Way Forward Commission Discusses Interagency Cooperation, Structure, Next Steps

(By Leslie Scanlon, Presbyterian Outlook). Members of the Way Forward Commission are beginning to turn their thoughts to what sort of changes the commission might recommend for the Presbyterian Church (USA) – not discussing any specifics yet, but considering whether the commission might be ready to start moving in that direction when it meets next at McCormick Theological Seminary May 15-17.

Commission members agreed to think in the next few weeks about what Mark Hostetter, a teaching elder from New York and the commission’s moderator, described as “common elements” they would want included in a denominational structure based on the research they have done so far; the feedback they’ve received about what Presbyterians at the grass roots want; and their theological sense of what a church is called to be.

Commission member Jo Stewart, a ruling elder from North Carolina, put it this way: commission members should consider, in very broad terms, “if nothing existed today, what would you build?”

The commission met via video conference call April 18, discussing both its progress so far and next steps. Here are some highlights.

Limits to the Commission’s Power

The commission met for about 40 minutes in closed session with J. Herbert Nelson, the PCUSA’s stated clerk, giving as the reason for closing the meeting a discussion of personnel matters. When the meeting resumed again in open session, Hostetter said Nelson earlier had provided a written advisory opinion to a question asking him to clarify the commission’s powers.

In that opinion, Nelson wrote that the action of the 2016 General Assembly creating the commission “did limit the powers of the Commission” so that “recommendations for any missional and structural changes will be brought to the 223rd General Assembly” in 2018. (Read the full Advisory Opinion.)

Nelson’s opinion also states that recommendations from the commission involving “any amendments, replacement or setting aside of the Standing Rules of the General Assembly or the Book of Order necessary to accomplish its vision” would need approval from the 2018 General Assembly as well.

So “there is an edge to our power,” Hostetter said – meaning a limit to what the commission can do on its own.


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Memorial Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) Faithful Hope for Resurrection after Fire Burns Church

(By Rick Kauffman, Daily Times News, PA). Devoted members of the Memorial Presbyterian Church watched helplessly Monday morning as their beloved place of worship erupted in flames.

Along 3217 Chichester Ave. in Boothwyn, ladder trucks took to the skies as brave firefighters plunged into the church as black smoke poured from the shattered gothic-style arched windows that adorn the facade of the 130-year-old structure.

Pastor Robert Kaufman was in disbelief when he got a call at 8:36 a.m., saying, “Your church is on fire.”

“As I was coming here I was thinking about how we spent a week discussing the trials and troubles that Jesus went through,” Kaufman said. “Yesterday we celebrated the resurrection.”

Luckily no one was inside at the time of the fire.

Kaufman said he’ll once again be praying for a resurrection, but now in particular for the church which congregation just celebrated Easter Sunday.

“It was a reminder that the church may be in disrepair, maybe totally, we don’t know yet, but one thing we do know is that it will be resurrected,” Kaufman said.


Related article: Memorial Presbyterian Church fire under investigation

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First Presbyterian Church (PCA) Seeks Healing, Redemption for Sins Committed During Civil Rights Era

(By Kelsey Davis, Montgomery Advertiser; Alabama.) A black woman walked into First Presbyterian Church in the early 1970s, taking a seat midway up the pews. As soon as she sat down, a white woman stood up and left.

“She was not going to sit through that service with a black person sitting in the church,” Dan Reid, now 59, remembers from his youth. “I was ashamed of that white lady, to be honest with you. Ashamed of the prejudice she showed.” His father was a deacon of the once bustling congregation.

That instance was symptomatic of an attitude that plagued the church since at least 1956, when it adopted a motion decreeing, “no member of the Negro race (will) be received as a member of our Church or seated in the sanctuary for regular worship.”

People referred to it as “that church that wouldn’t let black people in.”

The one that stationed deacons outside its doors on Sundays and turned away African-Americans who wanted to worship there.

