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News from the Center: Digest

News from the Center: Digest (11)

 

A review of the distinctive powers and purposes of church and state is essential as the pandemic of wokeness accelerates.

A recent lawsuit filed against the Biden Administration by a small Christian college in Missouri reveals the drastic measures faith-based institutions must now employ in order to protect their constitutional rights, not to mention their religious identities and characters.  The outcome of the litigation could have significant ramifications for LCMS-affiliated institutions. 

You are here not by your own choice, but through the miracle of procreation, a man and a woman coming together with another person resulting. Now, that's you. It's not a matter of reproduction, as if we were made in some factory, but instead a matter of creation.

The miracle that is you began at the very moment of conception. And then, in a mysterious way, you began to grow, a little heart beating, fingers and toes and all the rest. But it was you all along, protected, nourished at thoroughly at home in the womb of your mother. There is nothing like the mother/child bond. As I understand it, a little bit of a child's DNA remains always in her mother. Thus there is a bond that can never be broken, an entanglement. This is true even with those children who are never born, whether through miscarriage or abortion. A mother carries with her that child forever.

We Lutherans speak quite a bit about the second use of the Law (as a mirror) and the third use of the Law (as a guide), but we also need to reflect on the first use of the Law (as a curb).

Without the first use of the Law — as manifested in our conscience, social inhibitions, parental authority and earthly governments — we sinners would tear each other apart, making any kind of cohesive society impossible.

Religion and politics

One of the cherished notions that typically guides the lives of Americans is that politics and religion do not mix. Of course, there are some areas of overlap that Americans accept and even expect, like a prayer at a presidential inauguration or candidates ending speeches with “God bless America.” But, on the whole, it is taken for granted that there needs to be a clear distinction or even a wall of separation between church and state. People do not want the government telling them what to believe about God, and they do not want the church telling them how to vote. Actually, they do not want anyone telling them how to vote.

The same party spirit that infects public discourse also threatens to inject its poison into our families and congregations. This is a spiritual battle that requires spiritual weapons. Abandoning the field is not a response of faith and love.

Vocation of Citizenship

Vocation means far more than “what I do for a living.” According to Luther, Christians have multiple vocations or callings. God calls us to live out our faith in the various estates that He has designed for human life. These estates are the household (including the family and its economic life), the church (the household of faith) and the state (the society and its government). 

This means Christians have a vocation of citizenship. In the turmoil and controversies of an election year, we would do well to consider what that entails. 

If You, o Lord, Should Mark Iniquities, O Lord, Who Could Stand? But with You There Is Forgiveness

by Peter Scaer

So sings the psalmist in Psalm 130. So sing the Christians. But the cancel culture doesn't know the words or the melody, does not know how to sing in the key of life. We all have flaws aplenty, and we should not take them lightly. They may manifest themselves as character defects, dark propensities, resulting in actions for which we have no defense, words that should never have been said.

In a kind of paraphrase of Psalm 130, Luther wrote "From Depths of Woe I Cry to You." Here's the first stanza.

From depths of woe I cry to Thee,

In trial and tribulation;

Bend down Thy gracious ear to me,

Lord, hear my supplication.

If Thou rememb’rest ev’ry sin,

Who then could heaven ever win

Or stand before Thy presence?


So it is, none of us can boasting stand, for all have shunned God's good commands, and we must live by mercy, mercy that came at a great price. And so the psalmist looks forward to the day when the Lord would redeem us from our iniquities. That is, when the Lord would pay the price for our sin. God's Son would fulfill the law actively and perfectly, overcoming all temptations and performing every good deed. God's Son would fulfill the law passively, suffering the punishments we have so richly deserved.

On the road to Damascus, Saul was thrown off his high horse, and that sort of thing is good for us all. As soon as I call out the sin of others, I call out my own. That doesn’t mean we shouldn't call out sin. After all, what we do harms others. But it means we should recognize we are all in this together. We have all sinned, and Christ has died for us all. Our Lord is not keeping score. He demands justice, but he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. When he speaks of hell, he does so as a warning, so that we need not go there.

So today, it's Winston Churchill. Yesterday, it was Dr. Seuss. The day before it was the founding fathers, a celebrity who tweeted in way that offends, a professor who held an unpopular view, a journalist who write the wrong thing, a sports commentator who said the wrong thing. And it doesn't matter what great things that man or woman has accomplished. What matters is the wart on that one lone place where we think our own skin in unblemished. What matters if that one weakness in a category where we view ourselves strong. It's like accusing Shakespeare of not being a great painter, or the Beatles as not being great athletes. Better yet, it's like accusing Isaac Newton of being unaware of the theory of relativity, or being disappointed in Marco Polo for not journeying to the moon, or saying Alexander the Great's army would be overwhelmed by our drones and missiles.

