Why Jason Micheli is Wrong About Everything

Jason Micheli —  July 16, 2014 — 16 Comments

rp_rainbow-cross_april-1024x640.jpgWhile I’ve got plenty of rebuttals to the assertions below, I’m a believer that the internet/social media is open-sourced and shouldn’t be censored.

I’m also a believer in the Church as a space where divergent views can meet in peace.

To that end, this post is from Rev. Brent White, a fellow pastor in the UMC. Our similarities probably begin and end there. All the same, I encourage you to check out his blog here.

In the email in which Jason asked me to write a guest post for him while he’s in Guatemala, he began by saying, “Long time no disagree!” To which I wanted to say, “You know me better than that, Jason! If you’re blogging, I’m disagreeing.”

I have long and loudly disagreed with Jason over the past couple of years. It’s a credit to his skill as a writer and thinker that he gets under my skin. What Jason has written about the LGBT issue currently dividing our United Methodist Church doesn’t even represent my most profound disagreement with him: I was most bothered by his Advent series last year, “Top Ten Reasons Christmas Doesn’t Need the Cross,” followed closely by his bizarre (in my opinion) interpretation of God’s impassibility.

Good heavens, if I never see a quotation from Herbert McCabe again it will be too soon!

Be that as it may, I believe Jason is wrong on homosexuality for the same reason he’s wrong on atonement and impassibility: he fails to seriously engage scripture on the topic. He buys into a highly rationalistic theology that rarely makes contact with God’s Word.

There… I gave myself away: I called the Bible Gods Word. Even capitalized the “W.” I am an ordained United Methodist elder-in-full-connection who is also an evangelical—and I guess a rather conservative one. (After all, if Rachel Held Evans is somehow still evangelical, I’m not that.) 

If it helps, I wasn’t always this way. I graduated from Emory’s Candler School of Theology, alongside most of my classmates, happily liberal on human sexuality. I used to make many of the arguments that I’ve read some of Jason’s commenters make. I share this autobiographical detail in part because it gives the lie to the liberal Christian narrative that there is some ineluctable march toward acceptance of homosexual practice. To the dismay of many of my clergy colleagues, I for one moved to the right. And I have other friends who did too!

Before my evangelical re-conversion, however, I bought into the liberationist view of scripture that was part of the air we breathed at Emory: that our task is to find the “canon within the canon”—that kernel of gospel amidst the culturally relativistic chaff—and once we find it, we’re free to disregard the rest. Doesn’t Adam Hamilton do something like this with his “three buckets” approach to interpreting scripture?

Jason may disagree that this is what he does, but even in yesterday’s post he writes stuff like this: “One of the most prominent parts of this debate has nothing to do with those icky stone folks for who-lies-with-who passages in Leviticus. ¶ No, the grown-up part of this debate has to do with scripture’s positing the male-female complement as the created norm.”

Can we “grown-ups” not be bothered with all that “icky” stuff in Leviticus? Does Leviticus, even when properly exegeted, interpreted, and applied, have nothing whatsoever to say to us today about homosexual practice? (Never mind in the same context it also condemns incest and bestiality. How are we to interpret Jesus’ “silence” on those behaviors?)

Of course, on the very day I accuse Jason of failing to engage scripture, I concede that he did engage scripture in yesterday’s post—one verse at least—saying that Galatians 3:28 implies that Paul believes that the complementarity of the sexes is no longer relevant: “No ‘male and female,’” after all.

Therefore the seemingly powerful complementarity argument of traditionalists like myself—that our being male and female with complementary sex organs isnt incidental to God’s intentions for human sexuality—goes out the window.

I suppose in the absence of all other information, including the rest of Paul’s writing and the immediate context in which v. 28 appears, one might reach that conclusion. But Jason’s interpretation (by way of Eugene Rogers) isn’t shared by every other smart commentator I’ve read on this verse. They say (and I with them) that Paul is speaking only about one’s standing before God as God’s beloved child, fully equal in every respect.

 

Distinctions still exist and are relevant, of course. Paul himself considered his Jewish-ness one important part of his own identity. Nevertheless, Paul isn’t more approved or accepted by God on that basis.

