Should religious broadcasting be allowed to continue in the United States?
That, says Executive Secretary Ben Armstrong of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), is the question proposed in a petition currently before the Federal Communications Commission.
The petition was the main discussion topic at last month’s thirty-second annual convention of the NRB in Washington, D. C. Some broadcasters dismissed the twenty-page document as a nuisance submission, but Armstrong and others feel it constitutes a serious threat to religious broadcasting. They have until March 17 to file their response with the FCC.
Drawn up by Jeremy D. Lansman and Lorenzo W. Milam of Los Gatos, California, the petition requests a freeze on all applications by religious institutions for FM and TV channels allocated to educational broadcasters. It asks for an FCC investigation to determine whether religious licensees in the educational category are living up to the Fairness Doctrine in presenting matters of controversial importance or whether “they are relying solely on music and talk which is tainted with the ennui so characteristic of American Fundamental Religion.” It also asks the FCC to “institute some divestiture process” for religious broadcasters.
In his column in the current issue of Religious Broadcasting magazine, Armstrong warns that the divestiture request affects all religious stations and program producers. In its context, however, the request seems to be aimed at only the educational channels. Armstrong estimates there are about seventy-five religious stations on the educational bands. These include several criticized by name in the petition, among them FM stations operated by Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
Lansman and Milam, who have been in the business of buying and selling radio stations for years, specialize in setting up “free forum” type community stations that serve up plenty of controversial material. They sense a threat from religious broadcasters, who they say “have shown a remarkable cancer-like growth into the educational portions of the FM and TV bands. They control endless monies from ‘free-will’ contributions, thrive on mindless banal programming aimed at some spiritless, oleaginous god, and show the same spirit as MacDonald’s Hamburger Company in their efforts to dominate American radio and television.”
In a sense, says Armstrong, the pair “have done us a favor” by creating an opportunity for self-criticism. The threat, he implies, will help stimulate station operators and program producers to strive for excellence in content. Also, says Armstrong, it gives the NRB an opportunity to state the public-service record of its members for all to see.
It is unlikely that the petition will get too far at the FCC. The NRB has had a good relationship with the FCC over the years, and a number of important people in the FCC, from Chairman Richard Wiley down, are active church members. During an FCC panel presentation at the NRB convention, FCC legal head Ashton R. Hardy told how he had accepted Christ as his personal Savior two years ago. In a speech, Wiley declared his belief in religious broadcasting, and Commissioner Charlotte T. Reid urged the broadcasters to use their “spiritual assets before it is too late.”
On the other hand, the FCC may wish to keep closer tab on the number of stations acquired by religious broadcasters, and not just those stations on the educational band. A more careful scrutiny of content is also a possibility. Armstrong says new Christian stations are being formed at the rate of about one per week in the United States, and overseas growth is burgeoning. The NRB’s membership of 650 embraces an estimated 85 per cent of America’s religious producers and broadcasters. A recent development is the profit-motivated switch to a religious format by a number of commercial stations owned by secular interests.
A new day may be dawning for the NRB. Mission broadcaster Abe Van Der Puy of HCJB in Quito, Ecuador, was elected president, defeating Eugene R. Bertermann, 60, of Far East Broadcasting Company, who served in the post for the past eighteen years. Most persons interviewed said Van Der Puy’s surprise victory was not because of anything personal against Bertermann but rather an indication of a general desire for change. More station owners are members now (148), and they want the NRB to be more aggressive in representing them both in Washington and within the broadcast industry. Newer members want better planning of conventions, with more emphasis on practical help and less on the showy, commercialized sing-and-preach sessions that have often characterized past conventions.
In response to an appeal from black broadcasters for increased minority representation, the NRB board was expanded to allow for three additional members: Evangelist Howard Jones of the Billy Graham organization and broadcaster T. Ernest Wilson, both blacks, and Edna Edwards, manager of a Graham-related station in North Carolina.
Music styles are still a source of disagreement among members, most of whom cling fiercely to their conservative tastes. After a heavy-beat performance by the Sound Generation of John Brown University, disgruntled delegates pushed through a resolution canceling the group’s scheduled appearance at the closing-night banquet. But calmer heads prevailed, and a new vote simply asked the group to be more subdued at the banquet.
A Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame was established, with two broadcasters entered posthumously: Charles E. Fuller of the “Old Fashioned Revival Hour” and Walter A. Maier of the “Lutheran Hour.” Two others named were John E. Zoller, 85, of “Christ for Everyone” (he’s said to be the oldest gospel radio minister in the world) and Clarence W. Jones, pioneering co-founder of HCJB.
Jews and Christians alike have been doing a lot of thinking and talking about the possible rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem some day, but government officials in Iraq meanwhile have been pushing ahead quietly with even more ambitious plans, thanks in part to the infusion of oil money. They intend to restore the entire twenty-one-square-mile ancient city of Babylon. The project will include the rebuilding of the Tower of Babel.
Italian archaeologist Giorgio Gullim has been hired to direct the attempt to dig out the past from beneath more than 5,000 years of civilization. Different parts of the reconstituted city will represent the various periods of Babylonian history.
Gullini says his first big task will be the draining of subsurface water. He hopes then to uncover the ruins of the immense walls that surrounded the city, along with the street network inside.
When the Southern Baptists introduce a new hymnbook they do it in a big way. To herald the release of the denomination’s new Baptist Hymnal (replacing a 1956 edition), church leaders have booked Nashville’s 11,000-seat Municipal Auditorium for four nights and a half-dozen church and college auditoriums for morning and afternoon segments March 10–13.
The event, billed as PraiSing 75, will feature some 10,000 members of choirs and musical groups from across the country, name performers, and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra in programs ranging from concerto to country. Concurrently, beginning early the third afternoon, the hymnal will be sung through from cover to cover (512 hymns) in a round-the-clock thirty-hour marathon, with visiting choirs and other groups serving as leads in half-hour shifts at the denomination’s headquarters auditorium.
Officials say they made an interesting discovery in getting ready for PraiSing 75: the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board, publisher of the hymnal, is the largest music publisher in the land.
BOB BELL, JR.
Mexico: Property Problems
Evangelicals in Mexico are among those concerned about a new law that would permit confiscation of private property that is used for religious services.
Since the Mexican Revolution, all church property has legally belonged to the government. This measure was aimed primarily at the Roman Catholic Church, which before the revolution owned between one-third and one-half of all the arable land in the country. In practice, government ownership of church property has worked reasonably well. Each church must buy its own property, then donate it to the government. The government in turn permits the church to use the property, including any buildings on it. But the possibility exists for the government to deny use of a building by the group that built or bought it in favor of another or to decree its use for non-religious purposes.
The new law, which could seriously affect new churches that still meet in borrowed or rented facilities, and could even threaten home Bible-study groups, is seen by some observers as an attempt to control religious life. Mexico permits a wide range of religious freedom. Some restrictions do exist in areas like broadcasting, however, and foreigners are prohibited from serving as pastors.
STEPHEN R. SYWULKA
Committees of five Presbyterian and Reformed denominations with a combined membership of some 425,000 have proposed the formation of a cooperative and “advisory” alliance to be known as the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council. The five denominations are the Christian Reformed Church, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Reformed Presbyterian Church (Evangelical Synod), and the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America. Approval of the joint proposal by the major assemblies of the churches could be completed by September. Membership would be based on “full commitment both to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the infallible Word of God and to their teachings as set forth in the [historic Reformed statements of faith].”
Pastor George Prentice of the First Church of the Nazarene in Joplin, Missouri, promised months ago he would “preach from the roof top” if attendance at Sunday school ever reached 200. It finally happened: attendance hit the 201 mark. On the next Sunday Prentice climbed onto the roof of the church with a microphone and preached to his parishioners, seated on chairs on the parking lot.
Lazlo Toth, a Hungarian-born geologist from Australia who vandalized Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica two years ago, was recently released from a mental institution in Italy and deported to Australia.
