Why the Church Should Support #BlackLivesMatter

A conversation with Michelle Higgins

A few weeks ago, almost 16,000 college students gathered for Urbana, an evangelical conference promoting cross-cultural missions. While the event featured high-profile speakers like David Platt and Francis Chan, the most talked about session following the 2015 conference was Michelle Higgins' talk about the evangelical church and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Her address generated some controversy, mainly surrounding the her support for Black Lives Matter and some side comments she made during her talk—causing InterVarsity, the organization that hosts Urbana, to respond officially and in follow up interviews.

Regardless, no one can deny the importance of Higgins' speech, both in message and that it seems to represent the first major evangelical organization to put its weight behind the Black Lives Matter movement. Higgins, who is the director of worship and outreach at South City Church in St. Louis, issued a call to action, and at the very least, she sparked a much-needed discussion among evangelicals.

We talked to her about the Urbana talk and the importance of Black Lives Matter for all Christians.

First, can you describe what the Black Lives Matter movement is in a tangible sense outside of a hashtag?

There are three primary definitions for the Black Lives Matter movement. The first would be blacklivesmatter.com, which aspires to a political ideology—much like, in [the Christian] world, something like Focus on the Family. It’s a political action committee. It’s attempting to impact legislation for greater change in terms of creating new laws that hold more people in power accountable.

The second definition would be Black Lives Matters a decentralized movement that maintains its momentum by having local organizers and activists take on a clarion call to people in their own spaces. Every goal around the nation is we want to affirm that nobody has the right to decide whether or not a person is executed on the street. The movement is very clear in what it affirms. Nobody has the right to harass or kill a police officer—the movement is every clear on those things. But it is headless intentionally, and that’s actually an opportunity for Christians.

The third definition comes from mainstream media, moreso media on the right. That definition would be that Black Lives Matter is an attempt to turn the nation into afro-centrisic values, an attempt to wipe out Jesus with Kwanza, that it’s an attempt to destroy police forcers and government brutality around the United States. That third definition of Black Lives Matter is often one we hear the most, the one people say affirms the killing of police, affirms the hatred and blaming of white people. Sadly, it’s that definition we hear in churches. But it happens to be the one that is the least true to the movement of Black Lives Matter and the actual political ideology.

So why do you think Christians need to embrace and support the Black Lives Matter movement?

I believe in my soul that the evangelical church missed an opportunity over at least two decades to be the Black Lives Matter movement. After Dr. King was killed, multiple other instances took the civil rights movement into something of what people would call an underground phase, and it’s really just resurfaced on a national scale.

I believe the Church lost momentum. The Church in the ’70s and the ‘80s began to separate justice and reconciliation, and in truth, those two words should be interchangeable. Reconciliation is not just a hug and a kiss and now we’re OK. True reconciliation involves equity, racial equity. A number of different “hug a black person movements”—that sought after sitting at tables and talking to each other—stalled a real pursuit of reconciliation, which would be seeking both substantial, transformative change and a transformation of the heart that would lead to truth-telling on a systemic level.

The Church became comfortable in just holding hands and singing. The Church became comfortable in putting all our happy times inside the sanctuary and beginning to ignore a wave of injustices outside the sanctuary walls. The Church has decided to protest for innocent victims instead of do a holistic cry for the sanctity of all life, those who are “naughty” and those who are “nice.” We missed our chance to be the Black Lives Matter movement.

"Reconciliation is not just a hug and a kiss and now we’re OK. True reconciliation involves equity, racial equity."

We have to confess that the truth of God’s image bearers being dignified only by the fact that they bear His image is what is driving Black Lives Matter. The Church should embrace Black Lives Matter because Black Lives Matter is preaching the gospel of life, of hope and of justice better than we are. We all got a problem with our own cultural supremacy, but if we really want to learn how to preach a fuller Gospel that really invites people to revel in the fact that they are alive and they are created in God’s image, then we have to take the truth that we know is owned by the author of truth and we have to go and begin to participate with people who have a gram, a grain of that golden truth.

And the more we see God’s truth shining through people that haven’t even been purified by Him, the more they will see our fearlessness and our boldness in not watering down what we believe but not hiding our light simply because they don’t share our beliefs. It’s our greatest testimony.