That in 1961 did nothing when violent protests of the Freedom Riders spilled into its parking lot next to the Greyhound Bus Station. Young men and women, both black and white, had boarded a bus that would stop in Montgomery in an effort to show the nation that the South still was not accepting desegregated transportation, despite what had been ordered by the courts. When they arrived, they were severely beaten.

“When that riot happened,(First Presbyterian Church) was literally right next to it. That church should have been open, and the membership of that church should have been trying to reason with the crowd to calm down. At the very least should have been providing sanctuary protection to the Freedom Riders,” said Reed DePace, pastor of First Presbyterian.

The proclamation, the sins of omission, the decades of blatant racism took a toll on the congregation.

Membership dwindled from the thousands to its current membership of 50. In 2000, when membership was around 160, First Presbyterian sold its downtown location to First Baptist, and moved east to Chantilly in Pike Road. First Baptist now uses the building to house Hope Inspired Ministries.

Where roughly 600 people once would show up for services on any given Sunday in the 60s, it is now down 30 whom regularly attend church.

DePace sees the church’s decline in membership as a direct result of the sins of their forefathers’ prejudice, a manifestation of their spiritual inheritance.

Because of this, and because they’re sorry for what happened, the congregation of First Presbyterian Church [PCA] has spent the better part of the past two years confronting that past, learning why they should repent of it and hoping for new life in light of it.


Read First Presbyterian Church’s “Our Repentance and Restoration”

Read the church’s Resolution of Repentance

View the church’s 2014 PowerPoint presentation

Visit the church web site

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Presbytery Demands $120,000 from 35-Member Church While Deciding How to Spend $1.5 Million Settlement

A 35-member church has agreed to pay Mission Presbytery $120,000 so that it could be dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The First Presbyterian Church of Ingram, Texas and pastor Rev. Raymond M. Tear were dismissed to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, after the presbytery approved the settlement agreement at its March 3-4 meeting.

According to an article in the local newspaper, church leaders said “that it has been a long process to reach this point, but now has the congregation situated to not only continue its various ministries, but to be part of a growing denomination with which the congregation’s theological views are much more compatible.”

At the meeting, the Stated Clerk reported that two other churches are participating in the presbytery’s Gracious Separation Process. Both, the 45-member First Presbyterian, San Saba, and the 180-member First Presbyterian, Corpus Christi are in the resolution phase of the dismissal process.

How to Spend $1.5 Million

At the same meeting, commissioners received a report on how the Mission Presbytery would use the $1.5 million settlement it received from First Presbyterian Church, San Antonio, which included investing $606,598 in the Texas Presbyterian Foundation for a “Better Together Fund.”

On Jan. 31, 2016, First-San Antonio voted to approve the settlement with Mission Presbytery to end a civil lawsuit between the two entities. The church had disaffiliated with the PCUSA on Nov. 1, 2015, and then in May, filed a petition in civil court asking it to declare whether the trust clause in the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s constitution was valid under Texas law and if it had any legal effect on the church’s property.

The settlement ended the lawsuit and allowed the church to retain sole use, control and ownership of its name and property.

According to the report, the total settlement agreement was $1,525,000. Of that amount, $114,802 was used to pay legal expenses, and $100,000 was used to balance the 2016 operating expenses budget.

The presbytery also made a one-time grant of $125,000 to John Knox Ranch Summer Camp, a Christian camp on the Blanco River in Wimberley, Texas, to help rebuild a dining hall destroyed by the 2015 Memorial Day floods. The grant part of the settlement agreement with First-San Antonio. The church matched the contribution for a combined gift of $250,000 to the camp.

