)–Why are evangelicals like Billy Graham and Ralph Reed stumping for Mitt Romney? And why are roughly three-quarters of white evangelicals inclined to vote for him?

Because politics matters more to them than religion.

Last year, in a talk at a conference on Mormonism and Islam at Utah Valley University, I asked my Mormon listeners why they had not rushed to the defense of Muslims in controversies such as the one that raged over the Park51 project near ground zero. After all, they have been the victims of religious prejudice. Their founder, Joseph Smith, was killed by a mob of vigilantes.

Given this history, I expected that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known as Mormons, would feel the sting of anti-Muslim prejudice and speak out against it. But neither Mitt Romney of the GOP nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of the Democratic Party did anything of the sort. In fact, Romney issued a statement opposing the construction of the Islamic center.

Why? Because they were thinking and acting as Republicans or Democrats first and Mormons second.

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I see a parallel story playing out this election season with the religious right.

Until quite recently, many evangelicals saw Mormonism as a dangerous cult spreading false theology and dooming its followers to hell. In fact, only after Romney showed up for a meet and greet with Billy Graham in North Carolina earlier this month did the website of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association erase a reference to Mormonism as a “cult."

Did Mormons all of a sudden change their theology? Did Graham change his definition of a “cult”? Of course not. It just became politically expedient for Graham to declassify Mormonism, given the fact that Romney, a Mormon, was the presidential nominee of his beloved GOP.

Ralph Reed, too, is forsaking his theology for his politics, mobilizing his Atlanta-based Faith and Freedom Coalition to place voter guides in Ohio churches in the run-up to election day.

I am old enough to remember when the main purpose of Reed’s Christian Coalition and other groups on the religious right was to put born-again Christians in the Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court. And for decades those who were running those groups saw Mormons as non-Christians.

And don't get me started on Mike Huckabee, who in a recent ad says that a vote for Obama is a vote for your own damnation.

Have LDS Church members repudiated the Book of Mormon as “another testament of Jesus Christ” or their view that the Bible is the word of God only “as far as it is correctly translated”? Have they accepted the Trinity? Rejected their teaching that there are many gods?

As Ben Witherington, Albert Mohler, and many other evangelical thinkers continue to insist: no, no, and no.

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I used to believe that the purpose of the religious right was to infuse American politics with Christian politicians and Christian politics. I no longer believe that. The purpose of the religious right is to use the Christian God for political purposes. Why any Christian, conservative or liberal, can say "Amen" to that is beyond me.

I am perfectly happy to see Reed stump for Romney in Ohio and Graham plump for Romney in an ad in The Wall Street Journal. Just don’t tell me they are doing so as Christians. They are doing so as shills for the GOP.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Billy Graham • Christianity • Church and state • Mitt Romney • Mormonism • Politics • Uncategorized • United States

soundoff (2,430 Responses)
  1. Carol

    Thank you for that headline. I found it disgusting that, for 2 weeks, I opened my paper and found political ads from Billy Graham. Sorry, but that cheapens the BGEA in my eyes.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Reasonably

      They were cheapened before that, but at least you finally saw it.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Carol,

      I suspect that Billy Graham can't remember what he had for lunch.

      Those ads you saw were from Franklin, and paid for by "friends" of the ministry (one of Mitt's SuperPACs I'd say).

      November 1, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Tom Brown

      Well articulated argument by Mr. Prothero, and the positions taken by Billy and Franklin Graham, Harry Reid, Mitt Romney, and others, should not be a surprise to him. Ever since Jerry Falwell brought conservative Christianity into the political arena has religion been subservient to political expediency.

      It is clear that the above mentioned actors-not Mr. Prothero-choose to worship political power rather than whatever deity-de-jour is current with the voting public. Gods, demi-gods, and supernatural fairy tales come and go. Political power has trumped religion since Zeus to the present.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • Reasonably

      @Tom Brown: "Political power has trumped religion since Zeus to the present." True, but Politicians know a good manipulator of the masses when they see one.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  2. God's Oldest Dreamer

    Can it be said and also inferred that all of Life here upon these celestial shorelines of life forms resonate from a single celled life form all the ways to massive life forms? Is it 'not' written within the Gospels that mankind is but buildings that are husbanded by the Godly? Do we not labour together with God in our tasks? Who among us can deny our being as God-Heads?