The Good News Movement, an organization of evangelicals within the United Methodist Church, is tooling up for the denomination’s General Conference in Portland, Oregon, next year. The Good News board members at their annual meeting in St. Petersburg, Florida, last month passed a resolution opposing “ordination of those who practice homosexuality and their employment in positions of responsibility in the United Methodist Church. We do not reject persons, but we do reject a lifestyle which is clearly condemned in the Bible.” (Several groups earlier said they intend to lobby for a more liberal attitude toward homosexuals by the denomination, including the right of homosexuals to be ordained.)
The board also voted to publish confirmation-membership materials “in the Wesleyan tradition of Scriptural Christianity” after denominational officials turned down an appeal for an alternative confirmation study book.
Pastor Paul Morell of the 3,400-member Tyler Street United Methodist Church in Dallas was elected to a second term as chairman of the group. Associate Professor Paul A. Mickey of Duke University Divinity School was elected first vice chairman.
The board, made up of twenty-four pastors and laypersons from fifteen states, discussed ways of injecting evangelical influence into the denomination’s 1976 conference. It was reported that work is underway concerning petitions and the development of “a cadre of supporters, both on and off” the floor.
In his keynote address, Chairman Morell observed that “we are still dismissed as fundamentalists—which we are not. Holiness groups are now joined by a beautiful and large group of charismatic United Methodists in receiving uncharitable reception in our church circles. Pluralism, to date, has been further justification for a shift to the left and for radical social agitation, rather than charitable embracing of all who desire to serve Christ earnestly.”
Virginia pastor R. Fletcher Hardy, III, chairman of the group’s Task Force on Evangelical Renewal Groups, reported the existence of fifty Good News-aligned groups, with steady growth.
Lamenting A Misconception
Canadian Protestant leaders of twelve denominations this month publicly demanded in a signed statement that Canadian hospitals adhere strictly to federal abortion legislation. They expressed dismay at the way the law is being distorted to ensure a virtual abortion-on-demand policy. They also lamented “the misconception that the anti-abortion position is merely a sectarian stance of the Roman Catholic Church. The Protestant community also views abortion as a moral issue, not just a medical one.”
In 1969 the government eased the Criminal Code to permit therapeutic abortion at the discretion of three-member hospital committees of doctors “where the continuation of the pregnancy … would be likely to endanger [the woman’s] life or health.” Debate over interpretation of the law has raged ever since. Justice Minister Otto Lang, a Catholic, said he intends to enforce a strict view, evoking criticism from those favoring a liberal policy. Some critics accuse him of bias based on his Catholic faith. That charge sparked the reaction by the Protestant leaders.
Those endorsing the statement acknowledged that they were not officially representing their denominations but rather were speaking for “a growing body of anti-abortion sentiment” within their churches.
The group included Editor A. C. Forrest of the United Church Observer; Editor J. R. Armstrong of the Evangelical Baptist; Christian and Missionary Alliance executive Melvin P. Sylvester; Bishop Donald N. Bastian of the Free Methodist Church in Canada; Executive Secretary John M. Zimmerman of the Lutheran Church in America (Canada Section); General Superintendent Robert W. Taitinger of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada; and President Victor Adrian of the Ontario Bible College (Mennonite Brethren).
Grapes: The Hidden Cost
The consumer boycott of California table grapes and head lettuce organized by the United Farm Workers (UFW), led by Cesar Chavez, has been escalating in Canada. Church and synagogue groups are in the forefront of the campaign. Prayer vigils have been held in a number of supermarkets, several clergy have been charged with petty trespass, and eighteen clergymen and nuns were forcibly evicted during a recent sit-in at the head office of Dominion Stores in Toronto.
Both T. E. Floyd Honey, general secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches, and priest Brad Massman, director of the Toronto Catholic social-action unit, are among the leaders.
Reaction has been building up. Last month Ernest Howse, former moderator of the United Church of Canada’s general council, criticized the campaign as ill-advised, irrational, and likely to do more harm than good. “Nowhere,” said Howse, “was it made clear that the migrant workers of California (among the most highly paid in the world) were so excessively oppressed that their wrongs laid on us a more immediate obligation than those of other such workers elsewhere—including those much nearer home.”
He lamented the “destruction” of perishable food, but Honey argued that grapes were a luxury food and that the boycott in no way added to the world’s hunger problems.