Well, no. It's worse than that. It's criticism coming from a people who knows nothing of poetry, art, music, or athleticism (except of course for the athletes' commitment to social justice, and their new salary.) It's criticism coming from people who may be literate, but may have never read, or even be able to read, the great authors who have come before them. At its heart it is life of criticizing others, a life without gratitude, a life of unfounded pride.

The cancel culture is about self-justification, about putting people down so that we can raise ourselves up. But it just makes us petty and vindictive. But there is a better path, and that is of humility, to follow the way of the one who washed his disciples' feet, who came in lowly riding on a donkey, who gave himself up to the shame and pain of the cross to redeem the likes of us. O Lord, if you kept a record of sin, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness. And having been forgiven, we can and must forgive, and in doing so, we begin to sing in the key of life.

The Rev. Dr. Peter Scaer is chairman and professor of Exegetical Theology and director of the M.A. program at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.

Be Informed

Have you seen the movie “Roe v. Wade”? Learn more from Dr. Michael New of the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

 

Be Equipped

A federal appeals court just ruled that University of Iowa officials who kicked a student club off campus because of its faith can be held personally accountable for the harm they caused.” The Wall Street Journal explains.

 

Be Encouraged

 

“Death is the one thing no Christian has to do on his or her own. Jesus has already been through suffering and death before us. He knows the way through death and the way back to life, too. Our friends and family cannot go with us—but Jesus can. He will never let go of our hands. And He will bring us back to life with Him because He has promised, and He will never lie.” –Dr. Kari Vo, Lutheran Hour Ministries

 

Help support our efforts to contend for the freedom to proclaim the faith. Click here to learn more or to donate.

 

Comfortable in Your Own Skin

by Peter Scaer

That used to be the goal. Maybe it still is. But I think it's especially confusing for women. The mixed messages are everywhere. On the one hand, photoshopped pictures fill the Internet. Models maintain their seemingly impossibly beauty well into what we used to call old age. Hair stylists, make-up artists, not to mention fitness trainers, serious dieting, and even plastic surgery go a long way in promoting a certain image. And, yes, again, the photoshop. On the other hand, there is Ashley Graham, and the emergence of plus size models, not to mention the kind of relatable female figures we might see with Oprah, Rachel Ray, or Kelly Clarkson.

Maybe we can all agree that what we want is for everyone to be comfortable with who they are. Not comfortable in their own sin, which is a false version of this, but comfortable in their own skin.


It's not easy being a boy or girl these days. But, now, let's think about the girls. Read Abigail Shrier's book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters. It has become a crisis. Young women, not comfortable in their bodies, are too often at sea, blown about by our schizophrenic cultural winds, not knowing where they fit in. For young people, we do best to counsel patience. So many are worried what they will be when they grow up, what will they do for a living. To this we say, not to worry. Work hard. Develop the talents that have been given you. Yes, develop healthy habits, ones that will load the dice in your favor. Remain chaste, we do well to add. But it will work out in the end. Give it time.

But we are doing the exact opposite with our girls and boys too. A girl feels a bit boyish, maybe like what we used to call a tomboy, maybe a misfit. Instead of becoming comfortable in their own body, we go along with the lie that she can be made comfortable in a wholly different body, the body of a man, as if that were possible.

But instead of letting a young girl find her way, grow into her own skin, we begin with the stereotypical clothes (for a reverse example, think of Bruce Jenner wearing a dress, lipstick and pearls), followed by puberty blockers. Think about that. Talk about a solution worse than the problem! Leaving our children into a perpetual land of Peter Pan. That is followed by hormone treatment, the second permanently damaging treatment, followed, if this course has been run, by surgical mutilation, the cutting off of healthy breasts. It's all horrific, and in the generations to come, they will marvel at the darkness of our minds.

What needs to happen? Things we already know. We must be patient with our children, encouraging them. There is so much pressure to be special, and supposed gender transition has a certain social cachet. When you are young, you can't possibly see the big picture. Who among us hasn't felt awkward, hasn't felt like we don't belong? But with time, come to know who we are. Like an artist or singer finding his own voice.

