A Measly Handful of Letters

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All,

For the second week in a row, in order to make some timeand space for a #NoQuarterNovember post later today, I am serving up atruncated letters section today. This section should be back to normal next week.Thanks for your understanding.

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Modern Art

I notice three kinds of contemporary artists. They’re not all copying my five-year-old’s refrigerator art (and those who do often have talent but suppress it on purpose), but it’s still a sad scene. There are those who still sweat over blank canvases and twisted hangers to make a philosophical point, not realizing how dated they are; those who use shock, novelty and eclecticism to attempt social commentary, not realizing how dated they will be tomorrow, and those whose artwork is technically proficient, even beautiful, but spiritually sterile. I’m most comfortable with artists in this last group, because even undertones of Eastern mysticism can’t really ruin a well-executed landscape. But all three share a desire to be profound, ironic, relevant. Joy has a way of breaking through a canvas and contemporary art wants to be mute.

Douglas

Douglas, thanks.

Re: Mod Art, and the Dearth — Surely, on some level, our appreciation of art will always be somewhat subjective, right? Artists, even godly, talented ones, will always have different styles, and approaches to doing their art, I think. As the apostle Peter might say, they are stewards of the “varied grace of God,” (4:10) and the outcome of that stewardship will look different along a whole range of factors. For instance, I am a huge fan of Albert Bierstadt’s art, and my mother-in-law (the gem of a woman she is) bought me a framed print of one of his works for my birthday last year. It hangs over my mantle, and I often enjoy its beauty. But my enjoyment of it is really subjective, I think, considering he could perhaps be considered the Thomas Kinkaid of yesteryear (in his use of light, etc). Is my defense of his artwork hanging in my living room me falling into the blurry edges of this dearth of culture? I certainly want to like what God likes, and I want to always glorify Him in all my choices (of art, and poetry, and music), but when does my attempt at building a godly culture in my home simply look different than someone else’s similar attempts? Thanks for all your writing. I certainly appreciate your art and craft of wordsmithy. God bless you, sir.

Scott

Scott, your enjoyment of a painting is certainly subjective. But the standards that make a painting worthy of people enjoying it are not subjective at all.

As a simplification, and expansion of your idea here, a great architect once said: “Look, if you can’t explain this idea to your mother, then it’s not a good idea.” Too many people have not gotten that memo!

Jason

Jason, far too many people have not gotten that memo.

“Well! I’ve often seen a culture without a sneer,” thought Doug, “but a sneer without a culture! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!” (with apologies to Lewis Carroll)

Carson

Carson, you say “with apologies to Lewis Carroll.” But are you really sorry?

Female Genital Mutilation and Circumcision

You mentioned female genital mutilation, what about boys? Would you classify circumcision differently? Why? You are full of opinions, so I thought I would ask. This is also not abstract for me. In addition to my daughter, I have two boys and one more on the way. Any guidance would be greatly appreciated.

BJ

BJ, circumcision is not in the same category at all. We should be able to anticipate that it is not in the same category from the mere fact that it was required of God’s people all through the old covenant. Secondly, if it impairs no function at all, then it can hardly be called “mutilation.” Female genital mutilation” is designed to impair function.

Bro. Doug is mistaken about why this has emerged in the PCA. The source of the problem is the Reformed habit of concocting a huge, overarching interpretative framework which takes precedence over plain statements or examples in the Bible. There’s no other way to justify something like, for example, the limited atonement or infant baptism. Now the exact same procedure is being used to justify the “gay Christian” ideology. To my Presbyterian and Reformed friends, I love you all dearly, but I must say lotsa luck trying to find a way to stop this based on plain statements in the Bible. That won’t happen until the Bible itself becomes more authoritative than any interpretative framework . . . at which point you’ll have a lot more to deal with than just keeping unrepentant gays out of the pulpit.

Steve

Steve, if you loved us all so dearly as that, you shouldn’t say such mean things.

