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January 09, 2009

Fire in the belly

Chuck Colson has a quote in this Christianity Today article about the abortion "battle fatigue" that many evangelicals are feeling:

Younger evangelicals remain pro-life, but I don't think they have the same fire in the belly about the issue that older evangelicals have had.

Do you think this is true? Why or why not?

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Could be anything from a lack of devotion to the Lord, to PTSD (after all, we have thrown them into battle in their childhood and youth)


From what I've read, younger evangelicals seem to see abortion and homosexuality as two of many issues of roughly equal importance, rather than two major issues.

I think this is so because, in spite of Chuck's best efforts, over time evangelicals have lost the connection between abortion and fidelity. (Catholics, notably, have not.)

As the Enemy knows extremely well, battle fatigue can happen when you have to fight not only in Gaza but also against Jordan, Syria,... Young evangelicals want to do it all, and as admirable as that is, they risk succeeding nowhere.

Rolley Haggard

I agree with Chuck. And I think we need look no further than our own pulpits to discern a major factor that accounts for why we are “flagging in our zeal” over this most-important-of-issues. (BTW, more of my ranting and raving on that over here: http://thepoint.breakpoint.org/2008/07/calling-all-ame.html#comment-143929902 )

In great measure we march to the loudest and most discernible and enduring drumbeat. We fall in step with the worldview that commands the most deference and respectability amongst our evangelical friends and leaders. In short, we give ourselves to that which is most convincingly portrayed to us as God’s highest priority. Is our perception of God’s highest priority the battle to save the unborn? It is not.

Sadly, the zeitgeist, the shared-consensus, the thread of common-consciousness and call to mission that unites and excites and incites most of us to heroic prayer and jack-hammer preaching and the kind of sacrificial action from which legends are spawned is not pro-life activism; it is missions and evangelism and church-planting and other respectable work that, to be sure, must be done, and is to be sure, very high among the great list of kingdom priorities. But these are not to be done to the dilution, neglect, or negation of what is the crying need of the hour. If a neighbor’s house is burning down around him, God’s will, God’s priority, is clear: You risk all to save the precious life.

What has happened to our instincts? Who among us can’t see the holocaust engulfing the unborn? The house is burning down around our neighbor and we consider it “important.”

It is not “important.” It is CRUCIAL. You don’t tell a patient, “it is ‘important’ for you to keep breathing.” If you don’t breathe, you DIE. It is CRUCIAL that we do every lawful thing possible to end abortion (and genocide and other accepted forms of murder). If we don’t, they DIE. And you know what? For all practical purposes, so do we (Revelation 3:1).

Is God’s law written on our hearts or not? Too many of us are preoccupied with “ministry.” The entire law, the whole duty of Christians, is summarized in one word – love. “Ministry”, if it is not the incarnation of love for people, is unlikely to be able to look straight into the eyes of Love Crucified on the Coming Day and survive the realization that to do everything else in life well but fail in this one, all-important point, is to fail in all. Read Matthew 25:31ff again -- “for the first time”.

Let’s quit “straddling both sides of the fence” on this. Where do we stand? The all-revealing test is easy to perform. Just ask, “if it was MY child they were going to put to death, what would I do?”

Preacher, missionary, Christian worker -- if it was YOUR child they were going to put to death under sanction of a perverse and evil law, what would you do?


I think it's true that to a certain extent, younger evangelicals do feel fatigued about the abortion issue. Part of the reason for this is where the energy has been focused.

Too much emphasis has been placed on legality and paper pushing and not on the areas where the most impact can be made, at the source. We can try our best to make abortion illegal on paper but if it increases the number of abortions, what have we really achieved?

The areas that will make the biggest impact are the pregnancy centers and the areas that show the strongest compassion to mothers to be. I think there needs to be shift more toward where the rubber meets the road, and that is where results can be seen. The legal side of the issue should continue, but more emphasis should be placed where results can be seen.

The energy needs to be focused on places where the better impacts can be made. Let's see a shift out of congress and focus it on the source, to the people who need it most.