Whenever we see God’s truth, we have to know that the maker of that truth is stronger than any opposition to that truth that might arise. So if I hide myself from the areas where His truth is being preached, I’m actually participating in the perpetuating of some of the dangers and the lies that come attached to that truth. If I’m not in those spaces to tell people, “Jesus loves justice and Jesus loves you and He’s calling you into His family,” then what it’s worth for me to go do missions in another country if I’m not rehearsing God’s mission in my city? If I’m not rehearsing it here then I’m going to be really bad at making disciples of all nations.

Why do you think there’s pushback on the Church getting more involved and supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement?

In the conversations I’ve had with people, they are afraid to affirm any part because they fear that it means they are affirming the whole. The fear of association is so huge. The discomfort with standing side by side with somebody who doesn’t believe in Jesus is depressing to me, because how are we going to be a people on mission to the whole world if we can’t march beside people and say, “Yeah, you should be able to able to live and not be afraid of police, but only if you’re a Christian.”

Again, it comes down to a difference of opinion. When the opinion of the conservative Christian becomes more important than the need of the person in their community, then they can feel justified in their actions and never have to confront their fears.

My challenge to those folks is how to do we participate in missions in Buddhist areas in China? How do we participate in missions in largely Hindu populations around the world? How do we participate in missions in the Islamic world? How do we partner with and attempt to shine God’s light and to extend a hand of Godly fellowship to people who don’t believe like us? They believe something different than we believe and yet we’re called to be present with them.

"To really affirm that black lives do matter is to say we all agree that white lives don’t matter more than black lives. If we begin to live that way in our worship space, then it will begin to trickle out outside of them."

Perhaps Black Lives Matter is harder to enter into for us specifically in the United States because our history is too fresh. None of us want to admit that African Americans in this country are seen as either superhuman or subhuman. People just don’t care when black people die. They don’t agree that black people are image bearers. So deep down, the reason may be that we don’t want to enter into Black Lives Matter because we don’t actually believe that they do.

How can we have meaningful conversations about race issues that are vulnerable and honest, but also help us all actually work together?

Well, everyone interested in working together has to educate themselves first. For instance I’ll tell you right now Christena Cleveland’s talk at Urbana ’15 and Tom Skinner’s talk at Urbana 1970 are two of the places evangelicals need to start.

And then don’t talk about it on social media, just don’t. Find somebody in the flesh who will sit with you through the mess and the insanity of saying the wrong thing for the wrong reasons and still protect you, because Christians are called to create safe spaces for each other to do dumb things.

If you’re going to get onto social media and say anything, it needs to be spoken humbly. You need to display such a heavy amount of humility on social media that people can see, “This is a person I feel safe striking up a private conversation with.”

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I would say self education is huge, and actual tangible relationship—planning on being face to face with someone who doesn’t think like you. And I don’t even mean they have to be a different ethnicity. Find somebody who can help you process what you’re learning. Often, it’s a person who shares our cultural history who can help us the most at these early stages.

What can an individual do who is trying to affect change in his or her church?

We have to, as individuals, dedicate ourselves to telling the truth about our history. So look at your liturgical practices and ask, “Is there one narrative at the center that is more important than others? Are we uplifting certain confessions, particular creeds that were written by folks in Europe? Whether intentionally or accidentally are we pursuing whiteness as the narrative from which all others should be described?”

To really affirm that black lives do matter is to say we all agree that white lives don’t matter more than black lives. If we begin to live that way in our worship space, then it will begin to trickle out outside of them.

Now, there are concrete ways to enter Black Lives Matter outside of the sanctuary. Are you a medical professional? Are you considering law school? How can you manipulate the privilege of your education for the purpose of releasing, of encouraging and uplifting the stories of the oppressed?

We don’t see a pursuit for justice because we’ve been conditioned to pursue wealth and acclaim and not necessarily the flourishing of our neighbors. So you can say “black lives matter” and still go into a space where the “other” in your community is a person of native descent, of Mexican descent. Saying that you’re dedicated to tearing down systemic race-based bias doesn’t mean that you have to make sure that you go hug a black person, it means that you no longer find yourself as the center and most important part of your story.