Seriously, I don’t think your explanation works. If the culprit really were systematic theology, then why was the prep work for all these moral downgrades a generation-long disparagement of systematic theology? I have had a lot of experience with students from Christian homes, and I have seen the kind that grew up with catechisms and confessions as compared to the kind who have arrived in our midst all enthused about “biblical theology,” and the “narrative arc” of Scripture. Generally speaking, the difference is that the kids steeped in systematics knew their Bibles a whole lot better than the others.  

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JP Stewart
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JP Stewart

As for Steve’s comment, I don’t know why some credobaptists think their position is so clear in the Bible. They need a bunch of inferences and sometimes extrabiblical sources just to explain away household baptisms. Granted, paedobaptism isn’t perfectly spelled out either–though I’m convinced of it. Neither position is as clear as homosexuality being a sin.

Robert
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Robert

Here is the simple answer. I believe credo baptism is the biblical way because all of our specific examples of baptism are credo. Jesus, Paul, Ethipan Eunuch Lydia for example. There are two examples that MIGHT include non believer baptism which is what poedobaptism is, but there is no specific example of an infant/unbeliever baptism in Scripture.

David Koenig
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David Koenig

Your argument is tautological—when most of the candidates for baptism are professing believers, then of course most of the recorded baptisms will be of believers. That would also be the case if the Sentinelese started becoming Christians, and it was the case in NT times when baptism didn’t exist when all these new believers were born.

JohnM
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JohnM

I don’t see the tautology, but I acknowledge I could be missing it. I think Robert’s point, was that *all*, not most, of the recorded baptisms were of believers,as far as we can with certainty identify. Not sure what you meant by “candidates” for baptism, but one might beg that question either way. I would not never mind examples of what was actually done in scripture, but I wouldn’t rest my case on them. Really the basic question is: What is the point of baptism? What does baptism accomplish and/or signify? How one answers that question would logically determine whether… Read more »

Jane
Member

The reason it’s a tautology is that there were no situations in which the question of baptizing an infant or not, even arose. Everyone who was baptized is an adult because every named person whose baptism was mentioned, discussed, or even suggested, happened to be an adult. What the statement “everyone in the Bible who was baptized was an adult” doesn’t tell us is what would have happened had someone suggested baptizing a covenant child.

JohnM
Guest
JohnM

Thanks Jane.

I think what the statement “everyone in the Bible who was baptized was an adult” *does* tell us is, so far as we are able to know, no one ever did suggest baptizing a covenant child, and to support the case for infant baptism we need something other than any specific examples of baptisms we find in the Bible.

Jane
Member

No, it really doesn’t tell us that. That’s an argument from silence. It might lend weight to the argument, but it doesn’t actually *tell* us that.

I am not saying this is a strong argument for infant baptism, I am just showing why the original assertion is it’s not an airtight argument against it.

JohnM
Guest
JohnM

It is not an argument for silence. I qualified it for a reason. I’m not saying the lack of example tells us no one could have suggested baptizing an infant or that it never happened, I’m saying we have no scriptural example to serve as evidence in support of infant baptism. It matters to the extent, and only to the extent, that we lean on examples of what was done then to argue for what we should do now. If anyone’s whole case rests on whatever can be demonstrated to have been the practice in the New Testament, then there… Read more »

Katecho
Member

JohnM wrote:

I’m saying we have no scriptural example to serve as evidence in support of infant baptism.

Why doesn’t 1 Corinthians 10:2 count as a “scriptural example to serve as evidence in support of infant baptism”?

JohnM
Guest
JohnM

In short, it doesn’t serve as evidence because it is not an example of the same thing. If the intent of the cloud and sea had been baptism, then what of circumcision, and what of the many later generations of Israelites who did not pass through the cloud and through the sea? Even if Paul intended more than a figure of speech, or an analogy, (and I’m not sure he did) to illustrate his warning to the Corinthians, the baptism was into Moses; it is not an example of baptism into the New Covenant.