During a recent week of “revival” meetings at the seventy-five-member Southwest United Pentecostal Church in the Houston suburb of Missouri City, two policemen entered the church and asked the congregation to be quieter. They said the church’s next-door neighbor, Wayne Cousins, was complaining about loud noise. Legal charges would be filed, they warned, if the singing, shouting, and instrumental music were not muted somewhat.
The warning apparently went unheeded. A complaint was filed the next night, a jury of six found the congregation guilty of disorderly conduct, and municipal judge Richard A. Mayhan levied a $50 fine.
Pastor Edward A. Fruge, claiming the meeting was “a regular Pentecostal service,” says the church will appeal. A new soundproof building will be constructed later this year, he adds.
Union Seminary in New York has fallen on hard times. Faced with a deficit of more than $750,000 for the next academic year, Union’s directors approved cuts of nearly $600,000 in programs, services, and personnel, reducing the budget to $3.8 million.
Alumni, placement, development, and communications offices will be eliminated as separate operations, secretarial and maintenance costs trimmed, the library staff reduced, an audio-visuals library phased out, the Union Quarterly-Review terminated, and funds for faculty research and travel cut. Also, the faculty of the practical field will be reduced by six full-time persons through non-replacement of professors who have recently left or will soon retire.
Some bitterness over the faculty cutbacks surfaced in Union circles following the disclosure of the financial settlement made with Episcopal bishop J. Brook Mosley, whom the directors fired as president last year. The amount, reportedly $103,000, is to be paid over a number of years, and it includes housing, pension, and insurance allowances as well as cash severance.
Tuition is up (about $2,000 per year), but student enrollment is about 400, down from 550 in 1971. Also down is the value of the school’s investment portfolio, estimated to have dropped from $30 million to $22 million last year.
In a recently published Columbia University survey, eighteen categories of professional schools—including schools of theology—were rated according to reputation and professional accomplishments by deans in each area of study. Admittedly based “merely on the opinions of these experts” (the deans) and on factors difficult to measure, the survey ranked the theological schools in the following order:
1. Harvard Divinity School
2. Yale Divinity School
3. University of Chicago Divinity School
4. Princeton Seminary
5. Union Seminary (New York)
6 School of Theology, Claremont, California; Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta; and Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas
9. Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley
10. Union Seminary (Richmond, Virginia)
11. Vanderbilt Divinity School
12. Duke Divinity School.
Growing quietly at the rate of a new chartered chapter a day is Women’s Aglow Fellowship, a charismatic and interdenominational organization for Christian women founded in 1967 and headquartered in Seattle. The fellowship, with more than 300 chapters in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Holland, Nigeria, and New Zealand, is involved in such activities as ministries to prison inmates and their families, home Bible-study groups, evangelistic luncheons, and spiritual-life retreats for women and married couples. Aglow (P.O. Box 55089, Seattle 98155), the fellowship’s quarterly magazine, has a circulation of more than 100,000. President Margaret Moody is a former missionary to Africa and the wife of an ordained Baptist minister in Seattle.
Religion In Transit
Another church has found that the Parable of the Talents works. Pastor Ben Hodder of the Kew Beach United Church in Toronto, which has 700 active members, borrowed $3,000 from a bank and handed out 550 envelopes containing $5 bills to his congregation. The members used the money to finance money-making projects, from concerts and dinners to producing goods for sale. Sixty days later the envelopes were returned, stuffed with nearly $12,000. A chunk of the “profits” will be given to hunger relief. The rest will augment the church budget.
United Methodists gave a record $55.4 million for denominational causes in 1974, a 12 per cent increase over 1973. In addition, more than $900 million was given for local and regional work.
Pastor J. Daniel Joyce of Houston’s Bethany Christian Church, a past president of the world organization of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), says his denomination is becoming more conservative in its theology and is reemphasizing personal dimensions of faith. Between 5 and 10 per cent of all Disciples are now neo-Pentecostals, he estimates.
Mrs. William Matz, wife of the dean of Moravian Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was appointed to a part-time pastoral position at Central Moravian Church in Bethlehem. She is the first woman seminary graduate ordained within the Moravian Church in America (which has 57,000 members in two regional provinces). A Wisconsin church also has a woman on the pastoral staff, but she was ordained by the United Church of Christ.