Here is the big lie, the thing they are not telling us. Some 90 percent of confused kids, kids suffering from gender dysphoria, kids who don't feel comfortable in their bodies, will indeed become so, if only they are allowed to grow up. And a little patience and love helps. It's ok of the girl does boy things, or the boy does things society may call effeminate. Be kind. Why in a world of supposed diversity do we not recognize that the real range of variance is not with 52 genders, but with the various ways that a man or a woman will express him or herself as a man or a woman. It's great to have a girl who likes to split wood, and it's great to have a man who knows how to sew. It's the transgender movement that preys on such stereotypes, not us.

Oh, patience, people. For our children's sake. Let them find their way, in their own bodies, without the lie of transition, without the barbarity of surgical mutilation, without cocktail of drugs necessary to sustain the illusion. What a cruel world we live in, where manipulation masquerades as kindness. The body you have is wonderful. It's you. So exercise, eat right, and all the rest. We all feel better when we do. But let's stop the madness. Our kids need us.

The Rev. Dr. Peter Scaer is chairman and professor of Exegetical Theology and director of the M.A. program at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.

Be Informed

Discover why “Religious persecution abroad reminds us why religious liberty matters.”

Be Equipped

Transgender issues are life issues. Learn why Christians can’t confirm transgenderism from Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family.

Be Encouraged

“Hang on to Jesus, my dear friend. In Him and Him alone is true life—both now and forever. Though God’s work in the world may be hard to understand sometimes, we rejoice and celebrate as we look forward to all that He has in store for us.” –Rev. Dr. Oswald Hoffman, The Lutheran Hour

 

Help support our efforts to contend for the freedom to proclaim the faith. Click here to learn more or to donate.

 

Biden’s Executive Orders

by David Cox

President Joe Biden had barely taken the oath of office on Jan. 20 before he began signing executive orders and presidential memorandums, some of which should be deeply troubling to Christians.


The president signed a record number of orders, many of them reversing policies of the Trump administration on such issues as immigration, climate change and the coronavirus. Before the sun set on his first day in office, Biden had signed 17 executive orders, presidential memorandums and proclamations, and by Jan. 31, he had signed 39. No previous president signed nearly as many in such a short time span; the number of executive orders alone is more than his four most recent predecessors combined in the same period of their presidencies.

At least two of the orders are of particular concern to people of faith. One requires schools to allow biological males to compete against females in sports and opens up women’s restrooms and locker rooms to biological males. The other restores U.S. funding of abortions on foreign soil.

Funding foreign abortions

The Mexico City Policy, which denied U.S. funds to international organizations that provide abortion services, came into being under President Ronald Reagan in 1985. Under the policy, foreign non-governmental organizations that received American taxpayer funding had to certify that they did not “perform or actively promote abortions as a method of family planning.” Not only was this the morally right thing to do, it reflected the will of the people; a large majority of Americans oppose federal funding of abortions, whether in the U.S. or abroad.

Since then, every Democrat president — Clinton, Obama and Biden — has repealed the policy, and both Republican presidents — Bush and Trump — restored it.

Biden’s order rescinding the Mexico City Policy, under the disingenuous title “Memorandum on Protecting Women’s Health at Home and Abroad,” states that the policy “made it harder for women to obtain necessary healthcare.” The order does nothing to protect women’s health. Abortion is not health care, not for the women seeking abortions, and certainly not for the children in their wombs, half of whom are female.

Biden’s order said the policy of the previous administration “imposes … onerous requirements on abortion providers.” On the contrary, the policy imposed no requirements on overseas abortion providers; the U.S. does not have such authority. The policy merely prevented American taxpayer funding of overseas abortion providers.

The order also said the Mexico City Policy “undermine[d] the United States’ efforts to advance gender equality globally” — an ironic assertion, since many abortions around the world are performed for sex selection, which disproportionately destroys females.

Many of Biden’s fellow Catholics condemned the order. Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote, “It is grievous that one of President Biden’s first official acts actively promotes the destruction of human lives.”

Nothing in Biden’s order references the children in the womb; it treats abortion as a medical procedure that affects only the pregnant women. But the preborn are still human beings, created by God in His image, each one unique. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps. 139:13).

New transgender territory

If the Mexico City Policy tug-of-war is nothing new after 35 years, the transgender order is breaking new ground.

The “Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation” states: “Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.”

The innocuous-sounding statement has broad-reaching implications, recognized by both supporters, who celebrated it, and opponents, who fear it will destroy female sports in allowing biological males to compete against females. The order also threatens the privacy of females by allowing biological males into their restrooms and locker rooms.