As a young evangelical (I'm 20, in this comment I use the phrase "young evangelical" to mean people between 20 and 30, college age and new professionals, that's the only age group I'm qualified to talk about) who doesn't have a fire "in my belly" for abortion, it's partially because I suffer abortion fatigue. I'm tired of hearing how it should be the #1 fight in America when it seems like no progress is being made. The enemy seems too big to defeat. We are not making headway in changing the public consciousness on this issue. The scorn and derision that attempts to end abortion are met with is exhausting. There are battles that, while not easier, are ones where quantifiable progress is being made, where we can point to people saved, lives changed, healing brought, dignity restored.

Call it a lack of faith in my ability to contribute to the solution, maybe, but abortion, while important to me, just isn't the biggest thing on my heart. We have to make a more loving, less selfish, society, before we can end abortion, I think. Culture warriors don't seem to know how to make an impact on society anymore in regard to this issue, but we're making headway on others. I like to think it's all connected, that if we move society towards compassion for one group of helpless or defenseless people, it expands to the most helpless of all.

My heart lies with the struggles of the enslaved, and while I care about many issues, that's the one that has the fire in my gut, the one that burns me and threatens to burn me up. Many of my young evangelical friends have a fire in their gut for the poor, or for Africa, or for the hungry. It's not that we're not passionate about something -- just not that. God has given us passions different from our parents' generation.


I'm just about as pro-life as anyone I know, and yet to be honest I find myself astounded, Rolley, that you put forth the abortion fight as a higher priority for us than anything including reaching people for Christ. I actually had to re-read your third paragraph several times, because I was sure I had misread it. Surely, I thought, he didn't just say it was sad that people got so fired up and focused about missions and evangelism, did he? ...yes, yes he did.

Your burning house analogy is apt, but incomplete. The truth is there are children in that house, and they're dying. But the house on the other side of you is burning too, and maybe you can't hear the kids' screams inside but someone else does. And the house across the street is burning too, and the next one down, and the next. And different people hear screaming from different houses; would you have them ignore all that and come to the house closest to you?

Four thousand babies are aborted in the U.S. every day, and that's a horrible reality. But while they are, between four and five thousand more children around the world under 5 years old are also dying simply because they don't have access to, of all things, clean water. Every. Day. 27 million people all over the world, including right here in the good old U.S. of A., are caught up in some kind of modern-day slavery, including children being used in the most vile and twisted ways. 143 million children, all over the world, sit and wonder what it's like to have a mommy and daddy tuck them in at night, except for the thousands who have been turned into soldiers who have been too brainwashed to know any better anymore. Children are dying right now in Gaza, because children have been dying in Southern Israel. Millions die in the backwaters of Africa because they were born on the wrong side of the plain. Millions die under repressive regimes because they spoke up, or asked a question, or looked funny. The world is hell; some places just happen to look more like it than others.

I'm a passionate man, Mr. Haggard, and there are lots of things that get my blood running including abortion. But I also recognize that it's a symptom of a world that's trying to run on its own without God. We can fight to end abortion as hard as we can, and we should, but as long as we're fighting against a culture that glorifies self and rejects God I find it hard to see how we'll ever make real progress.

Time and again throughout the Bible itself atrocities are committed, but God's message is not to just stop being evil. It's to repent and turn to him. Without the proper context of his truth and his love for us, "stop being evil" just doesn't make sense.

And so as passionate as you want to be about abortion and as hard as you want to fight, I'm right there with you, even as I may be equally passionate about other things that are burdens on my heart that may not resonate with you quite as much. But for me it all has to come out of, and be a part of drawing people toward, the love and the sovereignty of my Lord, without whom I would surely be among the worst of offenders.


Personally, I have observed more battle fatigue over abortion in older Christians. I think younger evangelicals are more realistic in that they don't expect major changes to happen quickly. They're OK with just steadily chipping away at abortion with $20 a month to crisis pregnancy centers and state questions that require a waiting period before an abortion. Older evangelicals are the crowd that was doing loud protests outside of abortion clinics 15 years ago. They're all in shock that expending that much emotion hasn't changed anything.

Taking a step back, I think this is kinda a silly question. We all know that God will call each of us to specific things and that God will place certain battles on certain hearts. God cares about the unborn losing their life and He will provide the warriors. Who cares how old they are?


God is unchanging.

You cannot appeal to the subjective to overrule the written.

