Distorted Church Teachings about Women

I saw this list by J. Lee Grady, at Charisma Mag, on ten lies the church tells women… and it’s a list worthy of a good conversation today. I give you his opening and then only his list… go to the link to see his explanations:

What distortions have you heard? Have you heard these?

For centuries, a patriarchal system of control has kept women in spiritual captivity through distortion of the Scriptures. It’s time to debunk the myths.

We live in the 21st century, but if we’re honest we have to admit that in some ways the church is still in the Dark Ages—especially when we look at the way we treat women.

Even though the Scriptures never portray women as secondary to men, our male-dominated religious system still promotes a warped view of female inferiority. Women are tired of this, and as a man, so am I—because such demeaning attitudes don’t reflect God’s heart.

Jesus challenged gender prejudice at its core when He directed so much of His ministry toward women. In a Middle Eastern culture that considered women mere property, He healed women, discipled them and commissioned them to minister. Yet today we spend much of our energy denying them opportunities—and using the Bible to defend our prohibitions.

I’ve identified 10 erroneous views about women that for too long have been circulated in the church, preached from pulpits and written in the study notes of popular Bible translations. I believe we must debunk these lies if we want to see the church fully released to fulfill the Great Commission.

Lie No. 1: God’s ultimate plan for women is that they serve their husbands.

Lie No. 2: Women can’t be fulfilled or spiritually effective without a husband.

Lie No. 3: Women shouldn’t work outside the home.

Lie No. 4: Women must obediently submit to their husbands in all situations.

Lie No. 5: A man needs to “cover” a woman in her ministry activities.

Lie No. 6: A woman should view her husband as the “priest of the home.”

Lie No. 7: Women are not equipped to assume leadership roles.

Lie No. 8: Women must not teach or preach to men in a church setting.

Lie No. 9: Women are more easily deceived than men.

Lie No. 10: Women who exhibit strong leadership qualities have a “spirit of Jezebel.”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Ian Thomason

    Scott,

    I generally respond to statements of the sort represented by your list, with a single name. ‘Junia’.

    God bless,

    Ian

  • d goad

    I am glad to see men in leadership having this discussion. It is overdue. However I have relitaves who hold these kind of beliefs. Some would not even read the article. Most would not “hear” the argument. These kind of strongly held beliefs dont have to made sense, they are part of the fabric of there system.

    d goad

  • DMH

    Men are rational, women are emotional (with the added, “generally speaking”). Really!?… I have never found this to be true.

    I also find a negative view of women perpetuated through the humor and jokes from the pulpit.

    Amen to #1

  • Steve

    I agree in the overall though process of this list. Women have been denied much on the basis of a misuse of scripture. With that said, scriputure is the final authority for the lives of both men and women and there are passages that tell us specifically about the role of each both within the church and the home. These passages cannot be ignored for the sake of a 21 century mentality (they also should not be misused in order to devalue women either). While it may be argued that these passages should be understood as cultural commands, many of these passages do not appeal to culture, but to creation itself. We must examine all of scripture in order to understand the role of both men and women in the home, church and world.

  • http://dennisredwards.com Dennis

    Thanks for passing this along

  • AHH

    Lie #1a:
    The primary value of women in the Kingdom of God comes from bearing and raising children.

  • http://www.churchprojectgreeley.com D. Gregory Burns

    After serving on a denominational committee looking into the complementarian – egalitarian positions I was shocked at how complementarian would refuse to engage Scripture at a deep exegetical level. I went in leaning to the traditional position of my childhood (complementation) but took my responsibility seriously. After translating many of the passages, look at all the various context invalid, and considering the over all theme of Scripture my position changed. Grady is correct. It is not a matter of changing to accommodate cultural trends, it is a matter of the heart of God and what he says in his word.

  • Rory Tyer

    In fairness to the best of complimentarian scholarship, I don’t think such scholars would agree with any of these statements as stated or as elaborated in the original post. Even the lie about women teaching or preaching in church would need to be strongly qualified before it reflects a complimentarian interpretation of the relevant scriptures (I’m thinking of someone like Blomberg here). Regardless of your position, scripture isn’t honored, and charity isn’t practiced, when anything but the best representatives of a given position are taken (implicitly or explicitly) as conversation partners. A better egal case is made, IMHO, by Philip Payne’s recent monograph.