Therefore, while there’s no difference between men and women in their covenant status before God, that hardly relates to how men and women behave sexually!

Imagine what Paul would say if we could ask him if this is what he intended by Galatians 3:28!

Jason even enlists Paul’s (and Jesus’) singleness and celibacy as evidence for their alleged indifference to gender distinctions. “If the male-female union, if being fruitful and multiplying is God’s ironclad intent for human creatures both he and Jesus were in clear violation.”

No, Jason, “being fruitful and multiplying” isn’t God’s “ironclad intent for human creatures,” only for those human creatures who are married. Paul himself makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 7—and Jesus in Matthew 19:12.

If Jason is going to argue scripture, he needs to argue it all the way.

Truthfully, I question how committed he is to the task. I pegged him as someone like Luke Timothy Johnson—the nearest thing my alma mater has to a rock star—who knows that both Old and New Testaments unambiguously condemn homosexual practice per se, but who believes that the Spirit is now revealing something new to us (something that, inconveniently, the Spirit kept to himself until around 1971).

To quote Dr. Johnson:

“The task demands intellectual honesty. I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says.”

But now, contrary to Dr. Johnson, Jason is arguing that scripture says something “other than what it says”: “Not only does Paul list homosexuality as a vice worthy of God’s wrath (it’s supposed), same-sex unions violate the clear (it’s supposed) creative intent of God (it’s supposed).”

(As always, Jason conflates “homosexuality,” about which the Bible says nothing, with homosexual practice, which is condemned in the strongest terms possible in both Old and New Testaments.)

Be that as it may, I look forward to Jason’s explaining those parenthetical asides. Why, for nearly two millennia, has the Church supposed that this is what scripture says, and why do we now know that the Church got it wrong?

If Jason is arguing scripture, he knows that there are plenty of really smart people who can argue back. Could they change his mind? Could scripture, properly exegeted, interpreted, and applied, convince him he’s wrong?

Or would he say, “Nevertheless, regardless what scripture says, the Spirit is showing us something new when it comes to gays and lesbians”?

If so, why bother with scripture?

Jason Micheli

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16 responses to Why Jason Micheli is Wrong About Everything

  1. Thank you Brent for this post.

    Thank you Jason for permitting other views.

  2. Barry Penn Hollar July 16, 2014 at 11:15 AM

    Like Brent, I am troubled by those who try to make the Bible say what it doesn’t, and, like him I appreciate the honesty Luke Timothy Johnson. I have taken a similar tack myself when I have addressed the issue.

    I do think the issue is a bit more complicated than Brent suggests, however, and think he is wrong to suggest that we who support same-sex marriage as Christians just need to admit that we’re abandoning Scripture. I am perfectly willing to say that the passages that address homosexual acts in the Bible are unequivocal in their condemnation. However, I want also to say, that the homosexual acts they condemn aren’t necessarily the one’s we’re currently taking about and which I’m willing to accept… those offered in the context of a consensual, adult, loving relationship, one open to and aiming toward a life-long commitment (that is, the same standard I would apply to heterosexual expressions.)

    As significantly, I’m not willing to abandon Scripture because I seek for my discernment in these and all matters to be guided always by the Bible’s essential witness to the grace of God most fully expressed in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    • Barry,

      Suppose the Holy Spirit intended to communicate to us through scripture that homosexual practice per se is contrary to God’s intentions for humanity and is sin. What else would its inspired authors have to say that they don’t already say?

      If we say, “The biblical writers couldn’t have imagined the committed, lifelong, monogamous same-sex relationships that many churches endorse today, therefore the Bible’s words about homosexual practice can’t apply to us today,” how do we not rule out that possibility in advance?

      Do you see the problem?

      At the very least, surely we all concede that God our creator has the right to tell us how we may use our bodies sexually.

  3. Amen Brent. Thanks for putting my thoughts back together again. And I really appreciate that Jason has opened his blog to the other point of view, the Biblical point of view IMHO.

  4. Since we’re being biblical, where does scripture say that procreation is only to be done in the context of marriage? I’d do it myself, but they didn’t let us use bibles at Perkins (is Hebrews in the Old or New Testament…?), just the Communist Manifesto and anything by Bart Ehrman.