Top Comments

Doug Jolly

88

Doug Jolly commented…

On the surface, no Christian can argue with the three simple words "black lives matter". Of course they matter - they matter to God and they should matter to us. And the majority of Christians don't have a problem with some people focusing on black lives over others. That's the part where the "all lives matter" rejoinder fails -- like instead of saying "feed the hungry", you should say "no, feed everyone!" It's not wrong to focus on the needs of one group of people who have been the prolonged victims of systemic discrimination and injustice.
The problem with Black Lives Matter is not the words themselves -- it's HOW they are used. And as far as anyone can tell, the way the phrase is used in context means this: "Black Lives Matter - But Only When They Are Shot By White Police Officers". The fact is, African-Americans are far more likely to die as the result of diabetes, heart disease, or black-on-black crime then they ever are by the hands of rogue white cops. Reporting on these stories isn't as sexy as reporting on the sensationalist story of a black suspect shot or injured by a white policeman (which then generates more news stories after the protests and riots that follow). But if Christians really want to show that we believe that black lives matter, we will tackle the systemic issues of poverty that forces black parents to buy and feed their kids sugary and fatty processed junk foods that lead to diabetes and heart disease but cost so much less than fresh fruits and vegetables. We will tackle the issues of racism and broken families that lead young black men to believe they have no way to get ahead except by embracing a life of drugs and crime and gunning each other down in the process. And yes, we need to learn how to foster better relations between the police and black communities. But these will not be simple fixes. We live in a culture that wants quick and simple solutions that require minimal effort. Already you see police forces trying to figure out how to hire more black police officers so there will be "less media coverage and riots if black kids are shot by black cops."
These problems won't be solved by hashtag-ivism, Facebook slogans, and people shouting out "black lives matter" or "all lives matter". They will be solved only when Christians put down their laptops, iPads and smartphones and start living out the values of Kingdom of God in their everyday lives - right here, right now.

Alexander McIntosh

1

Alexander McIntosh replied to Brian Hammond's comment

Sir,

I think you're kind of missing the point of the Black Lives Matter Movement. It is not simply a social media movement and it should not be casually dismissed. You say that Race should not be an issue and that the Church should serve all regardless of the color of their skin, but in our society, racial injustice is a very real issue. The disparity between conditions of blacks and whites in this country is downright evil. The culture that white people created in the 1700's and 1800's with slavery and later reinforced with Jim Crow and segregation in the 1900's is still alive and well in the 2000's. The Church is in the business of granting equality for all, which frankly isn't the case in the United States of America today.

12 Comments

Charles Jandecka

2

Charles Jandecka commented…

Imagine, if you can, Jesus running around the countryside shouting "Jewish Lives Matter."

Did you know when asked one time about a slaughter of some Jewish worshippers by Roman soldiers he commented the manner in which you die is of no eternal consequence but having repented of your sins before death is critical? Did you also know he did not open soup kitchens, heal every person he met, provide jobs for anybody, push for equality for all people or tell people they were not responsible for their own lives? I'm sure you did ...

Mkamwendo Sakaja

3

Mkamwendo Sakaja commented…

He answered me, “The sin of the people of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of injustice. Ezekiel 9:9-10

God feels strongly about injustice, and so should his church.

SciFi RPG

1

SciFi RPG commented…

Police kill about 400 people a year (mostly criminals & some innocents).
Of those about 25% (~100) are black. Most of the rest (~300) are whites
& hispanics. NOW in contrast, about 8,000 (EIGHT THOUSAND) blacks are
killed by OTHER blacks every year.

In other words, for every 1 (one) black killed by a white cop each year
(many of whom were committing a crime while killed) 71 (seventy one)
blacks were murdered by other BLACKS. In the past 35 years about 323,000
(yes that's THOUSANDS) blacks have been murdered by other blacks. Over
9,000 per year on average.

The logical & factual conclusion (rather than insane, hysterical,
emotional ranting) is that as a black person, you are FAR safer in the
company of a white cop than you are in the company of another black person.