Katecho
Member

JohnM wrote: In short, it doesn’t serve as evidence because it is not an example of the same thing. Unfortunately, JohnM claimed there was “no scriptural example to serve as evidence in support of infant baptism”. That claim was simply too broad. If he would like to adjust the goal posts a bit to make a more narrow claim, that’s fine, but the original claim doesn’t handle 1 Corinthians 10:2. Whether Paul meant a figure of speech, or an analogy, or some kind of non-New-Covenant infant baptism, nevertheless, Paul is quite comfortable invoking a baptism that included infants. Therefore the… Read more »

Robert
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Robert

I don’t know what tautology is and I don’t really care. This is not an academic debate, This is an issue of obedience. All forms of systematic theology are complex. Christ is simple. Believe and be saved. Be baptized because Jesus told you to. It is your first act of obedience after your saved.

Justin Parris
Member
Justin Parris

Robert, I can appreciate your desire to not have the issue devolve into intellectual trickery, but the issue of following Christ’s commands as laid out in the Bible is not so simple. There are “believers” taking virtually every terrible position imaginable and attributing it to Christ using precisely the same position you do here. How do you differentiate yourself from them? You are a flawed person yes? So doesn’t it stand to reason that your first impression understanding of any given verse is also subject to that fallibility? One could even speculate that it’s borderline self idolatry to think your… Read more »

Robert
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Robert

This is pretty much verbatim from the preacher who led me to the Lord, what he taught. I’ve been in and around Reformed churches for almost thirty years. I learned all the catechisms. I’m familiar with all of the major heresies. What I didn’t know or should I say who I didn’t know was Jesus. I wasn’t saved. An elderly pastor called me out on it about seven years ago. “Robert, you’re not saved. Jesus Christ saves better than that.” It took the Lord three more years to get past the intellectual pharisaism of who I was, to break me… Read more »

Justin Parris
Member
Justin Parris

I don’t disagree with any of this. I didn’t attend church for most of my life in no small part for these reasons. At the same time, this seems suspiciously like a question dodge. Aren’t you capable of error? If you’re capable of error, by extension, your reading of the Bible must also be capable of error right? What do you do as a Christian to account for this?

People come to wildly inaccurate readings of the Bible all the time. How can you ever know you’re not one of them if you aren’t testing your thoughts against anything?

Katecho
Member

Robert wrote: … there is no specific example of an infant/unbeliever baptism in Scripture. Actually, there is: They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. — 1 Corinthians 10:2 Unless Robert wants to suppose that all the infants were abandoned on the Egyptian side of the sea, then all of Israel was baptized into Moses, including infants and toddlers. The precedent is pretty clear, unless one has some ulterior motive. Also, who said anything about unbeliever baptism? If we know that someone is a denier and unbeliever, no one here is arguing that they should… Read more »

JohnM
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JohnM

Katecho, a few questions. The second one is partly rhetorical. Is the infant into the covenant by virtue of physical birth to believing parents, or by the faith of the parents expressed through presenting the infant for baptism, or by the act of baptism carried out? Given “Baptism does not guarantee that the infants (or professing adults, for that matter) will remain in the covenant, ….” and indeed we know many of the baptized do grow up to be deniers and unbelievers, sometimes while remaining in the visible church, what was/is the value of being in the covenant? Is baptism… Read more »

Katecho
Member

JohnM wrote some really good questions: Is the infant into the covenant by virtue of physical birth to believing parents, or by the faith of the parents expressed through presenting the infant for baptism, or by the act of baptism carried out? The formermost. The child of even one believing parent is born in covenant relationship to God, even if they are withheld from baptism. Even baptistic parents know this instinctively, which is why they naturally raise their children, teaching them to petition and give thanks to God, as though He was their Father. Recall that God entered into covenant… Read more »

JohnM
Guest
JohnM

Thanks Katecho.

demosthenes1d
Member

Katecho,

Really quality post, well done.

Another potential metaphor is that of adoption. You are adopted into a new family not on the basis of some work that you have completed, but based on a calling from that family. The change in status is immediate and objective, but the consequences of that work out over time (new mom doesnt immediately feel like mom or interact naturally as mom).

