International Churches of Christ

Many of the articles and other resources linked to in this entry are dated, in that they address the ICOC before major changes took place.

Parts of this entry include archived material, but links to research resources have been updated. 1 The body of the entry itself will also be updated in the days to come.

In an 2004 statement (updated in 2005), REVEAL — a website set up by former members in order to provide research on the movement — reported on the major upheavals and changes the ICOC experienced during the previous few years. (For instance, founder Kip McKean – who was responsible for much of the biblically erroneous and abusive nature of the ICOC – stepped down and then returned to ‘ministry.’ McKean and his wife took over the Portland Church of Christ and soon again attempted to exert authority over the other ICOC churches. At present he is no longer involved with the ICOC, but leads a new movement, the International Christian Churches.)

In Febr. 2003, Henry Kriete – a leader in the London Church of Christ – released a paper titled, Honest to Godoffsite. It was critical of many ICOC practices.

In response, three major factionsoffsite formed:

1.) There is a reformist group that has taken heed to Henry Kriete and others, who are actively trying to make things better and change.
[…]

2) There is a moderate group that, while they recognize that reform is necessary, feel that the current rate of reform is sufficient and believe that the abuses will be taken care of, eventually. They do not feel that they need to go to the perceived ‘extreme’ measures of the reformist group, to be radical about reform.

3) There is a conservative or traditionalist group, that feel that Kriete’s letter and other criticisms (even positive ones) are just being used by the enemies of the ICC in trying to tear it down, and that the ICC has become ‘soft’ and ‘weak’. They want to return to the glory days of old, when things were more black-and-white and definitive (for instance, mandatory disciplers telling people what to do). This group is divided however; some want a return of a high power, Kip, but others do not want Kip to return. Read UpCyberDown and you’ll see many of these comments.

Source: Three Major Factionsoffsite Chris Lee, at Reveal.org
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At Apologetics Index we still do not recommend involvement in the ICOC, nor in any movement headed by Kip McKean (e.g. his “International Christian Churches”), who is no longer involved in the church.

The movement has cleaned up its act somewhat, but it remains troublesome.

The ICOC claims to teach that a person is saved by grace through faith — but it also insists that salvation occurs at the moment a person is baptized, and in fact teaches that baptism is necessary for salvation. [See these resources on Baptism]

By changing one of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, this movement marks itself as, theologically, a cult of Christianity.

While it has given up its cult-like, heavy-handed control over its followers, the movement continues to be hyper-zealous.

It was one of the fastest-growing and most controversial churches in America, banned as a cult from dozens of college campuses while boasting 135,000 members worldwide. Its followers were known for spending their free time recruiting new members and waiting on doorsteps at 4 in the morning, hoping to persuade those who had ”fallen away” to come back to the fold. But now the central organization of the International Churches of Christ, a strict religious body founded in Boston, is collapsing.

Thomas ”Kip” McKean, its charismatic founder, has stepped down. Its world governing body has dissolved and dozens of local church leaders have resigned or been fired, in part because churches can no longer afford to pay their salaries.

Behind the story of a teetering church empire is the tale of the autocratic visionary who built it and his independent-minded daughter, now a Harvard senior, whose decision to leave the church sparked turmoil in the already troubled group.

”It caused her father to have to step aside and it caused the group to reexamine itself,” said Michelle Campbell, executive director of REVEAL, a nonprofit organization that provides information and support to former members of the church. ”It was sort of inevitable that Kip would fall. The standards he set, no one could meet. Not his children, not even himself. The very thing that he created came back and bit him.”

Source: A Christian community falters, “Loss of leader, governing body hurts group formed in Boston,” The Boston Globe, May 17, 2003
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Though at first glance much of the International Churches of Christ’s theology appears to be orthodox, many of its doctrines and practices are, in fact, controversial and cultic.

While the ICC proclaims itself to be "God’s modern-day movement," Christian apologists and countercult experts consider it to be a cult of Christianity (theologically). In addition, the ICC includes many of the sociological characteristics of a cult:

Among other things, this movement

  • has a prideful, elitist attitude,
  • frequently engages in dishonest recruitment practices,
  • has a heavy-handed approach to authority
  • employs a controversial discipling system, and
  • misrepresents the Bible’s teachings regarding grace, baptism, and salvation

These and other issues have led theologians, cult experts, as well as secular anticult– and Christian countercult organizations to warn against involvement in the ICC.