Therefore, if you are going to mobilize MILLIONS of people against the
LEO killings and NOT the black on black killings (as the BLM group is
doing) at MOST you will save about 50 black lives a year. If you take
that energy instead to convince BLACKS, that black lives matter (should
be easier than convincing the so called racist, white police right?) you
could save THOUSANDS of black lives per year instead. Which one is a
SANE person going to do?

BTW, of the approximately 1 MILLION violent crimes committed in the USA
each year, 85% are committed by blacks and 25% by whites. Even
though blacks only make up about 14% of the population.

Daniel Efrain Torres Velasquez

1

Daniel Efrain Torres Velasquez replied to SciFi RPG's comment

Why is the reason that more blacks are kill by other blacks than the police?

The only way to understand this issue is by knowing the history of the black community and recognizing that the SYSTEMATIC OPPRESSION created by those in power (sadly old rich white males) are responsible. The following research done by PBS was use to created a timeline and a documentary that provide information on how the most violent gangs in America came to be:

Timeline: South Central Los Angeles
From an icon of African American home ownership to a symbol of urban blight and gang violence, the area known as South Central Los Angeles has experienced dramatic changes over the last half-century: in its population, its economy and even its name.

View a timeline of South Central’s varied past, including events that contributed to the rise of its notorious gangs: the Crips and the Bloods.

World War II: African American Migration
1940 to 1944
Passed in 1941, Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 8801 bans racial discrimination in wartime defense industries. Jobs open up in the growing industrial sector, and African Americans are able to fill them. Companies such as Goodyear, Firestone, Chrysler and Ford all set up factories in South Los Angeles.

Between 1940 and 1970, five million African Americans leave the heavily segregated South for cities in the North and West. During this time, Los Angeles’s black population grows from 63,744 to nearly 736,000.

The Birth of South Central
1944 to 1948
L.A.’s black population is booming, and Central Avenue is its nexus, home to black-owned businesses and a thriving jazz and R&B music scene.

The newly named “South Central” is the only district in the city where African Americans can own property. Racially restrictive housing covenants, enforced by the law, police authorities and white homeowners, keep L.A.’s schools and communities strictly segregated and deny people of color the right to home ownership.

Housing projects, initially built for war industry employees, and planned with racial integration in mind, begin to populate the South L.A. neighborhood of Watts. Larger projects, such as Imperial Courts and Jordan Downs (both built in 1944), have a majority of African Americans living in them.

Shelley v. Kraemer
1948
African Americans achieve victory after challenging legal housing discrimination for years. In Shelley v. Kraemer, the Supreme Court forbids legally enforced, racially restrictive housing covenants. In Los Angeles, African Americans are able to move to new areas outside of the increasingly overcrowded main section of South Central. However, the growth of L.A.’s freeway system and racially based “blockbusting” maintains neighborhood segregation, while whites begin to move to the suburbs.

Street Clubs Form
Early 1950s
In response to white violence against blacks who venture into white neighborhoods, young black Angelenos form street clubs like the Devil Hunters, the Farmers, and the Huns. White gangs and black gangs fight in racially morphing neighborhoods in South Los Angeles, with many of the gangs geographically organized by housing projects.

Nickerson Gardens Built
1955
With 1,100 units, Watts’s Nickerson Gardens is the city’s largest public housing project to date and the largest west of the Mississippi River. By the end of the 1950s, more than a third of Watts residents live in public housing, and the formerly separate districts of Watts, West Adams, and Central Avenue are all known as part of South Central.

Civil Rights Act Passes
1964
The U.S. government passes the pivotal Civil Rights Act, which bans racial segregation in the workplace, in schools, and in public spaces. But some states, including California, create their own laws to evade the Act’s demand for fair housing, thus maintaining segregation in America’s cities.

Watts Riots
August 11, 1965
A police officer pulls over 21-year-old Watts resident Marquette Frye on suspicion of drunk driving. Frye, his mother, and his brother are all taken into police custody, and with long-simmering frustrations over police brutality, the neighborhood erupts in violence. Over the span of six days, crowds of residents face off against hundreds of L.A. police officers and 16,000 National Guard members. More than 34 people die, 1,000 are wounded and millions of dollars worth of property in damaged.