    Oh, and since we’re talking marriage, can you point out in the scriptures where marriage is defined, specifically, how does one go about getting married (both how the couple meets and formally get married), why they get married, who is involved in the marriage process (clergy, officials of the state, etc.), and at what age one should marry?

    Please do so without appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. I figure the answer will be straightforward, as it is clear what the text says.

    • But Guyton’s post is exactly the kind of appeal to “linguistic or cultural subtleties” that a New Testament heavyweight like Luke Timothy Johnson says tries to make the Bible say what it doesn’t say—and this coming from someone (Johnson) who agrees that the church should liberalize on homosexuality.

  5. To Jason and Brent,

    I join others in saying first and foremost:
    “Good on ya’ for dialogue and graciousness!” Allowing space for the other to speak is a definite nod toward digital Holy Conferencing, and something I believe we could all benefit from more of.

    To Brent: (you posted) No, Jason, “being fruitful and multiplying” isn’t God’s “ironclad intent for human creatures,” only for those human creatures who are married. Paul himself makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 7—and Jesus in Matthew 19:12.
    If Jason is going to argue scripture, he needs to argue it all the way.

    If we’re going to argue scripture all the way: isn’t interesting that neither of these texts (Matt 19 & I Cor 7) reference “being fruitful and multiplying”? Which, as I understand people who consider themselves conservative/traditionalist on this subject typically intends procreation. Such that, you need complimentary sex organs to reproduce offspring, therefore this is God’s ultimate purpose in creating us male and female, and the subsequent gift of marriage.

    Not only do neither of these texts refer to procreation/children, they both seem to refer to desire. Paul, more obviously I might argue, is saying it is better to have one partner to whom you mutually give yourself, than to burn with lust/passion. It’s better to be single, but not everybody can do this or has been given this gift. Nothing here about children, fruitfulness in procreation, etc. How do we deal with our desires in a way that is both beneficial AND keeps us rightly centered on Christ and giving ourselves to the Kingdom and the work/energy/ desire it call us to.

    The Matthew text is a little more obscure, but I am always astounded when “traditionalists” use this text as a statement from Jesus arguing pro-marriage. The pericope of scripture itself (Jesus talking to the Pharisees) is about divorce, and looked at in a larger context of chapter 19 as a whole seems to relate to Jesus showing several groups (pharisees, disciples, the rich, maybe the crowd…a familiar pattern in Matthew nonetheless) that the world is looking for the limits to their obligations/relationships…and in doing so, they tear the world up into smaller and smaller bits. Whereas Jesus is implying a great coming together…a Marriage between the Lamb and his people. Tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, the poor, the blind, the lame have all been invited. In contrast, the pharisees, the rich, the insiders in the case of the disciples all seem to ignorantly argue this is only for the elect…and by the way “that just happens to be me my group” they could all be heard to say. Jesus is reconciling, the world and it’s cast of characters is dividing. Now don’t hear me pressing this too far. Yes Jesus does provoke division…but he is the one who is the only one who can do so rightly. So we follow him and his kingdom as fully and faithfully as we can and leave the separating/judging to him. That’s the rub as I understand it. Jesus calls us to give ourselves fully to the Kingdom/eternal life/abundant life. Marriage according to Jesus, will not take place in the coming age. It is temporary. Fidelity by the way is a good thing (I’m married with kids) but marriage is temporary. For Paul, it’s a concession for desire. It is not God’s ultimate. Fidelity to the Kingdom of God is ultimate. Faithfulness in marriage is good behavior on the way to God making all things new. Maybe “good behavior” is not the best way to put it, and I certainly do not mean to be flippant. I only mean to argue that there is a greater and lesser in these texts…and marriage is the lesser. Fidelity to the Kingdom is greater.

    Just some thoughts…Thanks for sharing.
    peace,
    Josh

    • Josh,

      As for my using the expression “being fruitful and multiplying,” you’re pressing my point too far. I wouldn’t have put it in those terms, except those were the terms Jason used. I intend “being fruitful and multiplying” as a symbol for sexual activity, which both Jesus and Paul affirm is reserved for marriage, which is only between man and woman. Outside of marriage, Jesus and Paul affirm celibacy. That’s all I meant.