    Nothing is a Foreverness and Matter, in its' infinitesimally established finiteness, is a materialized foreverness unobtainable by us, human-like megaliths called mankind. We are all giants too huge and too vast for us to enter in wholeness back into the Kingdoms of God which are inside or within our bodies. So many damningly dumb buildings of evolution's ascension into the spatial voids of outward motions sanctioned by the Godly!

    1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.

    Luke 17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Post by 'God's Oldest Dreamer' contains instances of the Fallacy of Circular Reasoning and a series of non sequiturs.

      http://www.fallacyfiles.org/glossary.html

      November 1, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Fallacy Spotting 101,,,,,

      Where do you declare me my fallacies Fallacy Spotting 101? Show me my 'wronging' ways of thought conjectures and I will make abatement,,,,

      Love Lettuce,
      Love Let Us,
      G.O.D.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  3. Be Ready

    The cricket who plays his song long into the night and without audience is no less a cricket.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      That's brilliant.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • Solitairedog

      And a tree that falls in a forest with nobody to hear it is still a fallen tree.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  4. spockmonster

    It is disgusting that Christianity has sold out to Politics. It is a huge factor of why I turned my back on organized religion. I still believe in Jesus, but the Church is as false now as it was in Jesus'day, going by the "letter of the law" and not it's meaning. Jesus said feed and house the poor. I make $130,000 per year, and I support paying my taxes (except those going to corrupt congressional porkbarrell spending). I am a Democrat. I believe the Republicans represent the evil side, their greed and self-righteousness is completely against Jesus. Keep religion out of office, for religion will abolish all the the freedoms and civil rights that we have today.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • 24HCC

      @spock

      If you belief that Jesus is supernatural then you did not turn your back on religion.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  5. Iqbal Khan

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaGNfKabwfQ&w=640&h=390]

    November 1, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • Heat Monger

      This guy is a monster – ignore the message. Look at how he presents it: he strains his voice in anger at you, he waves his arms at you aggressively through the camera, he shakes his head "no" as he speaks to you, and he tries to use complex morphology while failing to time it properly.

      These are all signs of someone attempting to use hypnotic speech to influence the viewer. It is disgusting.

      November 2, 2012 at 1:27 am |
  6. kernelkat

    Christians are just doing what they have always done. Changing their interpretation of their religion to suit their purposes, that's all. Nothing new here.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • me

      Your comment made me smile.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • bill

      you said what I was saying, but without the rant. :)

      November 1, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  7. tor5

    Either way, I find few things more off-putting than preachers or priests telling me how to vote. I’m a believer, but I don’t want to live in a theocracy. So, on political matters, I have zero interest in their religious opinions.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  8. T.P.Thank

    A typing error in my last comment: The last sentence should read " Many Christians are enlightened enough to cast their
    votes without religious pejudice, and they don't abuse the right of religious freedom."

    November 1, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • Reasonably

      Thought it might have been a slip – good catch. Started to sound like solid, hypocritical cultist logic, but thanks for correcting it.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  9. David

    Huh? Me no understand what you are sayin.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
  10. bill

    The hypocrisy here is staggering.

    "forsaking his theology for his politics"

    Read some Old Testament and tell me you're not forsaking your faith for politics. There is not a "Christian" on this planet that obeys the rules in the Old Testament. So... how about the New Testament. Jesus Christ, love thy neighbor, all that jazz... Why is Obama then not on your list? Opposing gay marriage before the election (due to his religious upbringing), but now he supports it? Come on, does God hate gays Old Testament style, or love them as Jesus says? Either way, Obama opposing it religiously, but supporting it politically? How does that not make your "forsaking" list? (Should I mention Harry Reid bearing false witness claiming he had PROOF Romney DIDNT PAY TAXES FOR 10 YEARS? Nah... you don't care about his lies, why should I?)