Contrary to the assertion of transgender apologists, hormone therapy does not level the playing field, taking away any advantage a biological male has over females in sports. A British Journal of Sports medicine study found that men transitioning to female still have a biological advantage after a year on hormone therapy. Such studies are hardly needed to prove what has become obvious to anyone following the news: Transgender women are competing, winning and setting records in women’s athletics. This occurs in high school and college, as well as professional sports. And it could render women’s competition in the Olympics meaningless as the fastest, strongest and most skilled biological females, who have trained for years and would otherwise win competitions and set records, lose to trans females with the physical differences that come with a Y chromosome.

Women who have long fought for a place on the field and court through Title IX and other initiatives view this as a devastating setback that, if allowed to stand, will turn back the pages on women’s athletics.

Biden signed a companion executive order that reversed the Trump administration’s ban on transgender Americans serving in the military. The order not only allows those who have already transitioned to a different sex to serve but directs the Pentagon to establish “a process by which transgender service members may transition gender while serving.”

Biden’s order said a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, the condition of psychologically identifying as the opposite of one’s biological sex, is not a medically valid reason to exclude someone from military service or limit one’s access to medically necessary care. That care includes sex-change surgery, funded by taxpayers. Some have voiced concern that the policy will attract recruits who join for the express purpose of receiving gender-reassignment treatment at taxpayer expense.

Prior to the Trump ban, the Pentagon had already implemented a policy to provide hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery to active-duty service members when military doctors determined it was necessary to treat patients’ gender dysphoria. Biden’s order restores that policy.

God’s Word does not change to keep up with social fashion. In His earthly ministry, Jesus affirmed the creation of just two genders, male and female: “[Jesus said,] ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female?’” (Matt. 19:4). There is no ambiguity, no one is created biologically one sex and psychologically the other.

Christians should approach the issue in love and humility, as the apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1).

That won’t be easy in the current atmosphere. The implications of the president’s executive orders could be far-reaching, hampering the ability of faith-based schools and organizations, as well as military chaplains, to carry out their work. But they do not hinder God’s ability to act in and through His children.

David Cox worked 25 years as a newspaper reporter, editor and publisher before becoming director of Camp Trinity, the Lutheran Camp on Petit Jean Mountain. The article was first published in and is reprinted here with the permission of The Lutheran Witness.

Be Informed

Hear the story of Deaconess Tiffany Manor, executive director of LCMS Life Ministry, explain her conversion from being pro-choice to pro-life in a recent Issues, Etc. podcast.

 Be Equipped

Is your church protected from religious liberty threats? Click here to learn more!

  Be Encouraged

 While it doesn’t require a Christian to defend life, our unique Christian perspective is this . . . message: God in Christ took up human flesh for all humans and died His atoning death to redeem every life. Just as this universal atonement leads us to proclaim His salvation to everyone, so it leads us to look compassionately on every human life knowing Christ has died for that life.” – Rev. Sean Daenzer, director of Worship, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

 Help support our efforts to contend for the freedom to proclaim the faith. Click here to learn more or to donate.

 

A Word on the Equality Act

By Matthew C. Harrison

The words of the apostle Peter apply to us now:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory. (1 Peter 1:3–8)


 

The church’s task is not political. It is the proclamation of the Gospel of free salvation in the cross and resurrection of Jesus for all (1 Cor. 1:23; John 18:36). “The Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered” (AC VII 1).1


God rules His church by His infallible Word, the Holy Scriptures (John 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:15–16). God rules the state by His eternal law, reason and reasonable laws for the common welfare. “Our churches teach that lawful civil regulations are good works of God” (AC XVI 1; see Rom. 13:1–7). The church should not meddle in government affairs, especially in matters upon which the Word of God is silent. It is also wrong when governments act against God’s eternal law, reason and the basic civil rights of all people. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution enshrines this truth. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”


Throughout history, governments have acted unjustly — sometimes in the name of race, atheism, communism, religion and even Christianity — and curtailed or denied the rights of conscience and the free exercise of religion. And governments continue to do so. Our Lutheran and biblical confession is that “it is necessary for Christians to be obedient to their rulers and laws. The only exception is when they are commanded to sin. Then they ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)” (AC XVI 6–7; see 1 Peter 2:13–14).