      Regardless, I assume you’re not arguing on this basis that either Jesus or Paul affirmed sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and woman, right?

      • Brent,

        Help me understand both these assertions:
        1) being “fruitful & multiplying” as a phrase describing “sexual activity” in the scriptures apart from procreation. What does it mean to be fruitful in this sense? What does it mean to multiply?

        2) Show me where ‘sexual activity’, as reserved in marriage, is the point being argued for by Jesus or Paul. By that I mean, in the scriptures we referenced earlier. The pharisees don’t come to Jesus and ask for his judgment on right sexual activity. They ask him about divorce.

        Paul doesn’t appear to be arguing for instructing the Corinthians on right definition of marriage. He appears to be addressing concerns from the community about right worship and practices for this community now that they are learning what it means to live as church. “can we do this, should we spend time on this?…lawsuits among believers, sexual immorality, satisfying the desires of the flesh, eating meat sacrificed to idols, etc We’re still growing and we’re trying to figure this thing out.
        He’s addressing their question, “It’s good for a man not to have sex with a woman, right?” I Cor 7:1 NOT “marriage is between a man and a woman right? and that’s the only place we can have sex right?” NO some (at least) in the community appear to be asking if they should give up on sex entirely. Paul then addresses that concern. I am not saying that Paul or Jesus argue otherwise…I’m saying that doesn’t appear to be the locus of either of these conversations, and for people to press that point, makes a whole new point out of these scriptures and puts on the back burner as of secondary importance what is at the heart of what they are talking about.

        I think this in not unrelated to our present predicament in the UMC. We are arguing in large part (not everywhere) over cultural norms that we grew up with and proof texting back into scripture these positions that are important to us, meanwhile we have forsaken our calling to giving ourselves to discipleship in the kingdom of God. I know this is hard to get at/develop in a short blog comment…at least for me. But I may ask it another way. Do you believe if the two of us would sit down and hear the entirety of the gospel accounts read aloud in one sitting, we would hear Jesus saying “Marriage is your highest calling in this life, and that’s Marriage between a man and a woman mind you”? Are these subjects mentioned YES. Are they at the heart of a disciples calling….well, what about Peter’s wife. Why don’t the gospels or epistles reveal that these boys/men got old, married, had lots a kids and were good upstanding citizens of the greco-roman world who just sought to live quiet lives where the government left them alone and didn’t raise their taxes because they were basically good people who went to church which is a lot more than could be said for some segments of society.
        Am I suggesting you read this with a sense of humor??? absolutely! But I would also say that these are the basic assumptions of a lot of people I minister among or meet, not to mention the national debates we have as a denomination OR a nation. But all of these strike me as FAR from the Kingdom of what Jesus & Paul were giving their lives to. BTW, I am not necessarily ascribing these thoughts/convictions to you. I just haven’t seen anything in the above post that is putting forward a positive assertion for something different.
        I appreciate your continued sharing.
        peace,
        josh

        • I’m confused. Are you saying Jesus isn’t affirming the importance of marriage between man and woman when he says, for example, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

          Regardless whether Jesus isn’t also saying more than that, is he not at least saying that? Does 1 Corinthians 7 not affirm celibacy outside of marriage, regardless whatever other points Paul is making?

          I don’t disagree that arguing over the definition of marriage isn’t what Jesus or Paul has in mind. Why would that question come up? There was no dispute about what a marriage is: both believed that marriage was between a man and woman.

          I have no idea why you think I would say that marriage is one’s “highest calling” in life. I would say that being faithful to Jesus is one’s highest calling, which by all means includes faithfulness in marriage (for those who are so called to that estate) and in singleness.

          • In re-reading your last comment, you ask: “Show me where ‘sexual activity’, as reserved in marriage, is the point being argued for by Jesus or Paul.” Then you say this: “He’s addressing their question, ‘It’s good for a man not to have sex with a woman, right?’ I Cor 7:1 NOT ‘marriage is between a man and a woman right? and that’s the only place we can have sex right?'”