ABC 20/20 broadcast from Oct. 15, 1993

The ICC is an offshoot of the mainline Church of Christ denomination, whose name it has usurped. The mainline Church of Christ has distanced itself from the movement.

The movement’s churches generally take on the name of the place in which they are located, e.g.: Boston Church of Christ, Los Angeles Church of Christ, London Church of Christ, Gemeente van Christus te Amsterdam, etcetera. This is an example of the ICC’s exclusivistic and elitists attitude. Considering itself to be the only true Christian church, the movement implicitly teaches that there should only be one church per city. It reluctantly allows for other churches only if those churches are in complete agreement with ICC theology and practice.

Explicitly, this movement taught that unless you are part of the ICC, you are not saved. Hear, for example, John Causy: "Everyone needs to be a member of this church if they’re going to go to heaven" Wav File (November 1996 sermon. 290K wave file.)

The ICC’s cultic nature frequently is addressed in the media. Examples:
Take the International Churches of Christ. A fast-growing Christian organization known for aggressive proselytizing to college students, the ICOC–which some ex-members and experts on mind-control assert is a cult–is one of the most controversial religious groups on campus. At least 39 institutions, including Harvard and Georgia State, have outlawed the organization at one time or another for violating rules against door-to-door recruiting, say, or harassment. ”I’m banning destructive behaviors, not religion,” says the Rev. Robert Watts Thornburg, dean of the chapel at Boston University, which barred the ICOC from campus after members posted signs saying their meeting was mandatory.

Janine Marnien, for one, felt intense pressure to join the ICOC. In 1998, the then freshman was on her way across the University of Southern California campus, when a beaming young woman stepped in her path and invited her to a nondenominational church service–and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Countless calls, compliments, and invitations later, Marnien was a full-fledged convert, attending almost daily Bible studies, services, and social activities–and forcefully recruiting other students as well. In addition to giving of her time, she was also required to donate a tenth of her income–about 30 percent of each meager work-study paycheck. ”I just didn’t realize what I had gotten into,” says Marnien, now a junior. ”That is, until my discipler told me I couldn’t go home for my father’s birthday.”

A zealous group, to be sure, but is it a cult? ”We’re no more a cult than Jesus was a cult,” says Al Baird, spokesperson for the ICOC, which, he insists, does not condone harassment and is merely an evangelical church out to ”share Jesus with everybody.” University of Virginia sociology Prof. Jeffrey Hadden, who has studied religious movements for over 30 years, agrees. ”Every new religion experiences a high level of tension with society because its beliefs and ways are unfamiliar. But most, if they survive, we come to accept as part of the religious landscape.” He cites Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christian Scientists as examples.

Still, experts say the label has nothing to do with radical beliefs and everything to do with behavior. Each of the estimated 3,000 cults in this country has a unique ideology, but they all share certain worrisome traits (box). Students are particularly easy prey. ”They are in transition from the culture of their parents, which leaves them somewhat uncertain and anxious,” explains Marc Galanter, a professor of psychiatry and the author of Cults: Faith, Healing, and Coercion. ”Cults provide answers.”

A push becomes a shove, US News & World Report, Mar. 13, 2000


High-pressure, fast-growing evangelical quasi-cult successful on college campuses…

Though McKean is not regarded as a charismatic guru, the group uses other common cult tactics, such as "disciplers" who shepherd the thoughts and movements of new members and conduct marathon Bible study sessions that isolate prospective members from friends, family, school, and work.


Yeakley works with many cult counselors and says they receive more complaints regarding the ICC than any other group except the Church of Scientology.
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"In fact, one of the most controversial groups in the U.S. is the International Church of Christ, which has a Minneapolis location," he [Ron Enroth] said.
(…)

In 1993, Free Minds examined the Minneapolis-St. Paul Church of Christ and deemed it a cult because of the deception it employs to attract members.

The Church’s tendency to minimize the importance of the individual is another one of the Church’s cult-like attributions, Enroth said.