  • John I.

    The fact that Paul used appeals to creation stories to resolve a local church problem in his time and cultural context, does not automatically mean that we should take the same approach to our church problems, nor does it automatically mean that the use of the same lines of argument would lead the same or similar result for us.

  • Ben Thorp

    With all due respect, D. Gregory Burns, both sides of the argument could be accused of refusing to engage Scripture at a deep exegetical level. To suggest that one side is more guilty than the other is pretty much just trolling. The sooner we can accept that both sides have deeply held convictions based on deeply Scriptural reasons, the sooner we can move on to more pressing matters.

  • EricW

    “Hewson’s promotion means women will hold the top jobs at three of the six largest U.S. defense contractors come January, with Hewson at the helm of the biggest of the three, just as the industry braces for the first downturn in over a decade.”

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/10/us-lockheed-hewson-idUSBRE8A904T20121110

    So, what is it that the Boards of Directors of defense contractors, as well as the defense contracting industry, know about women that “complementarians” like John Piper and Wayne Grudem, et al. – who forbid women to lead or have authority over or teach men (unless they’re under a male’s “covering”) based on some rather bizarre interpretations and applications of Biblical passages – apparently do not know or do not want to know?

  • http://www.sacredoutfitter.blogspot.com Jeff Baxter

    It depends on your hermenutics/Biblical interpretation on the list. If you read the Biblical Scriptures literally than some of these are not myths (not all…some), but if you pick and choose proof-texting your way throughout the whole of Scripture, than you come to this kind of list.

  • Rob F.

    Steve @ 3,
    I have heard this argument many, many times. You are correct that some of the passages appeal to creation…however these appeals to creation occur in a cultural and literary context. You say these passages shouldn’t be “misused to devalue women” OR “ignored for the sake of a 21 century mentality”. Do you have a proposal as how to achieve both these conditions? HINT: I suspect any proposal will hinge on the definition of devaluation of women. I am an egalitarian in large part because I cannot reconcile the words and actions of complementarians against any rational or objective standard. Almost all complementarians say they don’t devalue women, but their actions just don’t support that claim. In other words, I cannot reconcile how allowing/denying access to teaching and leadership roles/functions (roles that are valued in our culture) based on group membership (i.e. gender) is not assigning value, at least implicitly, to group members.

    You write: “We must examine all of scripture in order to understand the role of both men and women in the home, church and world.”As you can see, even from some commenting here, many egalitarians believe this is exactly what they are doing. Shalom.

  • Adam O

    I think Rory#8 makes a good point here. I read the complete article and, as an egalitarian, found much to agree with. But I still am unsure of the author’s purpose. Perhaps it is intended to be a balm for women who have been oppressed with misused Scripture, but the tone reads to me as more generally directed toward the church in contribution to the contemporary discussion. And on that level, it seems rather unhelpful because it would seem to link any who claim the position of “complimentarian” with their more extreme brothers (and sisters I suppose…). I appreciate the work folks like Scot have done to promote genuine discussion between those who have an open ear to Scripture without painting all complimentarians into such an uncharitable box that they would be incredibly disinclined to listen to our positions. I heard Scot say once that it takes great effort, skill, and respect to discribe the position of someone else to their approval, but it often takes that to promote genuine Christian discussion. I fear that articles like this merely shut down discussion.

  • Pastor Kurt Hannah

    I disagree with two of Grady’s initial presuppositions, namely, that “a patriarchal system of control has kept women in spiritual captivity,” and that “we must debunk these lies if we want to see the church fully released to fulfill the Great Commission.” However, as a convinced complementarian (I grew up with a secular egalitarian view), I agree that each point is a lie not found in Scripture and should not be upheld in the church. If this is supposed to promote an egalitarian viewpoint juxtaposed to a complementarian viewpoint, then this straw man article will not promote dialogue, only continued suspicion and frustration that we’re not really hearing one another.

  • Rob F.