Eight of the eleven denominations belonging to the Canadian Council of Churches have gone on record against capital punishment for any crime. There have been no executions in Canada since 1962, and the country is in its second five-year moratorium. The Greek Orthodox Church, Armenian Orthodox Church, and Salvation Army have not taken a stand.
President Eugene Carson Blake of Bread for the World, an ecumenical relief organization, appealed to the White House for an immediate commitment of four million additional tons of grain to feed the starving. “Let’s get the wheat that was destined for the Soviet Union and China to Bangladesh or India instead,” urged Blake.
About 900,000 legal abortions were performed in the United States during 1974, according to Planned Parenthood estimates. About 750,000 were reported in 1973.
Prominent Methodist clergyman Franklin H. Littell, a Temple University professor of religion known for his liberal views, is urging the United States to get out of the United Nations, a view liberals condemned as irresponsible when conservatives were advocating it. Littell says the U. N. treatment of Israel prompted his call.
American moviegoers spent a record $1.9 billion at the box office last year, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. The Sting brought in $68 million, and The Exorcist accounted for $66 million.
Americans aged 65 and over increased by 486,000 last year (to 21.8 million), and youngsters under 5 dropped by 404,000.
“I think marriage should be on the basis of a renewable contract of three to five years.” The speaker? Charles Templeton, a former Canadian evangelist and Youth for Christ leader who drifted away from orthodoxy. He is separated from his second wife.
Nearly $24,000 for famine relief in Africa has come in as a result of an appeal to teen-agers by Youth for Christ’s Campus Life magazine. Leaders had expected the appeal, made in cooperation with Medical Assistance Programs of Wheaton, Illinois, to net less than $7,000, said Editor Philip Yancey.
Three national religious magazines announced 20 per cent reductions in advertising rates for automobile companies as a means of expressing appreciation to the industry for offering temporary rebates for new-car purchases. Until now, however, the Catholic Digest, the Lutheran (Lutheran Church in America), and A.D. (United Church of Christ-United Presbyterian) have not carried any auto ads at all.
Late in November Rabbi Jacob Katz, 61, an administrative officer of an Orthodox Jewish seminary in Lake-wood, New Jersey, was fatally injured when a car struck him as he and a group of students were walking back from an evening sabbath service at a nearby synagogue. The driver stopped and talked with police but sped away after telling them he was going back to his car to get his registration.
When the officers could not recall what the car looked like or its license number, the police department hired a hypnotist. Under hypnosis, one of the policemen gave a description of the late-model Cadillac and enough of the license number to lead to the arrest recently of local shoe salesman Samuel Cohen.
James McCracken, former director of Church World Service (the overseas relief arm of the National Council of Churches), was appointed executive director of Coordination in Development (CODEL), an ecumenical agency providing aid and guidance to people in developing nations.
Controversial Yale University chaplain William Sloane Coffin, Jr., 51, says he will resign next year to seek new challenges. Coffin, a former Central Intelligence Agency employee who gained national attention in the civil-rights and anti-war movements, has been at Yale for seventeen years.
Navy chaplain Andrew Jensen, the American Baptist clergyman who was court-martialed three years ago in Florida and found not guilty of seducing two officers’ wives in motel rooms, was promoted to captain. Jensen, the first military chaplain in history to be court-martialed, said the promotion was a way of expressing justice. He had waged an unpopular campaign to ban go-go girls from a Florida base when the morals accusations against him, later proven false, were made.
Resigned: A. Ray Stanford, 57, as president of the 1,400-student Florida Bible College, after confessing marital infidelity. Son Lee succeeds him as president and as pastor of the 2,000-member Florida Bible Church in Hollywood, Florida.
New Testament professor Simon J. Kistemaker of Reformed Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, was elected vice-president of the Evangelical Theological Society at its recent national convention in Dallas. The vice-president normally succeeds to the presidency, a post now held by Bruce Waltke of Dallas Seminary.
Two recent evangelistic campaigns conducted by the Sudan Interior Mission-related Evangelical Churches of West Africa in predominantly Islamic cities in Nigeria met with “remarkable” response, according to the SIM. In Sokoto, nearly 800 made professions of faith in Christ, and thousands attended meetings in Ilorin. ECWA evangelist Moses Ariye was the main speaker.