Cult awareness conference courts protest, debate
Minnesota Daily, May 18, 1999


See also the articles in our News database.

The ICC has been banned from more than 30 college campuses in the USA [Source]

Note that members of the ICC often do not reveal their connection to the ICC when recruiting. On- and off campus ministries may go by a variety of names.

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Research resources on the International Churches of Christ

These links include references to archived material: 2

Articles

  • At What Price Success?offsite [Contra] The Boston (Church of Christ) Movement. By James Bjornstad.
  • Birth of a cultoffsite [Contra] Collection of articles from the "Let Us Reason" site on the teachings, practices and claims of the International Churches of Christ. Excerpted from a book by the same name, available at the site.
  • The Boston Churchoffsite A profile by Russ Wise. Covers the history, beliefs, and abusive behavior of the International Churches of Christ, then still known as the Boston Movement. Includes a section on how to avoid deception

    Abusive churches such as the Boston Church Movement and others use thought reform as a standard element in their program of recruitment. The key to their success is the ability to keep the subject unaware of being manipulated and controlled.

  • Confess your sinsoffsite [Contra]

    A biblical analysis on the subject of Confession (the confessing of sins) as taught by the International Churches of Christ (ICC). The ICC teaches that the confessing of one’s sins to another person, a person which the leadership has assigned as a “discipling partner”, is an ordinary and expected part of the Christian life. During the time I spent in this movement, one was expected to call his or her “discipling partner” on a daily basis and discuss how one’s day was spent, how many people one had invited to church or Bible talk, how many phone numbers one had obtained, and what were the sins one had committed that day.

  • Dating in the International Churches of Christoffsite [Contra] Many people who have been part of the ICOC were severely damaged by the leadership’s heavy-handed control, which extended to such personal decisions as who, when and how to date someone.
  • Doctrinal Positions of the International Churches of Christoffsite [Contra] Presented in chart form.
  • Elitism and Persecution: Abusive Churches See Themselves As Specialoffsite [Contra] Chapter 6 of Ronald Enroth’s book "Churches That Abuse" addresses authoritarianism in the International Churches of Christ
  • History and beliefs of the International Churches of Christoffsite PDF file [Contra] Steven E. Rauchno offers a brief description of this controversial group based on his personal experience
  • How The Boston Movement Operatesoffsite [Contra] Speaking from personal experience, Steven Rauch tells how the ICC deceives Christians
  • History, Beliefs, and Practices of the ICOCoffsiteoffsitePDF file [Contra] Includes a critique of the ICOC from a Lutheran perspective, saying that “the foundations of a “restorationist” movement such as the ICOC are contrary to biblical Christianity.”
  • International Churches of Christoffsite Wikipedia entry
  • International Churches of ChristoffsitePDF file [Copntra] An ‘Interfaith Evangelism Belief Bulletin’ from the North American Mission Board. Written by Tal Davis, it describes the beliefs and practices in the ICOC until 2001 (the date the pamphlet, which has not been updated, refers to). While some practices have changed, to date the ICOC still persists in its unbiblical beliefs.
  • The International Churches of Christ (Boston Movement)offsite [Contra] Brief overview by Dan Anderson, Steven Rauch and Rafael Martinez.
  • The International Churches of Christ (ICOC)offsitePDF file [Pro] By Robert Carillo, and evangelist with the San Diego Church of Christ (an ICOC church). This 2009 paper (“Leaven: Vol. 17: Iss. 3, Article 11) acknowledges some of the “past abuses” (“During the first part of this new century many of our churches suffered from overreaction and made new
    mistakes in their efforts to correct themselves”) but does not nearly go far enough. Carillo says that since 2006 “the ICOC churches went through structural and theological changes” and that the “movement is now growing in maturity.”

    Today the ICOC is a diverse fellowship of congregations. Theologically they share the common heritage of Restoration churches and the ICOC. The movement remains devoted to world evangelism and the conviction of practicing open, honest discipleship. Basic practices such as the use of authority, the method of discipleship and motivational methods have been examined, and in many cases radically changed.