    Jeff @ 12,

    Do you care to elaborate on which statements from the list aren’t myth based on a “literal” reading of Scripture?

    If I understand your comment, you are suggesting that egals are guilty of proof-texting, but complementarians are not? If so, I am scratching my head with puzzlement. However, you are correct it does depend one’s hermeneutics.

    Adam O @ 14, I agree that charitable discussion is important (I try to foster and participate in such discussion, albeit imperfectly) however, I also think all parties need to have thick enough skin to withstand genuine critique of their position without crying fowl. For example, egals need to face the criticism that they are playing fast and loose with Scripture and rejecting God’s clear and universal gender roles. On the other hand, comps need face the genuine critique that insisting that functional/practical inequality has no relation to ontological equality (which many seem to do by insisting that categorically limiting women practically has no relation to their value/status as beings…the equal but different roles view). Shalom.

  • Joe Canner

    Steve #4: “…many of these passages do not appeal to culture, but to creation itself.”

    I take it, then, that you would also concur with Paul’s commands in I Cor. 11 regarding head coverings and hair length, since they also appeal to “nature”?

  • Randy J

    In answer to the church of the 21st Century; Hebrews 13:7 Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 9 Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.

    The big misconception among the churches today is that God has some how evolved from the God of the Old Testament than the New Testament from the 18th century unto the 21st century where he no longer expects the same following of his word to be carried out in regard to ministering. The churches have adopted a charismatic attitude with regard to how they carry the gospel all the way to proclaiming the gospel. If you cannot tell the difference of being inside the House of God as compared to being inside the local coffee house than God did not change my friend, you did and rather than our churches today pursuing to raise the congregations to God’s level they are trying to bring God and incorporate him at their level.
    As for woman and ministry; I believe when Christ gave us The Great Commission there were woman in the crowd as well and the command to preach the gospel was not limited to only men but to all who accept the blood of Christ. And if you read Acts 9:36 Discipleship was to the woman as well.
    My only objection is that men and woman alike are in the pulpits and on the television filling their own pockets as power speakers rather than fulfilling the ministry of Kingdom of God.

  • Rob F.

    sigh…I’m afraid this discussion (not just this blog, but the entire gender discussion) is much too similar to the following Monty Python sketch: http://youtu.be/lL9oA1LFoMw

    I fear many on both sides are stuck in the loop of contradiction. One side says “yes it is” and the other replies “no it isn’t”. This loop is inescapable unless both sides (or at least individuals within each “camp”) can agree on a common framework (rhetorical, empirical, hermeneutical, etc.) on which to build and evaluate our arguments. Shalom.

  • Timothy

    Re Comment 3:
    There is a great line in Yes Minister when the civil servants (men) comment that woman are too emotional and deal in stereotypes.

  • Judy Diehl

    Two words: Thank God. Thank God these lies are being seen for exactly what they are. My favorite lies are from 1 Tim. 2:11-15. I have actually experienced these lies as a female in the church. Poor hermeneutics has deduced that women are to be quiet (actually silent), be in full submission (to whom?); they cannot be teachers of high school boys (and older), and they are the epitome of liars. Most important, they cannot be “saved” (from who, from what?) unless they are super-moms. Unbelievable.

  • EricW

    Here’s my hermeneutic: If Jesus came to reinforce and continue the same men-on-top status and paradigm that has characterized the church, and the world since the Fall, then He is not the Messiah and Savior of the world.

  • Steve

    Joe and Rob, My proposal is to follow the text in accordance with a literal hermeneutical approach. It is the text and the text alone that must guide us. I would like to start by saying that having set roles and functions does not devalue anyone. The one who preaches is not any more valueable than the one who has the gift of mercy. All have a role to play and all are just as valueable. Our value is not determined by what role we are assigned, for it is God Himself who assigns these roles. Our value is found in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that each passage must be examined in a literal hermeneutic. When this is done, I have no choice but to accept that God has in fact assigned different roles for males and females. A lot more could be said here, but this will do for now.

  • Dan Arnold

    Steve (#23),

    By literal, do you mean, how you understand the words in your current cultural milieu? Or do you mean how they would have been understood by their original intended audience? Or do you mean how the author(s) intended them?