The balance of the settlement – $1,185,198 – will be disbursed as follows:

To partner agencies:

  • $30,000 – General Assembly, Unrestricted
  • $30,000 – Synod of the Sun, Unrestricted
  • $24,000 – Austin College, Campus Ministry
  • $24,000 – Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Unrestricted
  • $24,000 – Mo Ranch Camp and Conference Center, Unrestricted
  • $24,000 – Pan American School, Campus Ministry
  • $24,000 – Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services, Unrestricted
  • $24,000 – Schreiner University, Campus Ministry
  • $24,000 – Trinity University, Campus Ministry

To presbytery committees and regions:

Establish and equip congregations and sessions to carry out their missions:

  • Church Development and Evangelism, $119,000
  • General Council, $1,200
  • Each Geographic Region, $2,000 (Austin, Corpus Christi, Hill Country, San Antonio, Valley, and Victoria – totaling $12,000)
  • Nominations Committee, $1,200
  • Personnel Committee, $1,200
  • Technology Task Force, $48,000

Recruit, receive, ordain, develop and care for those called to serve in the church:

  • Committee on Ministry, $12,000
  • Committee on Preparation for Ministry, $12,000
  • Committee on Representation, $1,200
  • Education and Congregational Nurture Committee, $30,000
  • Pastoral Care Committee, $12,000

Enable mission and witness to the Gospel that congregations cannot accomplish alone:

  • John Knox Ranch, $36,000
  • Mission Outreach and Justice Committee, $36,000
  • Presbyterian Women Coordinating Team, $12,000
  • Youth Connections Committee, $12,000

Steward our resources faithfully and generously:

  • Fiscal Oversight Committee, $1,200
  • HM King Memorial Fund Trustees, $1,200
  • Stewardship Committee, $1,200
  • Trustees, $1,200

The remaining $606,598 will be invested into the Texas Presbyterian Foundation and named the “Better Together Fund.” The fund will be used to further the presbytery’s mission and will be overseen by its General Council. Presbytery committees, groups and congregations will be able to request funding from the account.

In past dismissals approved by Mission Presbytery:

  • Edna Presbyterian Church of Edna, TX, had to pay $80,108.60 to be dismissed with property to the EPC.
  • Faith Presbyterian Church in Brownsville, TX was required to give 10 percent of the proceeds of the sale of church’s property to be dismissed to the EPC
  • El Principe de Paz, in Merceds TX, Iglesia Presbiteriana Getsemani in San Benito, TX, and San Pablo in Brownsville, TX, all voted to leave the denomination and renounced jurisdiction of the PCUSA in early 2012. Mission Presbytery evicted all three from their property instructing the churches to turn in their church keys “no later than Friday, February 16, 2012.”
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Resurrection of Dilapidated Farmhouse Serves as Symbol of Rebirth for Oldest Congregation in Leawood

(By Jay Senter, Shawnee Mission Post, Kansas). The old farmhouse wasn’t in great shape.

With a sagging roof and aging innards, the 1930s structure seemed fated for a bulldozer, an attractive target for a teardown-rebuild project given its setting on a two-acre lot in north Leawood.

Instead, the “Mustard Seed House,” as its proprietors have now dubbed it in reference to a biblical parable, has become the symbol of rebirth for a northeast Johnson County church that was on the verge of closing just a few years earlier.

At the start of 2009, both Ryan Kapple and Curt and Rachel Petersen were still near the start of new chapters in their lives. The Petersen’s had just moved back to Johnson County, where Curt grew up, from D.C., where he had been practicing law the past few years. Kapple had taken over as the senior pastor of Leawood Presbyterian, the oldest church in the city, in late 2007.

Curt credited Kapple with setting him on a path to success back in his high school days, when Kapple was the youth pastor at Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Mo.

“That’s kind of where my life was changed,” Petersen said. “To this day, he’s had more impact on my life than anybody.”

When the Petersens relocated to Johnson County, Curt and Rachel were eager to reconnect with Kapple. They started attending services at Leawood Presbyterian [Presbyterian Church (USA)] — where the pews were sparsely populated. Prior to Kapple’s arrival, Leawood Presbyterian’s congregation had dwindled to just a handful of members. The pastor set about trying to inject new life and energy into the church, but with so few congregants, finances were tight.

So when Curt heard that the owner of the house directly to the west of the church on 83rd Street was interested in selling, it presented a conundrum: The strategic value of the property to a church without a parsonage or much meeting space was difficult to overstate, but the price tag was daunting for such a small congregation to take on.