            Do you believe that Jesus, who equated lusting with adultery and talked about gouging out eyes to avoid lust or cutting off one’s right hand to avoid masturbation, would imagine that sex outside of marriage would be O.K.? Or Paul, who makes clear repeatedly in his letters the importance of sexual faithfulness?

            Do you believe that sex outside of marriage is a sin? Can we not at least agree on that?

  6. I have truly enjoyed the conversation here and I hesitate to contribute given my severe lack of in-depth knowledge compared to you all, which, combined with your literary prowess, means I’ll get schooled – but here we go. It is obvious that bible isn’t crystal clear on many topics. Let’s face it, if it was we’d have little need for clergy or divinity schools. The bible is complicated, and over the past two millennia political, social, and cultural forces have always impacted the meaning of the bible. Each time a newly ‘translated’ version comes out there are newly discovered meanings in passages that haven’t changed in two millennia. Even the original text has challenges as we were not there to truly understand all of the ‘human’ forces impacting the true Word. As for the issue at hand, it is also obvious that without male and females ‘getting together’ God’s vision would have been short-lived, or minimally, earth’s population would have held steady at two. A man and woman is the natural/biological order of things. However, offspring is not the point of every relationship, regardless of the genders involved. I could care less what the church says about marriage and that’s because the church is becoming irrelevant. The world, arguably, is moving faster and faster which means an entity like the church is falling further and further behind everyday. Falling further into irrelevancy. The ‘church’ is too focused on the business of church, rather than the purpose of church. As for gays and marriage, the church can decide for itself whether or not to bless two adults who are committed to loving each other in a way that honors the way God wants us to love him – and that’s all that should matter. Are your intentions good? Do you love God first and foremost, and honor and love your spouse, regardless of gender, as God would have you love your spouse? I’m sure someone can point out a verse I don’t know about, but what I know about Jesus is that he didn’t condemn people, he loved them. If we are to condemn homosexuals (I’m not suggesting someone in this conversation said that), then Jesus would have condemned Mary Magdalene, the leper, or countless others. Instead, he loved them. He made them his disciples. That’s all we should be doing. Loving one another and asking that others love one another as Christ loved us. If you read more into the bible than that, then look in the mirror to answer the question of why church membership is dropping; why the church is becoming irrelevant.

  7. Good Day Brent,
    let me refresh my thinking.
    I read your blog post, and I hear you critiquing Jason in that he doesn’t take scripture seriously/thoroughly enough. And I wanted to reply in that I think, whether your convictions about human sexuality have merit or not, you did not make the case against Jason in your rebuttal. And even more so, because you used scripture lightly which was your critique against Jason in the first place. Furthermore, I don’t think you intended to use the selected scriptures lightly, I just think that if we wrestle with these texts…they really don’t make the case that you and others have tried to use them to make.

    quick aside: (By the way, I had not read the post you were responding to, written by Jason “The Male-Female Union is Not Biblical”…and now I have)

    I hear Jason making a case, that for those who would argue (against homosexual full inclusion) some sort of logic by design (men have a penis and sperm, women have a womb and eggs, THEREFORE, God must have meant for only men and women to have sex that produces offspring…have both done injustice to the Hebrew scriptures AND missed a dramatic revelation in the NewTestament) I think they are in line with Jesus’ comments “You strain a gnat and swallow a camel” Matt 23:24 in that Jesus may well be heard to commend the pharisees in tithing from their spices. This is a good thing in that it shows, even in the smallest of things we can view them through the lens of holiness. But, he challenges them in that they neglected weightier matters like mercy & justice. He says that they should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former. He’s not saying give up on one and pursue the other, he’s being holistic AND granting priority. Justice and mercy are more important.

    Now comes your post, the response to Jason’s “male-female union” post.

    Which, let’s be clear, regardless of any other past grievances with Jason on atonement or impassibility, you say this post is on the topic of homosexuality and how Jason does not engage with scripture seriously enough on this topic. Some of your critiques include:
    1) ignoring the powerful argument of complimentary sex organs, in that it is not incidental to God’s intentions for sexuality.
    2) Jason’s view doesn’t hold-up against all the other commentators you’ve read in regards to
    Gal 3 Which you believe is really only about our standing before God.
    3) Jason goes too far in enlisting Paul & Jesus as signs against the norm in their singleness.
    4) But that last point is really not important because God only commands married people to be fruitful & multiply. Which you say is evidenced in I Cor 7 & Matt 19.