    Shalom uvrecha,

  • Matt Gray

    Part of my frustration with this, is a mispresumption that if corrected would actually help Grady’s point (and yours). While it is true that a patriarchal perspective has often been very influential upon Christianity, the mentality of “the Junia ethic” was much stronger throughout Church history than is often recognised.
    In particular, many of his myths assume a domestic subjugation, when the VAST majority of the Church’s history has lauded female monasticism. Convents facilitated female education, independence from male domestic authority, autonomy, and voice and influence – including in the “Dark Ages”! Just off the top of my head, Macrina, Syncletice, Catherine of Sienna, Catherine of Genoa, Pulcheria, Hildegaard of Bingen (who was also an accomplished author in medicine, not just theology), Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, Teresa of Avila. I could go on.
    I might also add that my PhD is on the early Baptists and gender, and there are TONS of examples of women in the Puritan tradition being given significantly more power precisely because of their faith. Secular gender scholarship recognises this more than Christians seem to do!

  • CK

    I respond to this list not only with deep offense but also with incredulity; could any rational (not to say cultured) individual possibly hold such views? Yet, the very extremity of the list is what makes me doubt its usefulness as a summary of the hierarchal worldview and as a starting point for discussion. The claims of hierarchists are being advanced much more subtly and shrewdly. I have a dear female friend who is both well-educated and independent and yet has bought into their argument, sadly. I know that she would not accept their positions if stated in the blantant and extremist language that Grady uses here. They are much better rhetorical strategists than this list suggests, and those of us who seek to advance the mutuality perspective need to focus on responding to the more serious, more carefully-crafted language that’s out there.

  • CK

    Apologies if I began my previous comment with an ad hominem attack. I need to watch my ethos as well!

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    I’ve heard all 10 of these lies, plus the one DMH #3 pointed out (rational men vs. emotional women). That one really can make a woman’s head feel off-kilter, because the men who argue w/ it are usually failing to respond to the woman’s well-reasoned points.

    In addition, there is the trump of trumps which I’ve noted over and over again, including above in many comments. I recall discussions in business contexts, church contexts, and in 3 different countries on 3 different continents. When I held a different opinion or conclusion – perfectly well & logically reasoned, with supporting evidence – than others (mainly men, with some women nodding yes) did about issues specifically affecting women, it made not one whit of difference. I asked one (unusually honest) man, “why do you have the final say on what affects me & other women?”

    The answer was, finally, “because I’m a man.”

    Nothing, except the cross, counters that blindness and determination.

  • Steve

    Dan,
    By literal, i mean that every word was directly inspired by God and therefore should be understood in a literal sense. With that said, I hold to authorial intent, because God is the athor. He does not lie or decieve, but says exactly what He means. With that said, language is communication. So I also hold to a historical-gramatical interpretation. I cannot assume my culture onto the text, but recognize that the text of scripture comes with its own culture and context. With that said, I also recognize that the truths of scripture are still absolute and therefore have application for all time periods.

  • Rev. Bryant J. Williams III

    Dear Mr. Grady,

    I find that one has to be careful of not buying into the a lie. That lie is that “submission equals inferiority.” The term “submission” or “be in subjection to” has been co-opted by the Feminist Movement and has been misused by us men. It does NOT mean inferiority. It is a military term. It has nothing to do with rank, but everything to do with role. There is no difference between the General and the private. It is the voluntary placing of one’s rights under the authority of another. It has nothing to do with “inferiority or superiority.” In fact, John 4-5 has Jesus “submitting Himself to the will of the Father.” Now, if submission equals inferiority then we have a problem. How can Christ who is God in the Flesh be inferior to God? He cannot. It is an impossibility. In fact, Christ is equal with God, see Philippians 2:6. Another fact is that the command of the husband “to love his wife, as Christ loved the Church and gave His life for her” is, actually, a higher form of submission.

    Furthermore, Ephesians 5:22-32, I Peter 3:1-7; I Corinthians 14:33-34 (remember that the Oracle of Delphi across the Isthmus of Corinth to the NE was a woman); I Timothy 2:9-14 (Paul uses the order of Creation for his command) besides the qualifications found in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. It should be pointed out that the Phase “husband of one wife” is used 2 times (3:2, 12) for the Pastor; while, the “wife of one husband” in 5:9 is with reference to a widow.