“Two acres in Leawood next to the church? I went nuts,” Curt said. “I said, ‘We’ve got to find a way to buy this.’”


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Updated: Kentucky PCUSA Congregation Being Kicked Out of Church Building After Rift Over Marriage Definition

(By Samuel Smith, The Christian Post). A congregation in Kentucky could soon be evicted from its church building by its regional Presbyterian Church (USA) governing body after the congregation voiced disapproval with the denomination’s decision to recognize and allow gay marriage.

The Presbytery of Western Kentucky has given First Presbyterian Church of Calvert City until April 19 to vacate its church building.

Paul Ambler, clerk of session and husband of the church’s pastor, told The Christian Post on Tuesday that the congregation received a notice to vacate the building, which is owned by the presbytery, last week.

The notice, sent on behalf of the presbytery by a local lawyer, comes after the small congregation voted in July 2015 to pursue and negotiate with the presbytery for a gracious dismissal from the PCUSA because they disagreed with an amendment adopted by the denomination in March 2015 defining marriage as a “commitment between two people.”

“We voted on July 26, 2015, and there [were] two members of presbytery there,” Ambler explained. “They told us in that meeting that there were three congregations [that] had already gone through the gracious dismissal process within the presbytery. So, we would actually be the fourth.”

“We were going back and forth for quite a while,” he continued. “We would actually like to take possession of the building and give them money, basically a buy-back agreement. We were negotiating back and forth with presbytery representatives.”

Although Ambler said the congregation never formally submitted a request to be dismissed from the PCUSA, the congregation was informed last November that the presbytery had officially dismissed it from the denomination.

From November until last week when it received the notification to vacate its building on Evergreen Street, the congregation was acting on the assumption that it was going to be allowed to stay in the church building, Ambler said.


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Wife of Imprisoned American Pastor Andrew Brunson Receives Personal Letter from Vice President Pence

(By CeCe Hal, American Center for Law and Justice). On the heels of Pastor Andrew Brunson’s wife personal meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson concerning the wrongful imprisonment of her husband, she received a personal letter from Vice President Pence assuring that “Andrew’s case remains a top priority of the U.S. government….”

In the letter, Vice President Pence wrote, “I can assure you both that the State Department and this White House, under President Trump’s leadership, consider Andrew’s release and reunification with you and your three children extremely important.”

Among other things, Vice President Pence stated he has taken a “deep, personal interest” in Pastor Andrew’s freedom and that he will continue to and has “personally discussed [Pastor Andrew’s] detention with senior Turkish officials.”

With last week marking six months that Pastor Brunson has been unjustly held in Turkey, this assurance by the United States’ government that his case is a priority is very encouraging.  Especially, as the case may be finally moving forward.

Pastor Andrew languishes in a Turkish prison, falsely charged with national security related charges – a common charge leveled to persecute Christians. After 23 years of peacefully and faithfully serving the people of Turkey with no incident, this Christian Pastor has now been wrongfully imprisoned for more than six months, separated from his wife and children, with no evidence having been presented against him.

We are very grateful for Vice President Pence’s concern and encouragement and will continue to aggressively advocate across the globe for the immediate release of Pastor Andrew.  Please join our efforts by signing and sharing our petition demanding the same.

Visit the web page.

Listen to Carmen’s interview on The Reconnect with Senator James Lankford (R-OK), which includes discussion of Andrew Brunson.

Visit the Evangelical Presbyterian Church web site for more information/resources.

Related article: Sister of American Pastor Jailed in Turkey: ‘We Believe God is with Him’

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Some Thoughts about Jesus, His Death and Traci Smith’s Posting

(By Viola Larson, Naming His Grace blog). Traci Smith, a Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor, who several weeks ago complained that the Reverend Tim Keller should not receive a theological award because of his beliefs about ordaining women and members of the LGBTQ community, is now making some rather confusing remarks about the atonement provided by our Lord Jesus Christ.  