    Holy f- cuk the very fact that you're talking about Evangelicals... they ALREADY "forsook their faith for politics" hundreds of years ago by forsaking the Pope! The Pope took over for Peter, who was Jesus' personal friend. First name basis even! Really, without talking to the Man himself you can't get much closer to the word of God. But no... that wouldn't be convenient to you eating pork on Fridays, or penning this article on a Sunday, would it?

    Lotta mentions of Jesus Christ up there, no? Big deal when it comes to the popular faiths. So how many of the 3 faiths you've mentioned share the belief in Jesus Christ as the son of God and our savior? And how many instead revere a child-molesting warmonger to the point of trying to kill you if you so much as mention his name you horrid infidel? Answers: 2 & 1. Not that hard to see why Mormons & Evangelicals would team up against the Muslims (Or you can go the biological socialism route: Them vs. Us. "Our" tribe vs. "their" tribe; whatever floats your boat).

    Nah, this is just another "think like I do or you're STUPID *all-inclusive* loving" liberal post. Either you think *exactly* like this guy, or you're an insincere, ignorant, lying, evil, racist troll that betrays their faith while eating babies and performing abortions on Sunday.

    die in a fire.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • peter

      The book of mormon,another testament of jesus christ is blasphemy –those people are not christians anymore than their cursed prophet.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Everything is blasphemy or heresy to somebody somewhere.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      Chill bill. Your only angry because Romney is part of a silly cult.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • Reasonably

      SOMEbody's magic undies are in a wad...

      November 1, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • bill

      Nah, I'm angry because you can't spell.

      But seriously, no. I'm worked up because every election I'm reminded of just how stupid people are. *everybody* wants to point fingers and polarize the issues. This story claiming "those other christians" are forsaking their faith; people un-friending "stupid" Romney supporters on Facebook; Bloomberg claiming Romney "flip-flops". Meanwhile they also want you to ignore the man behind the curtain (their own forsaking of faith for politics; their own ignorance of the functionality behind the 'like' button; or their own 3 party changes from Democrat, to Republican, to Independent in under 10 years!) and if you even mention said b.s.... well then... let the name calling begin. No, not begin, continue in earnest. They started it quite a while ago.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Reasonably

      Jefferson (and I'm paraphrasing here): Put the power in the hands of the people – if they cannot handle that power then educate them, but do not take the power away.

      And you wonder why we are where we are. You neither need a minimum IQ, nor pass a test to vote. That would be discriminatory.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Bloomberg claiming Romney "flip-flops".

      Ummm... that's because Rmoney does flip flop. He's as changeable as the weather.

      ""those other christians" are forsaking their faith"

      The BGEA has reversed two positions it has held for decades.

      1. It is openly endorsing a candidate – something Billy Graham *never* did. In 1979 Billy refused to join the Moral Majority because he did not believe that ministries should endorse candidates. Franklin however stated in his USA Today editorial that there should be a new moral majority.

      2. It has publically changed it's position on Mormonism. Because Franklin wants to endorse the GOP candidate.

      You can bet there was a nice donation from a Mitt SuperPAC to sweeten the deal and pay for the newspaper ads the BGEA ran.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • James

      I reserve the term "troll" for people who close their posts by exhorting readers to "die in a fire."

      November 1, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  11. Andrew

    Everything real should be put before god. All things real should always come before all things mythical. That is how you improve the quality of people's lives.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  12. Russell

    Stephen has his own opinion but it is hogwash. Christians are more prone to vote according to what candidates believe and support. Politics would be secondary. Stephen apparently doesn't have much knowledge about Mormanism or Islam. If he did, he might underdtand why Romney didn't stand up for the poor innocent, loving Muslims. Stephen needs to read the Quaran and find out what Islam is all about. Does he watch the news and see and hear what Muslims think about America and Christians? Educate yourself Stephen, you don't know as much as you think you do.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      Have you read the book of Mormon? Educate yourself.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  13. Lance