    Despite suffering several years of loss and little fruit, the International Churches have begun to grow again. From 2005-2008, over one hundred new churches were planted. Today’s ICOC congregations reflect both their heritage from the former Crossroads and Boston Movements and the present leadership’s renewed convictions. They remain relatively unique and differ from typical mainstream Church of Christ culture and practice and other Restoration churches in their approach to cooperation, discipleship, pluralism, women, music, transparency and campus ministry.

    The author then goes on to describe each of the areas mentioned. The paper does not deal with the ICOC’s theology, which remains unbiblical in its rejection of the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith (and instead adding its own teaching, which is that people are only saved if and when they have been baptized).

  • The International Churches of Christ: Disciples of Abuse?offsite [Contra] By John Morehead
  • International Churches of Christ in Upheavaloffsite PDF file [Contra] This article, from 2003 (Christian Research Journal, volume 26, number 1) explains the crisis that took place in the movement.
  • Leadership lifestyles of the International Churches of Christoffsite [Contra]

    Thousands of former members, many interviewed by various news organizations, claim that numerous legalistic, controlling, and abusive practices run rampant throughout the ICC, beginning with the highest levels of leadership. They also cite charges of favoritism, and hypocrisy on the part of leadership concerning “sacrificial living”. They claim that while most of the membership give sacrificially and live financially sacrificial lives, often feeling pressured by leadership concerning amounts of their weekly giving and contributions, many of those in leadership live just the opposite.

  • The Love Bombersoffsite [Contra] “The devout crusaders of the International Churches of Christ have made inroads on some local campuses, but they’ve been banned on others. Is the ICC a cult?” By Blair J. Davis, in the Philadelphia City Paper, February 25–March 4, 1999
  • Marks of a Cultoffsite [Contra] By evangelist Joseph Owade, former member of an ICOC-affiliated church.
  • Quotes by the leadership of ICCoffsite [Contra] A "few of the many statements which show the true nature of the leadership of the I.C.C." Also: Additional Quotes by the Leadership of ICOCoffsite. Plus: Still more quotes by the leadership of the International Churches of Christoffsite
  • [Contra] Stories from the ICC
    offsite The REVEAL web site index of mostly first-hand stories by former members and a few current members. This page includes stories about individual people and whole churches who left the ICC.
  • Television Reports on the ICC "Sin Lists," Confidentiality and Other Documentationoffsite [Contra] Documented by Joanne Ruhland. Demonstrates the type of cultic, abusive behavior that has people concerned about the ICC.

    Whether or not leaders of the International Churches of Christ (ICC) maintain records of members’ sins, and the confidentiality of these confessions, has generated heated discussion and attracted the attention of the media on the North American continent. From 1993 to 1994, several television investigative reporters questioned church leaders about this subject during their research on the ICC. Transcribed segments of interviews regarding the “Sin Lists,” a copy of correspondence concerning these lists sent by Rick Bauer to Al Baird, Chief Spokesperson, Elder, and World Sector Leader for the International Churches of Christ, background information, and a scriptural examination of the ICC’s practice of confession of sin are presented through this site.

  • University Administrators’ Responses to the International Churches of Christoffsite [Contra]

    Numerous college and university administrators have temporarily or permanently banned campus organizations associated with the International Churches of Christ (ICC). In some instances, these groups have been denied registration as campus organizations. Also, the National Union of Students (United Kingdom) has advised student unions throughout the U.K. to refuse recognition to ICC affiliated organizations, and distributed publications warning students of “destructive cults.” Many ICC members claim such actions represent persecution. Critics contend these decisions were made in response to violations of university policies and/or the ICC’s recruiting practices. Copies of correspondence regarding warnings and action taken against this organization can be found at several online locations:

  • ‘Toxic Faith’ or God’s Modern-day Movementoffsite [Contra] Deals with the ICC in general, and the Vancouver Church of Christ in particular.
  • Who Are They?offsite [Pro] A member of the Los Angeles Church of Christ explains why he is an ICOC member.
  • What is the International Church of Christ (ICOC), and what do they believe?offsite [Contra] by GotQuestions.org

    Theologically, the International Church of Christ holds to the basic tenets of Protestant evangelicalism, but with two very important exceptions. First, the group is exclusivist, claiming that the church is meant to be united in one association, divided only by geography. It teaches that any church that remains outside of this unified system, i.e., not under the ICOC’s leadership, is not a part of the “true church.” Such claims of exclusivity should raise a red flag. Any church or denomination that claims to be the “one true church” and that all others are false churches is itself teaching falsehood.