Robert
Guest
Robert

Jesus said believe and be baptized. Just for the sake of argument, though, Hebrews 3:16-19 is what reinforces my position. Was it not all who came out of Egypt whose bones were scattered? Everyone’s bones weren’t scattered. The thing is, the only way this fits is if only the adults are considered. All the Hebrews under 20 years came through the Red Sea. They are not discussed in Hebrews. They same argument can be applied in Corinthians.

Katecho
Member

Robert wrote: Was it not all who came out of Egypt whose bones were scattered? Everyone’s bones weren’t scattered. The thing is, the only way this fits is if only the adults are considered. Robert seems to be misunderstanding Hebrews 3:16-19. Robert is attempting to argue that if God didn’t instantly destroy every last Israelite in the wilderness, to the last infant, then “all didn’t mean all, it just meant the adults, and we can safely ignore the ‘all’ in 1 Cor 10:2”. Unfortunately, Robert seems to be overlooking that the replacement of one generation by another was a forty-year-long… Read more »

Robert
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Robert

There is no misdirection or trickery. I am a credo baptist. I believe Jesus said to believe and be baptized. I have answered the basic reasons for this. I’ll explain why I believe what I believe, but I won’t get into arguments over it. Scripture demands not doing this in the current circumstance. When the other Christian gets to the point of insults, it doesn’t matter which issue you are discussing. The person lobbing the insults is in sin. To further any discussion will only put me in sin. I do not care to do that. This is what God… Read more »

Katecho
Member

I’ll simply note that Robert was unable to explain the baptism of infants described in 1 Corinthians 10:2.

JP Stewart
Member
JP Stewart

Your “simple answer” also has to deal with the 5 household baptisms in the Bible. I’ve seen credobaptists try to explain how zero children were in any of the 5 households, but their answers are neither simple or clear from the text. That was my point. This isn’t nearly as obvious as the sin of homosexuality, which is made clear in both the OT and NT.

https://www.opc.org/feature.html?feature_id=216
http://ww1.antiochian.org/content/infant-baptism-what-church-believes

Vva70
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Vva70

It’s often easy to see the “overarching interpretive frameworks” of others, while viewing your own overarching interpretive frameworks as “plain statements or examples.” Here are some “plain statements” that I believe my baptistic brothers need to use “interpretive frameworks” to address: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” “On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb… Read more »

Justin Parris
Member
Justin Parris

Children’s baptism isn’t the same as infant baptism. As someone who’s never been in favor of infant baptism (though I am currently examining this position), most of these don’t generally get you far, as they don’t contradict my current position. I believe in consent to baptism, not informed or intelligent consent. I’m fine with my 2 year old saying she wants to get baptized while not understanding what that means. This satisfies the criteria of most of your references.

Do these represent the most direct and specific verses in support of this position?

Vva70
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Vva70

Those statements are not the starting point for where I would begin to argue infant baptism, no.(Though that’s not to say they’re irrelevant.) My point here was rather to observe that Steve was, likely unintentionally, applying a double standard based on what seemed simple to him.

A real defense of infant baptism (which I don’t claim to be the most capable of elucidating) begins with understanding the boundaries of the covenant, of which baptism is a sign.

JohnM
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JohnM

“I believe in consent to baptism, not informed or intelligent consent.”

Huh?

Justin Parris
Member
Justin Parris

I would have done better to phrase myself thusly:

“I believe in a requirement to consent to baptism. I don’t believe being highly informed or having intellectual insight is necessary to form the requisite consent”.

Many of his verses cite “children”. Children are not necessarily infants, and do not introduce the elements in the equation that are actually under contention. Children can express a specific choice on the issue. Babies can’t. So using these verses to try and convince someone opposed to paedobaptism isn’t very helpful because they don’t address the issues that are actually in disagreement.

JohnM
Guest
JohnM

Makes sense now. I understand your point in response to verses citing children.