Black Power
1965 to 1970
Following the Watts Riots, black street clubs in South L.A. begin to unite and organize politically against police brutality. The Black Power Movement gains strength nationally, and violent gang activity decreases in L.A., as former members of gangs like the Slausons join up with the Black Panther Party (BPP), the US Organization and other socially conscious groups.

The FBI, working with the Los Angeles Police Department, feels threatened by the strength and numbers of Black Nationalist groups and intimidates, incarcerates and assassinates many of the movement’s leaders. The FBI’s COINTELPRO program incites violence between US and the BPP, resulting in the murders of two of L.A. BPP leaders in 1969.

South Central Declines
The 1970s
As America’s economy shifts from an industrial and manufacturing base to the service sector, factories start to leave L.A. and job opportunities decline for African-American workers. Coupled with white residents leaving for the suburbs, South Central enters a period of economic decline.

The Crips
1971 to 1972
With many black political leaders now imprisoned or marginalized, African American youth in South Central are left without role models in the community, and the number of street gangs increases. A gang called the Baby Avenues is started by 15-year-old Raymond Washington, in emulation of the Black Panthers and to fill the void left by the waning Black Power movement. Due to its members’ youthfulness, the gang becomes known as the Avenue Cribs, which later morphs into “Crips.”

The Bloods
1972 to 1975
Violence grows in South Central between the Crips and other gangs, and fist fighting gives way to guns. The Piru Street Boys in Compton meet with several other non-Crip gangs and form a new alliance that becomes known as the Bloods.

In 1972, there are 10 more gangs in South Central and a then-unprecedented 29 gang-related murders in the city. By 1974, there are 70 gang-related homicides, and the Crips and Bloods are active in Los Angeles, Compton, and Inglewood, in an area totaling nearly 30 square miles.

Raymond Washington Dies
August 9, 1979
Crips founder Raymond Washington is shot and killed on San Pedro and 64th Street in South Central. He is 25 years old. The murder remains unsolved.

Between 1978 and 1982, 101 new African American gangs will form in Los Angeles. During this same period, 70,000 workers will be laid off in South L.A.

L.A. County will have 30,000 active gang members by 1980.

Crack Cocaine
1981
Crack cocaine is introduced to South Central, eventually devastating a community that is already in crisis. Over the next decade, the Bloods and the Crips will become more and more involved in the drug’s production and trade, leading to more violence and decimating the neighborhood. The gangs’ reach and power will extend to other urban areas as well as many suburban areas throughout the United States. Nationwide, the incarceration rate will skyrocket.

Boyz N the Hood
1991
Written and directed by South Central native John Singleton, and starring South Central native Ice Cube, this Oscar-nominated film tells the story of three friends growing up in the neighborhood and offers a portrait of inner-city life. Along with albums like N.W.A.’s "Straight Outta Compton" and films like Menace II Society, Boyz N the Hood puts South Central on the map for the rest of the country and cements its tough reputation.

Rodney King
1992
On April 29th, a jury without a single African American member issues a verdict of “not guilty on all counts” in the case of four L.A. police officers who brutally beat an unarmed black motorist named Rodney King. Five miles away from the site of the 1965 Watts rebellion, at the South Central intersection of Normandie Avenue and Florence Boulevard, angry protests against the officers’ acquittals break out. The protests turn to violence; in the span of three days, 58 people die, hundreds are injured, thousands are arrested and about a billion dollars’ worth of property is damaged. The National Guard is called in and the nation’s spotlight is on South Central.

In 1992, there are 803 gang-related homicides in L.A., and South Central becomes a symbol of urban blight and gang violence.

The Truce and Rebuild L.A.
1992 to 1993
The 1992 uprising spurs a tentative truce between several Bloods and Crips factions. A six-billion-dollar investment program called Rebuild L.A. is created, promising 74,000 new jobs in South Central. But these jobs do not materialize, and the program shuts down within a year.

The truce, which involves 12,000 African American gang members in Watts, doesn’t last either. By October, truce leader Dewayne Holmes is in jail, sentenced for seven years for allegedly stealing 10 dollars. However, there is a reduction in gang-related homicides, and in 1993, a national gang peace summit is held in Chicago with hundreds of former and current gang members attending from different cities across the country.

By the mid-1990s, there are 650,000 gang members in the U.S. and 150,000 in Los Angeles County alone. Blood and Crip gang factions are found throughout the U.S. as well as abroad.