    I grew up in the Mennonite faith on a rural farm setting in Mississippi, and although I am no longer a believer I must say that particular Mennonite church practiced religion as following the teachings of the New Testament with the emphasis being on a peace loving people who do their best to be "real" Christians with an emphasis on peace, modesty, simplicity, love, kindness, forbearance, etc – not just lip service but in every day practice. I sincerely believe that there is much of the evangelical movement and Christian right that is a cover for the forces of darkness that masquerade as an angel of light. Much of these modern interpretations are a perversion of everything Jesus taught and stood for. I also truly believe that were the Jesus to walk unknown among men today, he would be despised, rejected and hated for his real message and who he walked and moved among when on earth. Even as a non-believer I've read through the King James version of the Bible several times – I wonder how much time modern Christians actually spend in Bible reading, prayer and meditation?

    November 1, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      And it's a shame. The nut jobs are poisoning the church.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • spockmonster

      I completely agree - Christianity is the face of Darkness, disguising itself as Peace and Love.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • spockmonster

      Lance, nice post. I agree that, if Jesus appeared today, Christians and the GOP would denounce him as a liberal and crucify him. I mean, for all we know, they already have, probably have. Any Christian should be ashamed of their religion and turn their back on it – you can still believe in God, but don't empower the Church, it is nothing but evil and politics, and does not represent the Peace and Love of Jesus, it represents HATE. They think only about those they hate, which is many groups of people, and politics is their main way of attacking those they hate. Don't support this, loving people!

      November 1, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  14. Reasonably

    My cult is more politically active than your cult – ask us how!

    November 1, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      How

      November 1, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Reasonably

      So, first, we establish a set of "official" political statements like flag pledges that include our cult's deity – we even get it on the money. Then we make sure that every major elected official is under our cult's control, then we even create a fair and balanced news organization pushing our agenda calling everything we don't agree with as our cult's anti-diety. Now we can just sit back as the various sects of our cult ensure the furtherance of our cult in politics under the guise of religious freedom. Slick, baby!

      November 1, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  15. T.P.Thank

    It's true that the "religious right' has been using the Christian God for political purposes. Billy Graham has said that "God
    wills Romney's victory over Obama" in the presidential election, as if Republican policies are favored by God. This is an
    insult to Christ and Christainity. Many Christians are enlightened enough to cast their votes with religious prejudice, and
    they don't abuse the right of religious freedom.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Reasonably

      @T.P.Thank – Oppsy – bit of a freudian slip in your comment: "Many Christians are enlightened enough to cast their votes with religious prejudice, and they don't abuse the right of religious freedom." Or did you mean the part about casting votes with religious prejudice?

      November 1, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Here was me actually thinking he meant what he wrote. It seemed more like something a believer would say.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  16. God's Oldest Dreamer

    Nothing is a Foreverness and Matter, in its' infinitesimally established finiteness, is a materiaized foreverness unobtainable by us, human-like megaliths called mankind. We are all giants too huge and too vast for us to enter in wholeness back into the Kingdoms of God which are our bodies. So many damningly dumb buildings of evolution's ascension into the spatial voids of outward motions sanctioned by the Godly!

    1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.

    Luke 17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

    Lettuce Love,
    Let Us Love,
    G.O.D.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • UncleBenny

      Wha???

      November 1, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      UncleBenny as in the TV comedian Benny Hinn?

      Huh,,,?

      November 1, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Heat Monger

      "Nothing is a Foreverness and Matter, in its' infinitesimally established finiteness, is a materiaized foreverness unobtainable by us, human-like megaliths called mankind"

      What a pile of infantile gibberish. You don't even know what the words infinite and finite mean. Why would you want to "obtain" nothing? Moronic. Anyone studying quantum physics knows that the universe is not in fact infinite, neither spatially nor temporally, and it may not have ever not existed.

      November 2, 2012 at 1:31 am |
  17. Be Ready

    The inner eye does not lie.

    Have you found the "knot" in your stomach? Have you contemplated the Lord. Have you focused your mind on Him?

    He will come to you if you seek Him.

    But if you say, "there is no God" "show me the proof" and "science is my king" then I say to you, do not expect forgiveness.

    The Lord can be gentle. The Lord can be cruel with swift and powerful judjement.