I understand a covenant family/circumcision analog view of baptism, that militates toward infant baptism, whether I agree with it or not. I understand the removal of original sin/salvific argument for infant baptism, though I definitely disagree. What understanding of baptism do you have such that you are fine with your 2 year old saying she wants to get baptized while not understanding what that means?

Katecho
Member

Justin Parris wrote: Children are not necessarily infants, and do not introduce the elements in the equation that are actually under contention. Children can express a specific choice on the issue. Babies can’t. One could argue that a family baptism may or may not have included infants in a particular instance, but that argument is much harder to make in this passage: They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. — 1 Corinthians 10:2 Unless one holds that all infants were abandoned on the Egyptian side of the sea, this is a description that necessitates… Read more »

Farinata
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Farinata

Your example begs the question by a too-tidy conflation between the Mosaic covenant – that into which “they were all baptized” in 1 Cor. 10:2 – and the New Covenant. No-body disagrees that every Israelite was a member of the covenant people by blood – that’s pretty explicit in the Law. There was no hint of any spiritual precondition for circumcision. But the point at issue is whether membership in the New Covenant community works the same way.

Katecho
Member

Farinata wrote: Your example begs the question by a too-tidy conflation between the Mosaic covenant – that into which “they were all baptized” in 1 Cor. 10:2 – and the New Covenant. Not at all. My appeal is no more a conflation of covenants than Paul’s was when he appealed to the baptism and applied the lesson straight across to the New Covenant people. Paul is emphatic that: Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. — 1 Cor 10:11 Paul is drawing… Read more »

Farinata
Guest
Farinata

Katecho, you said “Paul doesn’t seem to agree with Farinata’s simplistic fleshly lineage, spiritually-agnostic view of the old covenant at all. ” I made no remark one way or the other about whether the old covenant was spiritually agnostic. You’re putting words in my mouth. What I said was there was that there no spiritual precondition for circumcision. Nobody in ancient Israel was a credo-circumcisionist – that doesn’t even make sense. Rare exceptions aside, a boy was circumcised simply because he was physically a son of Israel. That is what I said, and it remains true. Of course a circumcised… Read more »

Katecho
Member

Farinata wrote: I made no remark one way or the other about whether the old covenant was spiritually agnostic. You’re putting words in my mouth. What I said was there was that there no spiritual precondition for circumcision. In the context of circumcision, Farinata’s position is that the old covenant was spiritually agnostic about the recipient (no “spiritual precondition”). That’s the context of my statement. I don’t mean to imply that Farinata thinks the entire old covenant was spiritually agnostic in every possible sense, but specifically in regard to circumcision. According to Farinata, with respect to circumcision, the only thing… Read more »

demosthenes1d
Member

Justin,

It should be noted that in Luke 18:15 people were bringing their babies (brephos) to Jesus, this means infant- very young baby. The disciples were uncomfortable with this and rebuked those bringing the babies. Jesus then says “Let the little children (paidia- which can mean anything from infant through a half grown kid) come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

If you accept this as informing our baptism practices you would have to count it toward the baptism of infants.

Farinata
Guest
Farinata

You can’t lean that heavily on the Greek – as in English, “baby” is not a mathematical symbol with only one standard interpretation. I myself have a pair of two-year-olds whom I frequently refer to as “the babies”. Justin’s point is that Luke doesn’t explicitly say “children too young to have the first idea what is going on.”

demosthenes1d
Member

Farinata,

I would be the first to agree that words can be used in a variety of ways, even within narrow contexts. However, it seems that brephos is a term with a narrow semantic range of unborn child or newborn child. Luke is the author of 6 of its 8 uses in the NT, 2 are unambiguously about preborn John, 2 are unambiguously newborn (swaddled) Jesus, one is about the exposure of newborns required by Pharoah, and one is the passage in question.

Is there reason to believe the word is being used more broadly?