Changing Demographics
2000
Los Angeles’s racial makeup is shifting. According to the 2000 Census, South Central is now 47 percent Latino—its black population declining by nearly half in the past decade. In 1996, there were more than 600 Latino gangs in Los Angeles County, as well as a quickly growing Asian gang population of 20,000. In South Central, tensions between African American and Latino gangs are on the rise, and with it, racially provoked gang violence.

South Central Becomes South Los Angeles
2003
The Los Angeles City Council votes to change the area’s name from South Central to South Los Angeles, in an effort to counteract its negative stigma. Opinion is divided in the 16-square mile district as to whether the name change will help change attitudes and contribute to positive actions, or whether it is merely a superficial move.

Prison Rates Growing
2003 to 2005
Harsher sentencing laws, a flawed “war on drugs” and other socioeconomic factors result in South L.A. being disproportionally affected by rising imprisonment rates. In 2003, one in four African-American men are found to be sent to prison in their lifetime; California also has the largest number of female prisoners in the U.S.—the majority of whom are mothers of young children.

In 2005, South L.A. has the largest number of prison releases in the city. Even though the area contains 10 percent of the city’s population, it is home to one out of four of its prison parolees.

Watts Gang Injunctions
2004 to 2007
Gang violence in Watts, which is mainly centered around its sprawling public housing projects, is again on the uptick. In January 2006 alone, there are 19 gang-related shootings and seven deaths within the Jordan Downs housing complex. Generations of project residents have gone without jobs and economic opportunities and 75 percent of the neighborhood’s adult African American males will be incarcerated in their lifetimes. Watts residents have a 1 in 250 chance of being murdered—in comparison to 1 in 18,000 for average Americans—and nearly half of the neighborhood’s children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The L.A. police department responds by putting an injunction against the Bounty Hunter Bloods in 2004 and the Grape Street Crips in 2006, forbidding gang members from gathering. While homicide rates eventually drop, residents criticize police for making countless wrongful arrests.

Stanley Williams Executed
2005
Stanley “Tookie” Williams, one of the founders of the West Side Crips in the early 1970s, is executed on December 13 by the state of California. Convicted of four homicides, Williams spent more than two decades on death row, where he became an outspoken anti-gang advocate and author, and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize three times.

South Central Today
2008 to 2009
In 2008, homicide rates in Los Angeles are at a 40-year low, totaling 392. The area now known as South Los Angeles spans about 60 square miles, with a population of 885,000 people. There are twice as many Latino residents than there are African Americans, and 40 percent of the neighborhood is foreign-born.

The neighborhood still suffers from gang violence and poverty. Since 1990, nearly one-third of South L.A. residents have been living below the poverty line, mere miles from some of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Joblessness remains rampant. Efforts to revitalize South L.A. include the construction of new business districts and shopping centers.

http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/cripsandbloods/timeline.html
http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/cripsandbloods/map.html

Yes, blacks are killing more blacks than the police, but the systematic oppression, stereotypes, injustices and broken promises made by those in power have made possible all this brokenness. As Christians is or job to love (the same way that JESUS love us) those that have been put down by our society and know or history so we can advocate for those that are in need of justice.

(Hosea 4:6 my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.)
(Amos 5:24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!)
(Genesis 1:27) God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Michael Leapley

7

Michael Leapley replied to Daniel Efrain Torres Velasquez's comment

It is incredible how you can rationalize black on black crime. The corrupt greedy whites never forced a black man to shoot another black man. All men are still responsible for their own sins and will be judged accordingly.

Helen Marchman Morris

1

Helen Marchman Morris commented…

Michelle Higgins is the Worship and Outreach Director of South City Church, not Soul City Church.

Michael Leapley

7

Michael Leapley commented…

"Every goal around the nation is we want to affirm that nobody has the right to decide whether or not a person is executed on the street."
So if somebody is in the process of a mass shooting, they shouldn't be stopped by law enforcement with needed force, which very well could be shooting the perpetrator. Apparently BLM is not an advocate for safety in our American society. It's this kind of logic that seems nice on the outside, but when you run it to its full course, you realize it's complete garbage.

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