St. Paul made use of his legal right as a Roman citizen (“I appeal to Caesar” Acts 25:11). “Christ’s kingdom allows us outwardly to use legitimate political ordinances of every nation in which we live, just as it allows us to use medicine or the art of building, or food, drink, and air” (Ap XVI 54). Our Lutheran Confessions commend the seeking of public remedy for injustice. “Public remedy, made through the office of the public official, is not condemned, but is commanded and is God’s work, according to Paul (Romans 13)” (Ap XVI 59). Our God-given right to act as citizens is very important, especially now.
The Equality Act is before Congress.2 It sounds innocent. All Americans should enjoy equality and the protections of the U.S. Constitution. But in elevating sexual orientation to a protected class, the Equality Act will bring sweeping changes to current laws, to the great detriment of the religious and constitutional freedoms of biblically faithful churches, institutions, Christian schools and individuals.
Jesus referred to Genesis 2:24, when He stated:

 “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matt. 19:4–6)

 In fact, those churches and institutions that are bound by the Word of God to the truth of marriage between a man and a woman, and that sex outside of that institution is contrary to the word of Christ and the apostles in the New Testament (1 Cor. 7:2), could be punished for simply standing on our consistent, ancient Christian beliefs. The Equality Act effectively outlaws the words of Christ, the sublime doctrine of Creation, the First Article of the Creed, and our “free exercise of religion” based upon the Bible and Apostles’ Creed. The biblical teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman is to be labeled forever a mere “sex-based stereotype.”3


The Equality Act expands the definition of “public accommodation” and puts an ultimatum to individuals, religious non-profits, food banks, schools, charities, adoption agencies and others: “Change your faith-based practices or face government punishment.”4


Religious schools (K-12 and universities) are a prime target of the Equality Act, which will make it difficult to maintain standards for admission and codes of Christian conduct for students, faculty and staff.5 The Equality Act will forbid college students from using federal tuition assistance at schools that maintain standards of conduct on the basis of the Bible regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.
Sex-specific facilities and female-only spaces could be eliminated. Biological males will have the right to participate in female sports, unjustly denying female athletes at our schools a fair competition and the due rewards of accomplishment.6
The Equality Act will eliminate the significant protections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed by Congress and signed into law in 1993.7 This law has provided strong protections for “free exercise of religion” in the face of overzealous officials.


The Equality Act contains no conscience protections for medical staff who choose not to perform abortions, even if they have religious objections. Because of its broad definition of “health” services, the Equality Act threatens the Hyde Amendment, which limits public funding for abortion. It also threatens Christian hospitals with elimination of funding for not performing “health” services, including abortion or genital mutilation.


The Equality Act was recently passed by the House and is currently pending in the Senate. The margin is razor thin. If it does not become law now, we can be assured that it will be pressed again. We encourage all LCMS people to:


1. Treat all people with kindness and respect (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” Mark 12:31), while holding firmly to “the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
2. Become informed about the Equality Act and the issues of gender dysphoria. (See “Additional Resources” below.)
3. Consider your role as Christian citizens and make your voice known to your elected officials, particularly in the U.S. House (house.gov/representatives) and Senate (senate.gov/senators/index.htm).
4. Pray for our officials, government and the church in these challenging days.


Martin Luther once said, “Christ dwells only in sinners.” We recognize ourselves as sinners constantly in need of Christ’s forgiveness. We recognize the truth of the apostle Peter’s words, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17). We know that Jesus’ opponents grumbled against Him by saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). This comforting verse applies to us sinners, and we welcome all others to join us at the feet of Jesus, the sole Savior of all (John 3:16). As Christians, we believe that God has created all people, and all are infinitely valuable and accountable to Him. As Christian citizens, we recognize and demand basic God-given civil rights for all people, even as we insist on the First Amendment rights of Christians.
No matter the course of this or any legislation, Christ will sustain His church. Our hope is not in laws, Congress or courts. Our hope is Christ. “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.


Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:8–9, 13–17)

The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison is president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

 

Be Informed

“The legislation is better called the ‘anti-biblical, traditional morality’ Act.” Hear more from the Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz about what the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty is doing to fight the Equality Act here.

Be Equipped

Margot Cleveland of Notre Dame University explains what to watch for when it comes to the Equality Act.

Be Encouraged

“More than ever we need to be focused on the truth of our triune God’s value of all human life no matter a person’s stage of development or abilities.” – Deaconess Tiffany Manor, LCMS Life Ministry

 Help support our efforts to contend for the freedom to proclaim the faith. Click here to learn more or to donate.