Rachel Coleman

Do you think abortion horrifies certain groups of people more because they/we grew up in times when the mainstream culture promoted (or at least did not deliberately unravel) innocence, when the delineation between dark and light was clearer? Abortion still shocks me. I wonder if it shocks people younger than 40 as much.

When I was a child, a teen and a young adult, violence and brutality were not constantly depicted on television and other media. Cohabitation was viewed as rebellious and countercultural. Unwed pregnancies were seen as Not Right, events covered with shame -- and now, they're just ... normal. Even in church circles.

I guess what I'm getting at is that life issues are tied to fidelity, as someone pointed out earlier in this dialogue. And in today's world, the younger you are, the less likely you are to find certain sexual behaviors and issues shocking.

My 9-year-old knows about homosexuality, for example, and about divorce, and about unwed mothers, and pornography and even about abortion itself -- all things I was only discovering at age 14 or so. It's not my wish that she be conversant with immorality, but as life throws dirty curveballs, a parent has to constantly decide how to explain sin and inoculate a child for that child's protection.

One unintended result might be a lack of outrage, because sin has ceased to be shocking.

I'm sure that is not the primary reason for a difference in outlook, but it might be one factor.

Gina Dalfonzo

There may be something in that, Rachel. I can speak only for myself, but I had a bad shock the first time I saw a picture of the results of abortion, at age 12 or so, and it's never really worn off. As an "old evangelical" now at 33 (you watch where you're drawing that line, Kari, you young whippersnapper! ;-) ), I don't know how many of the younger ones have had that experience, or in what context, and what their reactions were like.

I do know that as recently as a year or two ago, the data were showing the pro-life movement growing steadily younger, so I'm not sure how that fits in. I hadn't heard whether it was growing smaller as well.

What's new to me is people talking about helping the poor and the slaves and the other oppressed groups as if that and helping the unborn were mutually exclusive. I certainly wasn't taught to think so.

I also wonder if those of us who have spent many years in the movement are so used to the knowledge that it's a war of inches, of holding the line against every foot of ground the Enemy seeks to conquer and pushing him back a little bit at a time, that we forget that holding that line may look to others like we're not getting anything accomplished at all.

Rolley Haggard


Thanks for your thoughtful response. I have not yet found the skill to state with clarity, once and for all, the subtle-but-at-the-same-time-profound difference between what you and I are saying.

Even so – and as a matter of fact, precisely so – we are almost in perfect agreement. Almost.

On what points do we agree? Doubtless the list is endless, but this much has emerged from what you’ve written:

You believe that people being right with God is more important than their physical well-being. So do I.

You believe there are other issues besides abortion that are equally as important as abortion. So do I.

You believe that in spite of our most fervent and concerted efforts to stem evil, nonetheless evil in its many manifestations will continue until the Day of Christ. So do I.

You believe it is legitimate for each of us to be equally passionate about other things besides abortion, including slavery, genocide, war crimes, oppressive regimes, social injustices, child exploitation and on and on.

So do I, dear brother. So do I.

But here’s the difference, both subtle and, to my mind at least, profound:

We evangelicals tend to make “ministry” the summum bonum of Christian service. To put it another way, we make The Great Commission our highest calling. But it is not.

There is a “GREATER Commission”. Jesus called it the First and Great Commandment, and added that “the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:38-40). Paul later paraphrased Christ by declaring “all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Galatians 5:14) He also said, “he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law”, and “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8, 10).

Before you write this off as either academic hair-splitting or liberal pap, consider those instances (and I assume you’ve witnessed them) where otherwise well-meaning true believers (whose sincere and well-intentioned motto is “win the lost at any cost”) have gone off in quest of “another scalp for the Lord” and done more harm than good to the cause of Christ by further alienating people by their aggressive, triumphalistic attempts to cow another convert into the kingdom. My hope is that such blatant and egregious examples are relatively rare. But the thinking underlying that behavior, I fear, is not so rare.

Someone has wryly observed that “Christians don’t have friends, they have ministries.” Equally incisive is the observation that “it is possible to do evangelism without loving, but it is not possible to love without doing evangelism.”

Joel, I’m all for all of us doing all we lawfully can at all times and in all places -- to give all people what they most need. And for that reason I share your conviction that there are other issues besides abortion that we all ought to be equally exercised about.