Smith’s posting,Protect Children from the Violence of the Cross and What to Do Instead During Holy Week,” broadens her perspective about Keller’s theology and all evangelical/orthodox Reformed theology. No, she doesn’t mention Keller here but the reader begins to see two faiths emerging in her writings—one is progressive, the other orthodox—and Smith seems to be pushing away from the faith that is orthodox.

In an essay meant to help parents and leaders dealing with children during Easter and Lent, Smith, insists that the cross and suffering of Christ and what that means, put in what she calls a simplistic manner, can frighten and offend children. She writes:

“When we reduce the crucifixion story to a simple soundbite digestible for young children, we are actually presenting complex atonement theories that will shape their theologies their whole lives long. “Jesus paid the price for our sin.” (ransom) “Jesus saved us because we couldn’t save ourselves.” (penal substitution). “Jesus conquered death to set us free” (christus victor). … When we look closely at each of these theories, however, we realize that it’s not quite so simple. Did God really send God’s only son to be tortured and killed because God demands payment for sin? That does not sound loving. Did God simply not have the ability to rescue Jesus and spare him from all of that pain? If so, God must be very weak.”

And toward the end of her posting, Smith suggests that her readers “re-evaluate” their theology of the atonement. She asks “Did God kill Jesus?” and answers, “I don’t think so.”

Well no, some of the Jewish leaders, the Roman leaders in Jerusalem and all of us because of our sin killed Jesus. But, yes, his death was necessary.  Smith’s question and answer is simplistic in the extreme.


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PCUSA Partners Respond to Palm Sunday Terror Attacks in Egypt

Synod of the Nile Moderator declares ‘unity and solidarity with the Coptic Orthodox Church’

(By Michael Parker, Special to the Presbyterian News Service). CAIRO, Egypt – Two Coptic Orthodox churches were the subject of suicide bombings on Palm Sunday, April 9, killing 44 and wounding 126. The first attack occurred at St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Tanta, about 50 miles north of Cairo. The second occurred at St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast. Sometime after the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attacks, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi responded by declaring a three-month state of emergency.

At the church in Tanta, the bomber managed to elude security and enter the church. He blew himself up near the altar, killing 27 and injuring 78. Two hours later, the second attack occurred in Alexandria at the cathedral, where Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros had recently departed. The suicide bomber attempted to bypass the metal detector at the gate to the church but security stopped him. When they asked him to proceed through the sensor, he set off the bomb that lay beneath his jacket, killing 17 and injuring 48.

Security officials later also found bombs planted at the Sidi Abdel Rahim Mosque in Tanta and at the Collège St. Marc, an all-male French Roman Catholic school in Alexandria.

In response to a reporter’s question Dr. Andrea Zaki, President of the Protestant Council of Egypt, explained, “The terrorist are trying to hit Egypt, but we are maintaining unity and solidarity in our country and nothing will stop us from standing [in loyalty] with our nation.” He then observed that the Evangelical Presbyterian Church had opened the American Hospital in Tanta to the government for the care of the wounded.

Reda Adly, Moderator of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Egypt, commonly known as the Synod of the Nile, spoke on behalf of his church through social media, writing, “I declare our unity and solidarity with the Coptic Orthodox Church, in Egypt and the world. I ask from my colleagues and pastors to once again carry the message and meaning of the cross, love and forgiveness.”

Dr. Atef Gendy, president of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, believes that Islamic terrorist are attempting to undermine President Sisi as he seeks to bring stability and order to the country. Sisi, he explained, is on the horns of a dilemma: “If he cracks down on terrorists, he is seen in the West as threatening human rights; but if he does not respond vigorously, he is seen as not protecting the vulnerable Christian minority.”

The bombing occurred a week after Sisi met with President Donald Trump on Monday, April 3. Trump greeted him warmly, commending his efforts to defend against terrorism. The bombings also occurred two weeks before Roman Catholic Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Egypt. Gendy reflects that the bombings were probably timed to embarrass the Egyptian president.

“The terrorist,” Gendy suggests, “may have wanted to frighten Pope Francis into not coming as planned. His failure to come would be a statement that Sisi is not able to provide adequate security for the pontiff or that he does not trust the government to protect him.”