    Finally, the use of Galatians 3:28 in context is with reference to equality in salvation. Does that mean that a woman is not equal? No. It just requires that salvation is not to be used to discriminate between gender, ethnic groups or race.

    It is quite clear that the roles of a woman is in much discussion today, but to take the Scriptures out of context is make a pretext which is NO TEXT at all.

    I should add that I Peter 3:7 has a command to the husband to live with wife with knowledge and to treat the wife, “as if” she is the weaker vessel.” That does not mean that a woman is weak. Giving birth to a child is NOT for the weak. In fact, if the husband want his prayers answered he must , needs, to treat his wife right. God does not like the mistreatment of women or children. If a man does mistreat a woman or child, then he will have God as his enemy. That is never good.

  • Rev. Bryant J. Williams III

    I find that one has to be careful that one does not buy into the lie. That lie is that “submission equals inferiority.” The term “submission” or “be in subjection to” has been co-opted by the Feminist Movement and has been misused by us men. It does NOT mean inferiority. It is a military term. It has nothing to do with rank, but everything to do with role; there is not difference between the General and the private. It is the voluntary placing of one’s rights under the authority of another. It has nothing to do with “inferiority or superiority.” In fact, John 4-5 has Jesus “submitting Himself to the will of the Father.” Now, if submission equals inferiority then we have a problem. How can Christ who is God in the Flesh be inferior to God? He cannot. It is an impossibility. In fact, Christ is equal with God, see Philippians 2:6. Another fact is that the command of the husband “to love his wife, as Christ loved the Church and gave His life for her” is, actually, a higher form of submission.

    Furthermore, Ephesians 5:22-32, I Peter 3:1-7; I Corinthians 14:33-34 (remember that the Oracle of Delphi across the Isthmus of Corinth to the NE was a woman and talked in jibberish; also Greco-Roman views of prophcey is decidedly different from Jewish-Christian views of prophecy); I Timothy 2:9-14 (Paul uses the order of Creation for his command) besides the qualifications found in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. It should be pointed out that the Phase “husband of one wife” is used 2 times (3:2, 12) for the Pastor; while, the “wife of one husband” in 5:9 is with reference to a widow.

    Finally, the use of Galatians 3:28 in context is with reference to equality in salvation. Does that mean that a woman is not equal? No. It just requires that salvation is not to be used to discriminate between gender, ethnic groups or race.

    It is quite clear that the roles of a woman is in much discussion today, but to take the Scriptures out of context is make a pretext which is NO TEXT at all.

    I should add that I Peter 3:7 has a command to the husband to live with wife with knowledge and to treat the wife, “as if” she is the weaker vessel.” That does not mean that a woman is weak. Giving birth to a child is NOT for the weak. In fact, if the husband want his prayers answered he must , needs, to treat his wife right. God does not like the mistreatment of women or children. If a man does mistreat a woman or child, then he will have God as his enemy. That is never good.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    CK, #26-27, there are many theologians, authors, pastors, chaplains and others in ministry who have carefully, thoughtfully, logically responded with the case for mutuality as you suggested (Scot McKnight being one of them!): They [the hierarchical complementarians] are much better rhetorical strategists than this list suggests, and those of us who seek to advance the mutuality perspective need to focus on responding to the more serious, more carefully-crafted language that’s out there.

    The problem, ISTM, is far more fundamental, as I pointed out in my comment (#28). To use Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor of the elephant and the rider for how we make moral decisions (long article – http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2011/12/08/jonathan-haidt-the-moral-matrix-breaking-out-of-our-righteous-minds/ or blog post here on Scot’s site – http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2012/06/06/morality-and-body/ ),
    *The Elephant is the fact that men (and women, too) don’t naturally assign credibility to what women say. (ISTM this is the sin-founded response to Gen. 3:17-19. “God punished me for listening to a woman, therefore I’ll never listen to a woman.” That response seems to abrogate our human, God & neighbor-loving & honoring, ongoing responsibility of listening and discerning God’s voice in and through others.)
    *The Rider is the list of distortions & lies, above. They are the multiple justifications for what the Elephant has already decided to do. The Elephant either has decided to listen, or not to listen. Given the scriptural witness, I think we may ascertain that, from God’s POV, our natural inclination is the latter, and particularly so toward women’s voices.