    The International Churches of Christ also departs from biblical teaching in its teaching of baptismal regeneration, the belief that baptism is required for salvation. The ICOC believes that anyone who is not baptized is not saved and must be “evangelized” and brought into the church. Further, the ICOC teaches that baptism under the auspices of the ICOC is the only baptism that can save. No other baptism will do. The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that salvation is by grace through faith, apart from works (Ephesians 2:8–9)—including the work of baptism.

    Other problems with ICOC theology include their rejection of eternal security and their amillennial perspective of the end times.

  • Witnessing to Disciples of the International Churches of Christoffsite [Contra] by Joann Ruhland
  • Why We Left The Boston Movementoffsite [Contra] Article on the ‘Triumphing Over London Cults’ site
  • Your God and Your Moneyoffsite [Contra] The ICOC’s abusive tithing policies.

    Most conservative Bible scholars would agree that tithing is Scriptural. But the International Churches of Christ (ICC, “Boston Movement”) goes way beyond this in what is expected of their members concerning their finances. While there is nothing wrong with letting a need be known or asking for contributions, the way in which the ICC has demanded the so-called “special contribution” has often resulted in disciples being pressured or coerced in their giving.

    Note: At Apologetics Index we believe that, under the New Testament, tithing is a voluntary practice.

Books

Books — Online

  • The Baptism Cult: Exposing the International Churches of Christoffsite PDF file by Gene Cook Jr.

    Chances are the reader will pick up this book because they have been a member of the International Church of Christ, or they have know someone who belongs to this movement. If they are currently members, this book will challenge them as a professing Christian to examine the claims in this book and compare them to the Bible. It is the prayer of the author that they will abandon this movement and come to the proper understanding of salvation. Is the ICC a cult? The answer is undeniably, “yes.” The ICC itself admits that it is a cult in an attempt to downplay reality…

  • The Discipling Dilemmaoffsite [Contra] [PDF files created from the harder-to-read text files] Online book by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr., Editor, Howard W. Norton, Don E. Vinzant, and Gene Vinzant. While specifically written with the International Churches of Christ in mind, it provides good insight in the basic issues regarding discipling. Includes these sections:

    • Church Growth Research Concerning the Discipling Movement Among Churches of Christ
    • The Impact of the Discipling Movement On Mission Work Done by the Churches of Christ…
    • Historical Roots of the Discipling Movement Among Churches of Christ
    • A Reference Guide to the Discipling Movement Among Churches of Christ
  • From the Churches of Christ to the Boston Movement: A Comparative Studyoffsite [Contra] Master’s Thesis by Russell R. Paden, University of Kansas, 1994. This is an unusually well written work which traces the roots of the International Churches of Christ in the American "Restoration Movement" and Churches of Christ. Paden discusses how the beliefs and practices of the Restoration Movement influenced and shaped the ICC and helped make it what it is ‘today’ (Published May, 1994.
  • The ICC Bible Studies: A Critical Analysis offsite [Contra] Provides excellent insight into the theological errors of the ICOC. A careful, point-by-point analysis of the First Principles Study Series written by ICOC founder Kip McKean in 1979, which almost all ICC converts are required to complete prior to their baptisms.

    Dave Anderson, the author of this analyis, went through those studies himself in the early 1990s. A week before the New York Church of Christ had scheduled his baptism, Dave realized that something was seriously wrong and refused to continue the process. The REVEAL website has said that this is by far the most frequently accessed document in the theology section of its "Online Library", and one of the most popular on the site.