A Christian missionary, who asked to remain anonymous, reflected that the Islamic State has “warmed of further attacks on ‘the crusaders and their apostate followers.’” Terrorists recognize, he opined, that “Christian communities are soft targets” and that attacks on them are more likely to be noticed in the West than attacks on Muslims. In effect, they are an easy way to undermine the current government.

About 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 90 million people is Christians. Most of these are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The largest Protestant denomination is the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a denomination launched by American Presbyterian missionaries in 1854 that retains close ties with the PCUSA.


Michael Parker is director of graduate studies and professor of church history at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo.

View the article on the Presbyterian News Service web site.

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Christ’s Crucifixion Demands We Experience It in Our Hearts and Minds, So That We Know The Price He Paid

(Editor’s Note: This article originally was posted in 2004.  The Father’s love and the Father’s sacrifice of His one and only Son is a pain well known to the author of this article. Nine years ago today Alex Metherell’s son, Mark, was killed when a roadside bomb exploded in Baghdad, Iraq. Metherell was a former Navy Seal and was serving in Iraq to train Iraqi forces to defend their own country. He was described by neighbors as friends as a gentleman, a godly and loving husband, and a true hero. But to Pam and Alex Metherell, he was their only son. As you read Alex’s scholarly medical article about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, read it this week knowing that this sacrifice is real. God really gave up His own Son sacrificially on our account. And that reality changes not only the history of the world but the reality of death’s power over us today. Mark Metherell’s life verse was Romans 8:38, “All things work together for Good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Indeed, Mark lived a life worthy of the calling to which he was called and we pray today for his family and friends who remember today differently than all others.)

By Alex F. Metherell, MD, PhD

Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ” has generated more controversy in the media than any movie in recent memory. One of the main criticisms has been that the violence the movie depicts is excessive. The fact is that neither the flogging nor the crucifixion as shown was as bad or as violent as the actual event – as I will explain later.

I became interested in the medical and engineering aspects of the crucifixion when, as a relatively new believer, I attended medical school at the University of Miami in Florida in 1974-1976. I already had my engineering doctorate so my medical training made it fairly simple to work out the physiology of whole process, which was confirmed later in the JAMA paper published by W. D. Edwards, et. al. in 1986. The engineering load analysis, when added to the physiological information, will make it obvious why the Roman form of crucifixion is the most horrible, cruel, painful and humiliating form of execution ever devised.

I could describe it all in antiseptic impersonal terms removed from the actual event, which would make it easier for our minds to bear. Instead, I will describe it as we are going along following the events as they actually happened to our Lord and Savior as depicted in the movie by Gibson. As a physician it is easy to be impersonal and detached, but the subject matter demands that we experience it in our hearts as well as our minds – so that we can know how great a price he paid to redeem us and so that we may love him all the more. So, bear with me because this is going to be simultaneously a horrifying and wonderful experience for us all.

History of Crucifixion
Crucifixion was invented by the Persians about 1000 BC. It began by tying the person by their hands over their head to a tree so that the body was suspended by the hands. If the person has his feet suspended or weighed down, the rib-cage is held in the inhaled position and breathing becomes very difficult, being only by contracting the abdominal muscles to force the diaphragm up to exhale a small amount of air. This requires a considerable amount of effort even if in the best of physical conditions. Death comes in minutes or an hour from slow suffocation. The dying process can be prolonged by providing limited support around the buttocks or for the feet to push up.
Crucifixion techniques continued to develop over the years with refinements being made by Alexander the Great, who used it in Egypt and Carthage. The Romans eventually perfected it to produce the maximum pain and suffering possible with the greatest degree of humiliation for the victim. This is why the victims were nearly always completely naked.
Because of this, Roman citizens (with the exception of Roman soldiers who deserted) were exempt from crucifixion. (This is why Paul was not crucified.) It was reserved for non-citizens and the worst criminals. There is little historical mention of it being applied to women so they were also probably exempt.


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