Farinata
Guest
Farinata

The reason is that the argumentum ad dictionarium is an exegetical fallacy. A lexicon doesn’t parse terms with that precision, because it cannot- that isn’t the way that natural language works. I don’t think you are necessarily mistaken about how old the little bambini in question were. But lexical evidence doesn’t prove that in any sense – it’s the wrong tool for the job. Even if we allow that brephos means “baby or infant” across the board, you can’t know for sure whether that usage is intended precisely or loosely in this case. Writers don’t always use words the same… Read more »

demosthenes1d
Member

Farinata, I think you are proving way too much here. First off, I agree with you that words can be used differently, that they can have large semantic ranges and that authors can use them in idiosyncratic ways. However, in order to parse the meaning of any passage we much accept that words have meanings which can be determined from the constellation of their uses and their immediate and broad context. Following the reasoning you are providing I could dispute any reading at any time by saying that you can’t be so sure about the meaning of the component words.… Read more »

Farinata
Guest
Farinata

I agree that the dictionary isn’t useless. It provides parameters – a brephos may be a new-born or a foetus or a young child; it cannot be a grandfather or a parakeet. All I am pointing out is that it cannot settle questions like “how many years old were the kids in Luke 18?”, because a construction capable of settling that definitively would read “and they were bringing to him children, aged 2 days to fourteen months inclusive”. It would be legal, not natural language, because natural language, unlike legal or philosophical terms of art, isn’t meant to be so… Read more »

demosthenes1d
Member

Farinata, I’m glad we agree on the use of language and definition. I have no idea what your particular views on baptism are, but many credobaptists would have a problem accepting a profession from any kid reasonably described as Brephos… also note that in the passages the parents were bringing their babies for christ to lay hands on. These babes may have been gesturing toward Christ with their tiny little arms… but the most natural reading is that parents were bringing their children to Christ on the basis of their own faith and hope. I understand your point about John… Read more »

Katecho
Member

demosthenes1d wrote: Some hold that tiny infants are baptised on the basis of their paedofaith which we must believe is present, but I see no need to speculate on the topic. Agreed. I’m happy to grant that infants could manifest evidence of faith, but that is by no means a condition for infant baptism, and not relevant to why children of believers ought to be baptized. If we go too far down the paedofaith road, we just concede the point to baptists that everyone, whether adult or infant, must be a free-agent for themselves, without representatives in faith. There is… Read more »

Justin Parris
Member
Justin Parris

Coming back after an absence long enough to be complicated to jump back in, I would be very interested, Katecho, in what you have in mind for “Scriptural evidence” that negates the relevance of free agency. As I said , I’m currently in the process of examining my inclinations on baptism, as they’re the result of a combination of how I was raised, and a logical conclusion from how I see God interacting with free will, rather than deriving from factual Scripture. I have been meaning to get around to reading Doug’s book on the issue, but time has not… Read more »

Jane
Member

Justin, go back one verse. Notice that the context of Jesus’ words was the parents having brought the children, so logically the disciples were expressing annoyance at the parents’ actions, and Jesus’ response condoned the parents’ actions. In fact the antecedent to the “them” that the disciples rebuked seems more likely to be “the people” than the children, particularly if you want to emphasize the children’s passivity. Besides, that, there are a couple of reasons “let” doesn’t have to mean “allow them only on their own volition,” and that you can’t hang too much weight of independent agency on the… Read more »

Katecho
Member

Justin Parris wrote: I would be very interested, Katecho, in what you have in mind for “Scriptural evidence” that negates the relevance of free agency. First, I’d want to be clear that I’m not opposed to volition, or agency, or freedom, as such. I affirm all of those. However, I used the term “free-agent” in the sense that one refuses to have any representation. Think of the contrast between “pure democracy” and representative government. If we are going to accept that Christ can represent us in righteousness, then we must first accept that Adam represented us in unrighteousness. Noah, as… Read more »

JP Stewart
Member
JP Stewart

Going back to Steve’s comment once again, the Anabaptists had no complex “interpretative frameworks” that I’m aware of. They had “simple” interpretations of baptism and other doctrines, yet some of them committed gross immorality. So there’s certainly more at play here. I think DW touched on some of it in his reply.