Inflation is bringing the Church of England to the “brink of crisis,” according to a London Times story. The report says studies are being made to determine what programs can be shelved in order to cut or eliminate salaries of headquarters personnel. Some parsonages may be sold to bolster sagging investments. Meanwhile, says the story, many pastoral families stay afloat only because of the earnings of the wives.
A proposal to pay a salary of $17,220 to the new appointments secretary to the archbishops of Canterbury and York raised a storm of protest in the Church of England. It was pointed out that the average diocesan bishop’s salary is only $9,350, and that the new secretary will be paid more than the archbishop of York himself (he gets $16,585) and not much less than the archbishop of Canterbury ($20,660).
President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire has threatened to close down all Catholic churches in the country if the clergy persists in “commenting” on Zairean politics and opposing government policies. Of Zaire’s 23.8 million inhabitants, an estimated 9.6 million are Catholics.
The Interior Ministry of Spain has fined four Catholic priests a total of $37,700 for speaking out in their churches about recent labor strife. The priests were being held in a prison hospital.
The 100,000-member Methodist Church in the Ivory Coast, at its annual assembly, referred the issue of missionary moratorium to a study committee, but not before reaffirming the unity and universality of the Church and affirming its ties with its African partners. The denomination has twenty-four pastors and 1,200 lay preachers.
Emmanuel Abraham, 61, president of the 210,000-member Evangelical (Lutheran) Church Mekane Yesus in Ethiopia and minister of mines in the government of deposed emperor Haile Selassie, was released after eight months in prison.
Times and conditions are increasingly difficult in South Viet Nam, but the Christian community continues to grow. Christians in a 100,000-resident refugee settlement in the Da Nang area now number about 4,000, up from 200 a short time ago, say mission workers.
About 1,000 Quechua mountain Indians attended a recent Bible conference in northern Ecuador. The number of persons at the conference, organized by the Quechuas themselves, indicates the scope of the spiritual movement that began among the Indians several years ago, say missionaries.
In a joint conference in Cairo, Islamic and church leaders in the Middle East condemned Israel’s alleged policy of changing the architectural features of Jerusalem, called for Israel’s expulsion from the United Nations, asked the United States to suspend aid to Israel, and denounced the recent conviction and imprisonment of Melkite Catholic archbishop Hilarion Capucci on charges of smuggling weapons.
After fifteen years of work, Wycliffe Bible translators Richard and Aretta Loving have completed and published the New Testament in Awa, a language spoken by 1,500 people in eastern Papua New Guinea. This project is one of the 105 under way in the country; about 400 languages there are still without translations of the Scriptures.
With a record pay rise of 25 per cent for its ministers, the Church of Scotland minimum stipend this year will top the $5,500 mark, a 250 per cent increase since 1965.
Despite opposition by anti-union church members, agreement was reached on the formation of a United Theological College in Sydney, Australia, involving Congregationalists, Methodists, and Presbyterians who will become part of the Uniting Church in Australia when it is launched in June, 1976. A large minority of Presbyterians opposed to the merger plan to form a continuing Presbyterian church.
SHELDON BARD, 64, principal of the French-language Bethel Bible Institute in Lennoxville, Quebec, which trains pastors for work in evangelical Baptist and Plymouth Brethren churches in French Canada; in a Quebec highway accident.
HAROLD A. BOSLEY, 67, prominent United Methodist clergyman, retired pastor of Christ Church in New York, and a founder of Conscience Foundation, an organization formed in 1966 to help Soviet Jews; in Beach Haven Terrace, New Jersey, of a heart attack.
D. WILLIA CAFFRAY, 95, retired United Methodist preacher and evangelist who in 1920 became the first woman to be licensed to preach by the Methodist Church; in Oskaloosa, Iowa.
JOHN T. MCNEILL, 89, ordained Canadian Presbyterian instrumental in the formation of the United Church of Canada, and prominent church historian who taught at Union Seminary in New York and at the University of Chicago Divinity School; in Chicago.
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