But in a sense, that was my point. We hear the drumbeat pounded out in pulpits Sunday after Sunday impelling us to “ministry, ministry, ministry”. But more often than not what is intended or heard (or both) is “share the gospel with someone.” And the problem with that is we conclude that as long as we “get the soul saved”, we’ve done our job. But I don’t need to tell you, there’s much more to it than that.

People don’t just HAVE souls, they ARE souls (Genesis 2:7). To whatever extent possible, we’re to save the whole person. And my point was, how little effort – how very little effort - it would take us (the evangelical church), if it were truly a priority with us – if it were really and truly a priority with us -- to do so very much more to meet the desperately real and urgent and dire needs of people who are literally dying as we speak.

We are doing something, but we are not doing everything we can. And the reason we aren’t doing everything we can is not because we are limited in our resources. It is because it is not a priority with us. How hard would it be for every pulpit every Sunday to give one solemn, dramatic minute to decrying the evil of abortion? It wouldn’t be hard at all. But the simple truth is, evangelical Christianity does not see it as that important. It’s an elective, not a requirement; a hobby, not an occupation; a luxury, not a necessity. It’s on the “to do” list down there with better lighting for the church parking lot, and sometimes in second place to that.

I don’t like to oversimplify things to an either/or formula, but for the sake of argument, I’ll do it this one time. If I had to choose between saving a child from drowning or completing my presentation of the gospel to a listener, I’d be in the water faster than you can say ‘John 3:16’. Why? Didn’t we agree a person’s relationship with God is more important than their physical well-being? Yes, we did.

It’s because of two things: One, the urgency of the crisis. After saving the child, I can, presumably, always go back and pick up where I left off in my gospel presentation. But the child can’t wait.

Two, the practicality of the issue. There is no guarantee that my gospel presentation will result in the person’s salvation. But there are excellent odds that the child can be rescued from drowning.

The point I have been trying to make is that God’s highest priority is not “ministry”, but “loving people”, and that in most evangelical’s minds those are not exactly the same thing. If we truly love people – that is, if we see them as infinitely precious – then we who wish to be like our heavenly Father will almost always do the right thing, regardless of the issue. If we would see that our responsibility is not to “win as many people to the Lord as possible” (The Great Commission), but to “love our neighbor as our self” (The Greater Commission, which includes winning people to Christ), then we are much more likely to respond appropriately to any issue because people, not programs, are at the heart of our worldview.

But we will not wake up, we will never have sufficient “fire in our bellies”, if from our pulpits, if in our collective consciousness, if in what we simply take for granted, we do not hear the drumbeat, do not hear the clarion call, to love people above all else and in the very ways their individual circumstances require.

At the Alamo, the defenders had to keep shifting forces, from the north wall to the west wall to the east wall and back, and so forth. The reason was the enemy kept shifting his point of attack, ever seeking the greatest vulnerability. For the defenders to blindly insist that the highest priority was always to defend the north wall would have been folly. You mount your defenses where the attack is most pitched and the risk of loss greatest.

For similar reasons I said and still say, God’s highest priority is the battle to save the unborn. This is where evil is coming over the wall. Our failure to do all we can will place us in league with those who stood by while the Nazis exterminated millions of walking fetuses. That doesn’t mean the enemy isn’t attacking on other fronts, some of which you mentioned and that I freely acknowledge. But again, that’s my point. People – people in absolute dire need -- are all God’s highest priorities. Why aren’t we treating them as such?

To preach the love of Christ (i.e., do “ministry”) while at the same time letting abortion on demand persist and thrive when we could stop it (and yes, I definitely believe we could virtually eliminate it within 5 years) is somewhat contradictory, don’t you think? Faith (in the love of God) without works (demonstrating the love of God) is dead. “Ministry” of this sort is, to borrow James’s words, “worthless” (James 1:27). If we aren’t meeting the enemy where he’s attacking, we’re fighting our own shadows.

All that is needed to change the consciousness of “good people” is to hold before them the truth – relentlessly. If we want to overturn Roe v. Wade -- and better, if we want to change hearts and minds, and convince most of the populace that abortion is murder and that God will not hold those people guiltless who either commit or permit it – then we need to start with ourselves, the church.