    It is not ours to question why. You are but a tiny piece of the fabric that is God.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      The Lord can be whatever you write him to be because he's a fictional character.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      Proof?

      November 1, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      That knot is constipation. A good strong cup of coffee will probably fix that for you.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Nero

      Please and no thank you. You are deluded. I don't blame you. it's societies fault. I don't even want to take it away from you. So nuf said.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      More rantings of the brainwashed and the brain-dead...

      November 1, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • Be Ready

      The Lord is no more fictional than the air we breath. He IS the air we breath.

      Why can you not humble yourself and accept the wonderful gift of love?

      He would gently hold you in His arms and feel the passion of your soul. He would heal you and love you. He would offer you the greatest gift he can offer. He would be risen for you and penetrate you with His passion.

      These gifts are not given lightly however. If you want a happy ending, you must pay first.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Be Ready,

      Can it be said and also inferred that all of Life here upon these celestial shorelines of life forms resonate from a single celled life form to the most massive of life forms? Is it 'not' written within the Gospels that mankind is but buildings that are husbanded by the Godly? Do we not labour together with God in our tasks? Who among us can deny our being as God-Heads?

      Nothing is a Foreverness and Matter, in its' infinitesimally established finiteness, is a materialized foreverness unobtainable by us, human-like megaliths called mankind. We are all giants too huge and too vast for us to enter in wholeness back into the Kingdoms of God which are our bodies. So many damningly dumb buildings of evolution's ascension into the spatial voids of outward motions sanctioned by the Godly!

      1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.

      Luke 17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Darth Cheney

      R U God? Because you talk with a conviction that could not be anyone else's. Except a fool's.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • Be Ready

      @Darth Cheney

      To even joke about something like that shows an utter disdain for the truth of our Lord. You are lost, but as I pray to the heavens tonight you will be in my thoughts and my prayers will be as a stitch in the fabric of God's life.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • Reasonably

      Which god am I part of the fabric of? And what kind of fabric? Is it all scratchy like burlap, or nice and smooth like a fine silk? Please, tell me more!

      November 1, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Be Ready

      You don't get it do you? Many people will not accept your blind assertions of your concept of "gods truth" or "the savior". A little tip, not everyone believes the same thing you do.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • Heat Monger

      "Do we not labour together with God in our tasks?"

      No, we don't. God doesn't exist, therefore he does not labor.

      "Who among us can deny our being as God-Heads?"

      I can, and I just did.

      November 2, 2012 at 1:35 am |
  18. billybob

    So which of lies to agree with more, politics lies or the lie of God?

    November 1, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  19. NoTags

    I don't understand how anyone who claims to be a Christian can possibly vote for Mitt Romney. The 'prophet' and founder of the LDS church made this statement after alleged celestial personages appeared to him. Quote;

    "My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right — and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong, and the personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in His sight: that those professors were all corrupt." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 5-6)

    Here Joseph Smith states that all religions/denominations other than the LDS are all wrong and all of their 'professors', i.e. ministers, priests, etc. are all corrupt.

    Mitt Romney subscribes to, and supports this theology. I cannot support a candidate who believes my religion is abomination and my minister is corrupt.

    Do you really want a President who believes your church and its leaders are an abomination and corrupt?

    November 1, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      A better question is do we really need a president who thinks the world is 6000 yrs old, that man evolved from dirt, not apes, and who believes snakes can talk and that sorcerors can return from the dead and part seas? Because those basic Christian beliefs are insane. The Mormonism just takes it to another level of insanity.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Rosco

      And let's not forget that the "personages" referred to here are none other than God and Jesus Christ themselves.

      Ex Mormon

      November 1, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  20. A. Lincoln

    Funny, the Republicans, especially the far right cultists, can't seem to separate the two. Why don't we just put God on the ballot next week? Then HE can tell women what they can and cannot do with their bodies because if it's anybody's business it's between Him, if you believe, and the woman in question, not her and here party or anybody ELSE in Washington. Why don't they just worry about running the country and let us run our lives? If there is a God I'm sure that if he's upset you'll hear about it eventually.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
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