    Do you think this is a fair assessment of the post? I know it’s not thorough and i’m not trying to write a doctoral thesis. I’m just wondering if you think I have read the material and totally missed the conversation?

    because next…is my pressing you on your critique through yesterdays blog comments. Which to me seem like they trailed off in exploring tributaries rather than the main stream.

    My comments could’ve explored this subject from biology, history, or culture, etc. Instead they were focused on scripture primarily. For the sake of keeping the argument focused, I stuck to the 2 scriptures you referenced in your rebuttal. Which, do not make the case for God’s “design” in heterosexual covenant of marriage that produces offspring. Isn’t this the locus that Jason is responding to in his blog, to which you offer a rebuttal?
    “some are putting forward that Homosexuals can’t enter full inclusion in the church because it is sinful, as evidenced by God’s design in human sexuality which is for making children inside a heterosexual marriage. If you cant make children biologically, and you are not married, there is no relationship status outlined in scripture for you and you shouldn’t have sex and please don’t call your union marriage because that would re-define what the bible is defining.” (This is a general summary of what is being argued. People argue many different facets of it from different angles both from religious and secular perspectives.)
    I hear Jason saying: for those who would challenge homosexual full inclusion on the basis of a normative male/female union…you should look at the scriptures again. The scriptures don’t make this case.
    I hear you saying: isn’t it obvious that Jesus and Paul think that marriage is between a man and a woman, and this is the only place where people can have sex that I might add produces children (be fruitful & multiply)
    To which I reply: Jesus is talking about mercy in the context of Matthew 18 leading into 19. If there is anything there about God’s design for marriage, it is about union/fidelity. Jesus is exposing the hardness of heart of the Pharisees, and their wicked intentions toward Jesus in trying to trap him in legal wrangling. The scene is not one, where Jesus is sitting on the side of a mountain teaching about marriage and the Pharisees just happen to overhear and ask clarifying statements regarding their troubled hearts over Jesus’ words. They try to trap him, and get the script flipped. The point is mercy. The overflow of your heart that results in divorce in direct relation with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew’s account of the sermon on the mount.
    Paul is dealing with desire and how we should prioritize giving ourselves fully to the work of God’s Kingdom. Marriage and sexual activity may be tools used to make the argument…but the point is God is bringing Justice (turning the world to right, as NT Wright puts it) and this should capture our whole being. Marriage can actually pull you away from being fully focused on that with the concerns of this world: what kind of house, income, where we going to send our kids to school, etc which are not unimportant but quickly become the thing we serve rather than living into God’s new creation that has begun in Jesus life, death and resurrection. Marriage is a good topic. Fidelity in relationships are good things to discuss. God’s design in our sexuality is NOT the point of these passages of scripture. Matt 19 and I Cor 7 dont even reference being fruitful and multiplying, which is a major argument for those who would condemn homosexual inclusion. We strain a gnat and swallow a camel. Let us not neglect either, but let us prioritize the weightier matters.
    peace to you

    • To be clear, Josh, my only point in citing Matthew 19:12 (“eunuchs who make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom”) and 1 Corinthians 7 is to say that of course Jesus and Paul weren’t contradicting “God’s ironclad will for humanity” (Jason’s words) by remaining single and celibate. I cited those passages because they explicitly tell us that celibacy in singleness is good.

      But I do believe that “God’s ironclad will” for unmarried people is to remain celibate.

      What scripture does tell us—without controversy as far as I can see—is that sex outside of marriage is a sin. Period. Even most of my Methodist clergy colleagues on the other side of the LGBT issue tell me that they believe that too—so long as we enable gays and lesbians to marry.

      Am I wrong about that? Surely nothing you’re arguing about context above has any bearing on what God’s Word says about sex outside of marriage.

      • Brent,
        I pray I am not exasperating/exhausting you. I think “some” of your intentions in the post are becoming more clear to me. Others I would like to explore, but I do have things to do, as I’m sure you do. Let me check back in later.
        peace brother,
        Josh

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