And because of the way the church is organized, we need to start at the top. If evangelical leaders really saw the abortion issue as God does, the “silent scream” would be deafening.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

P.S. If you can endure any more from me, there are some related thoughts over here: http://thepoint.breakpoint.org/2008/07/calling-all-ame.html#comment-124889864


Gina, here's an idea arising from the excellent discussion (I hope that's the right word) going on between joel and Rolley. Is it possible that young evangelicals see abortion as an American political problem (some reflection shows it clearly isn't, but bear with me), and therefore rather isolationist? I.e., if we spend our time fighting for an issue that appears (due to politics) to only affect people in the USA, then we're not reaching the whole world for Christ - and that's selfish. To avoid being selfish, we should also attack problems like clean water, or AIDS, in Africa - and so on.

Just a thought that occurred to me.


labrialumn, I am not sure how honoring God's commandments to defend the oppressed, in forms other than the unborn infant, are saying He changes. To me it seems evident that God is at work in the lives of young Evangelicals calling them to minister according to their passions, and so the focus of some their ministries is shifting from primarily combating abortion to other forms of oppression.

I don't think that's saying God condones abortion any more now than He ever did in the past, nor that it is a weakness of "my generation". Human nature naturally gravitates towards battles that feel "winnable"... and I think many of them are as worthy and as scriptural as the appeal to stop the deaths of unborn children.

But LeeQuod brings up an interesting point about the "politicalness" of the abortion debate. I feel as if a serious shortcoming about the approach to ending abortion is that we seem to be fighting a mostly political battle. I have nothing to contribute to a political battle aside my votes (which I do), I'm not a politician or a lawmaker or a lobbyist. Furthermore, I don't think the political battle can be won until we change cultural tolerance of abortion by engaging the imagination and creating a picture of a world where a lack of abortion is desirable. Most people agree abortion is undesirable. But they have a picture that a lack of abortion isn't a better world, all that stuff about unwanted babies making people poor, or becoming criminals, or that being born into a family that "doesn't want you" is a fate worse than death, about how it violates women's rights, so on and so forth...

How do we address the serious issue of a lack of moral imagination in America that uplifts Christian values as desirable and cuts through the veil of lies that this nation has become enchanted with? This is the great struggle that most modern Christian causes faces: it's easy to see how things in this country are not ideal (not just abortion, but also poverty, the incarceration rate, crime, slavery, out of control consumerism, and the all-pervasive anxiety and hopelessness of a world without Christ) but many people have no conception of how God's solution to the problems make a clearly better world. How do we engage culture in a way that restores a rightful moral imagination? Getting more people to have Biblical worldviews would help, certainly, but how?

Rachel Coleman

About the "political" or "selfish American" nature of activism and efforts to stop abortion: Some of the debate seems to me to be due to an ideological divide; one side favors persuasion, the other direct action.

There are parents who spend a lot of time coaxing and attempting to convince a disobedient (very young) child to do the right thing -- to "buy into" the right point of view, after which s/he will, presumably, make better choices.

In my experience, this doesn't work with little kids, even highly intelligent ones. The best case scenario is that they cease wrongdoing, but not out of obedience. They learn to SEEM to obey when their own wishes align with Mom's, or if they are convinced it's worthwhile to cooperate. But their hearts are not changed and the sin will resurface.

That example sums up my frustrations with the approach that favors cultural persuasion, i.e., working for a world in which abortion is not seen as a solution/option/necessity instead of saying, "That's enough!" and putting a stop to the killing of the unborn. Innovative "solutions" to the problems that feed into abortion are not bad per se, but if they skip the step where good and evil are clearly identified, the underlying problems will come back.

I absolutely agree that we need to work toward a new vision, a fresh moral imagination in American culture. That is important work, just as it is important for your children to gain greater understanding of why certain household rules exist and why God says we are not to do some things.

But it's not correct to imagine such efforts could take the place of just plain stopping the evil practice of abortion. God requires our obedience whether or not his ways make sense to us. And he often asks his people to willingly enlist in ventures that humanly viewed, seemed awfully "unwinnable," nothing that would spark a sense of passion.

Noah spent more than 100 years laboring on a project that seemed futile to everyone but his immediate family. Moses didn't want to talk out loud in public. Elisha and Elijah constantly received job assignments they were less than thrilled to undertake. Jonah tried to skip out on his.