  • What Does the Boston Movement Teach? offsite [Contra] A huge work by Dr. Jerry Jones, a former elder in the Boston Church of Christ. It documents the beliefs and teaching of the Boston Church of Christ between roughly 1982 or thereabouts through 1994, and cites an enormous number of internal ICC sources, such as sermon tapes by Kip McKean and other ICC evangelists and leaders, church bulletins, and notes from conferences and seminars. This is probably the single best source of first-hand material on the International Church of Christ’s teaching and practices during the 1980s and early 1990s. It is a three-volume printed work. Most of Volume I is on-line, but scanning and posting of the rest of the material appears to have been abandoned. You can purchaseoffsite the book at Amazon.com

News Archive

See Also

  • The International Churches of Christ Statement of Shared Beliefsoffsite [Pro; Official] This official ICOC Statement of Faith was published in Leaven: Vol. 18: Iss. 2, Article 4 (2010). It shows that the movement insists that people become Christians at baptism:

    7. Our conversion begins with belief in Jesus as God’s Son, and in his death and resurrection from the dead. Subsequent steps must include unmistakable repentance of sin, embracing discipleship, and confession that “Jesus is Lord.” Finally, we become Christians at the miracle of rebirth with our immersion in water for the forgiveness of our sins and the promise that God will give us the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 20.31, Luke 14.25-33, Acts 2.38-41, Rom 10.9, Titus 3.3-5).

Usenet (now Google Groups)

  • alt.religion.christian.boston-churchoffsite This Usenet newsgroup. 3 started to question and examine the teachings and practices of the International Churches of Christ. Like most "alt." newsgroups it is unmoderated. Open to all – members, ex-members and interested parties post. The value of this link is mostly in the fact that it include historical material from the erstwhile Usenet group.

Websites

  • The Barnabas Ministryoffsite When this site first came online, it looked like an effort at damage control b y John Engler, who was then an leader in the Denver Church of Christ (ICOC), which he helped start.

    On the surface he appeared even-handed, but a tour of the site made it clear that Mr. Engler minimized ICOC problems. In the Usenet newsgroup about the ICOC he misrepresented Ronald Enroth‘s writings regarding the ICOC, and called Mr. Enroth names. At the time Mr. Engler figured the International Churches of Christ had some problems in the past, but insisted that the ICOC was not a cult. His participation in the (unmoderated) newsgroup was welcomed by some and decried by others. The latter believed Engler was among the ICOC disciples assigned to counter criticism of the church. On this, Engler states — a suggestion Engler denied, saying he was not ‘sent’ by the church. Engler wrote, “I attempt to be an agent of change in the ICOC on things I believe need to change. I defend things that I think should be defended.”

    In May, 2004, Engler and his wife formally ended their membership in the church. Engler says that since leaving the church he has not concerned himself too much with that movement, and declares that he does not want to be an “ICC watchdog.” His and his wife’s letters of resignation, as well as articles written before their departure from the ICOC, are available on the website.

    The website now focuses on understanding negative church and spiritual experiences. Note that the site still includes material that teaches salvation occurs at baptism — an unbiblical notion.

  • ICOC Investigationoffsite [Contra] Lots of information (and documentation) on the wrongdoings of the International Churches of Christ.
  • RESOURCE on the ICOC PDF file [Contra] This PDF file contains a mirror of the website, RESOURCE, which is no longer online.
  • REVEALoffsite [Contra] Easily the most complete source of information, REVEAL (which stands for Research, Examine, Verify, Educate, Assist, Liberate) is an organization of former ICOC members. You’ll find lots of resources, testimonies, articles, news items, and source of support. No longer being updated.
  • Spiritual Pornographyoffsite [Contra] The content of this website came from a website called KipMcKean.com. That domain now belongs to Kip McKean. Read what’s behind the the current site’s name:

    McKean and other leaders in his former fellowship, the International Churches of Christ (ICOC), and the leaders in McKean’s new sold-out movement the International Christian Churches (ICC) preach and teach that looking up information about the church was akin to viewing pornography. They called it spiritual pornography.

  • Triumphing Over London Cultsoffsite [Contra] Extensive collection of information. Excellent media reports section. No longer being updated

Notes:

  1. This article was update on May 7, 2014. Additional editing will take place. We have updated links to research resources on the movement — largely in response to requests for information.
  2. After the major upheavals in this movement (see above), many websites eventually were no longer updated. Some of the resources are still online in their original form, but many articles and websites are available only via the Internet Archive.

    Sometimes the archived version linked to becomes unavailable as well. In that case, try to find another version by using the timeline at the top of each Internet Archive page.

  3. An Internet discussion system. See also: Google Groupsoffsite
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This post was last updated: May. 8, 2014    

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