    There are some folks who, given caring relationships & helpful explanations from friendly folks, might be persuaded to listen. May there be more, O Lord!

    What makes this particular deafness and blindness so stubborn is, imho & those of others who’ve written and taught on this subject, that it’s such an entrenched, enduring product of our human sin and brokenness. Too often, we exclude the other from consideration and from the “love” that truly hears his/her voice, because we’re tired, they look or sound different from us, they aren’t as we are, we’re too important, we’re too busy, we’re overwhelmed by the din in our own lives. Jesus is not only the Word made flesh, as it were, but in the midst of all the hubbub around him, Jesus is the Word who hears. (e.g., Mark 10:13-16, or Mark 10:46-51)

  • Amanda B.

    I’ve read Grady’s book, “10 Lies the Church Tells Women” before. My most recent reading of it was about four years ago, and I found it to be relatively unhelpful towards the current evangelical gender debate, because it doesn’t answer the nuanced position of major complementarian organizations such as the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. For instance, John Piper specifically applauds the value of Christian singleness (even for women), and the CBMW would acknowledge that there are times where women must (not just “may”) work outside of the home, and that many women are well-equipped for leadership roles (but just may not exercise such roles over men).

    BUT, when I first read Grady’s book, when it was just published, it made me cry, because I was in a church that taught these lies as gospel truth. They actually called my mom “a Jezebel”. They taught that a godly family should be like a wheel, with the husband at the center, and wife and children’s lives revolving around him like spokes. The only time I remember a woman praying to open our Sunday morning service, male deacons surrounded her, explicitly to “cover” her (and she had served as a single missionary in China for 50 years).

    Just because no well-known, respected complementarians teach these things, does not mean that these things don’t get taught. These are not straw man arguments to discredit complementarians. These are real lies that real women get taught in real churches all the time. Though they aren’t the mainstream arguments, they exist, and it is right and good for people like Grady to oppose them. I would request that complementarians join him in critiquing what is wrong, rather than going on the defensive with, “But *I* don’t say that”. There’s no need to wear the shoe if it doesn’t fit.

  • CK

    Thanks for the insight, Ann F-R. I apparently have not been exposed to the most entrenched views; I’m sorry that you’ve had to experience such treatment.

    I have read Scot’s excellent book, The Blue Parakeet, and I plan to read his further work on Junia!

  • P.

    Many of these lies come from reading things into the Bible that really aren’t there. Another mistake that results in some of these is lifting the words off the page of the Bible without looking at the context in which they were written.

    I’d like to add another lie to this list: that Adam is the only ancestor (literal or symbolic) of the human race. I’ve noticed in recent discussions that all femininity has been removed from discussions of the creation. Apparently the church as moved from blaming Eve to erasing her existence. I know this isn’t the intention of the theologians discussing the origins of humanity, but what are they unintentionally telling people, including non-believers? That everything revolves around Adam, and Eve is the good, little wife sitting silently on the sidelines?

  • NC

    Lie No. 11: “For centuries, a patriarchal system of control has kept women in spiritual captivity through distortion of the Scriptures.” Come on! Are simplifications really that helpful?

  • sehila

    I have enough jobs already, don’t need more from the church. As to roles- Proverbs 31 covers plenty to engage in over a lifetime and I like what Deborah had to say to Barak in Judges too.
    What the men in defense companies know (Eric W. ! above) is let the women take the lead role right before a downturn and it looks like their ineptitude. The same happens in politics. As women have increased in numbers as doctors and lawyers it has coincided with a “downturn” in salaries. Guess the guys know when to get out after raping the system and make women the “fall guys”.
    As I have raised my three daughters, I have tried to teach them that God has special gifts and purposes for them and they don’t need to compete with men for power to do it.


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