And what about Christ? There were many people who needed miracles, healing, help from him, but he did not make it his focus to fix all those very legitimate needs. Did he minister according to his human passion or to his sinless commitment to obey and do what must be done?

I read somewhere years ago that Christians should handle compassion as carefully as they do other passions. Maybe that thought has some application to this discussion?


Well, I have to tell you, I'm quite fond (a little too fond, sometimes) of having a good in-depth, back-and-forth discussion online about things like this, but in this case I just can't bring my self to do it. I'm afraid, Rolley, that I agree with you almost entirely, if not completely so, which makes continued back-and-forth somewhat difficult. ;) If it is ever our pleasure to meet, brother, remind me to buy you a glass of whatever it is you prefer to drink. There is a disconnect in many churches between orthodoxy (right belief or knowledge) and orthopraxy (right action or practice), and all too often we focus on, in essence, trying to get more people on board in the orthodoxy department while neglecting our own orthopraxy. I think part of what James teaches is that they need to be two sides of the same coin -- an active life of faith in service to and reliant on Christ -- but many of us focus on just one or the other rather than the whole package. And your point, I believe, is that when the shortcoming on the practice side involves apathy toward millions of dying children, the error is grave indeed.

On the abortion issue itself, though, I've recently begun to step back and take a bigger-picture look, and I have some concerns. I tend to feel that more often than not there are two victims in any abortion, the baby and the mother who's been fed a pack of lies and now has to live with it. And along comes the church in the vigorous anti-abortion fight and figuratively yells in her face, "you're a MURDERER!!" What I struggle with is how to find the right balance between reaching out to these women, many of whom sit in our pews in silence and pain whenever the issue is addressed from the pulpit, and helping them come to terms with their choices and find healing and restoration moving forward, against the need to be vocal and clear in the culture about the fact that it certainly is murder and must be stopped.

There's another balance missing in our churches, too, and that's the balance between our condemnation on one hand (or simple disdain, to be honest) of young people who are making the bad decisions the culture is pushing them into and on the other hand our openness to help them cope with those decisions instead of making worse ones. In other words, a young girl in a church family just found out she's pregnant, and she knows the looks she's going to get at church, the condemnation, the judgment. Which is easier for an almost psychotically image-focused and pressure-sensitive child (that is, an American teenager) to face: all of that plus carting around a baby and figuring out how the heck this changes her entire life, or taking the easy out that maintains the status quo and only makes her die inside? Conservatives (among whom I generally count myself) loved to pounce on the Obama comment about being "punished with a baby", but how much do we really live the other side of that and encourage our girls to redeem bad decisions by making difficult but better ones instead of pushing them (whether we intend to or not) to take the easy road and make the situation exponentially worse?

And yet, even here I feel there's a danger in going too far in the other direction. Don't be promiscuous, but if you do and get pregnant it's okay. Don't abort, but if you do it's okay. Well no, it's not okay, and yet forgiveness is available and peace and redemption can be found. It's really all about balance. God shows us the perfect balance between his holiness and justice on one hand and his incredible love and forgiveness on the other, and we need to struggle with finding that balance as his church. And I don't see us struggling with it, frankly. I see lots of churches picking one side or the other and a) sending the culture mixed signals and b) throwing stones at each other for being on the wrong side.

Okay, enough of my rambling. For now, at least. ;)

Rolley Haggard


The neat thing is, the day will certainly come in which we have the pleasure of meeting one another. The only question is, will it be here in the Shadowlands, or there, where in the words of Samwise Gamgee, “everything sad comes untrue.” My hope is it will be both places.

As for beverage of choice, “here” it would be A&W draft root beer in a frosted mug.

“There”, it might be something a bit more robust (Matthew 26:29). And owing to the properties of that strange and wonderful place (2 Kings 4:5), a single glass may carry us well into the interminable hours of the night as we discuss the fathomless riches of our inheritance and plan our adventures together for the next few millennia.

So I suggest we go ahead and designate who our driver will be for the trip home. Oops, I forgot. We will already BE home!

Cheers, bro, and a toast to everyone who joins in the good fight of faith to see Love Incarnate vanquish all His enemies.

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