We are witnesses to history. Before our eyes, the Civil Religion of America that consisted of "God and Country" is being dismantled piece by piece. One might blame liberal activists as they go after cultural institutions that Christians have depended upon to bolster morality and the idea that America is a Christian nation. But, is that the right place to look? Al Mohler thinks so. Yesterday, addressed the Boy Scouts for changing their policy of forbidding Gay Scouts and Scoutmasters to participate in their organization. Mohler says that the Boy Scouts of America call for Scouts to be "morally straight" is undergoing a transformation under mounting pressure from the homosexual lobby.
The Scout Oath reads: “On my honor I will do my best, to do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” As recently as 2004 the Boy Scouts of America declared homosexual conduct to be “inconsistent” with that oath. Just six months later, all that is to be swept away.
Faithful Christians are left in the excruciatingly difficult position of maintaining fidelity to moral judgments revealed in the Bible while the culture around us races in the opposite direction. While the Boy Scouts use language like “morally straight,” the church uses its own language of sin, grace, and obedience.
I write as a former Boy Scout, who retains great love and admiration for Scouting and all that it has meant to generations of boys. This new policy will transform the culture of the Boy Scouts. This is exactly what those who demand the policy change are expecting. As the announcement made clear, this is no small alteration or adjustment.
The new policy to be adopted by the Boy Scouts of America represents a revolution in what that esteemed organization understands “morally straight” to mean. We should not let that pass without taking notice of what that revolution will eventually bring about — nothing less than a reversal of what morality is understood to demand.
Mohler is right. We are seeing a revolution. But, of what kind?
My friend, Marty Duren asks some pointed questions along these lines today over at his blog. After questioning why there is an outcry from Evangelical leaders now regarding the Scouts allowing homosexuals and there was no outcry when it was recently revealed that the Scouts had been covering up for child sex abusers for decades, Marty goes on to hit the crux of the issue:
- Are we seeing the reaction of people for whom gay-rights is the last domino standing, after which there are no more culture wars to fight?
- Why do we not emphasize that the Boy Scouts are now–and always have been–a moral organization focused on good citizenship not a gospel organization focused on discipleship?
- Do we even recognize the two are not the same?
- Why do evangelical leaders not acknowledge the words “morally straight” are ambiguous, open to interpretation, malleable, and not scripturally moored?
- Are some evangelical leaders not blurring the truth when they gloss over this reality: the Scouts’ generic “God” is not necessarily the God of the Bible?
- Which God is it that both evangelicals and Mormons can affirm without qualification?
- Are we more concerned about the loss of Americanism than finding an authentic expression of a Christ-bought church?
- Have we misinterpreted the fall of Christendom as the work of Satan, rather than considering it could be God destroying our most grand, safe, and preferred idol?
I did a little research into the BSA's stance on Racial Segregation up until the 1960's and it was as I expected. Boy Scout Troops in the South were racially segregated just like every other institution. We would consider that practice evil today but back then, it was considered "morally straight." Read the whole sordid history here.
In the South, with the "separate but equal" mindset of the times, black troops were not treated equally. They were often not allowed to wear scout uniforms, and had far smaller budgets and insufficient facilities to work with. The BSA on a national level was often defensive about its stance on segregation. "The Boy Scouts of America] never drew the color line, but the movement stayed in step with the prevailing mores." Even so, there was only one integrated troop before 1954 in the Deep South compared to the frequent occurrence of integration in the North. Also, the Scouts in the South did not support social agencies that were allies of the BSA. The YMCA was historically one of the BSA's strongest supporters, but in Richmond, Virginia, blacks were not allowed to use the Y's facilities to earn merit badges, specifically for swimming.
So, the Boy Scouts have ALWAYS reflected the "prevailing mores" of the larger culture. They are not a Gospel organization. Their god is the god of American Civil Religion which is not the God of the Bible. Their definitions of "morally straight" will change with the times and with what America ascribes to. Their ethos involves "God and Country" and a merging of the two. I was a Boy Scout and don't see anything wrong with being one, but it was not an exclusively Christian organization in any way that I could tell. We talked about God and morality and we had ecumenical religious services on our campouts, but there was nothing inherently Christian about our times of devotion. As Marty says, this is why Mormons have embraced the Boy Scouts so clearly.
I understand what Dr. Mohler is bemoaning. The loss of the Boy Scouts in the Culture Wars is another sign of the Great Unraveling of Christendom (the idea of a culture-supported and culture-friendly Christianity). I am all for institutions that support Christian values and wish that every organization did. I agree that Homosexuality is immoral and ungodly and is condemned in Scripture as are all other sexual sins and all sin, for that matter. But, I also recognize that we should not be surprised when an organization that has ALWAYS reflected and promoted the general moral consensus of America continues to do what it was created to do when the moral consensus changes. Churches in the South had no qualm with the Boy Scouts when they supported segregation for 60 years because we were doing the same thing, even though we would all see it as wrong, unbiblical, and immoral now. Why are we then so surprised at today's shift? When did the BSA ever repent of tying its moral stance to the larger cultural consensus instead of Scripture?
Prediction: Every single institution in America that was morally and ethically rooted in a cultural Christianity/Civil Religion is going to shift on the issue of homosexuality in the next 5-7 years.
As Christians, we have a chance for the Church to be the Church. We will be persecuted as the Culture leaves us behind and now turns on us as Jesus prophesied. Let's make sure that we hold to our convictions that are rooted in Scripture and the God of the Bible and not be surprised when those institutions that we thought were "with us" go the way that they were always designed to go. If we do not draw the distinction between their god of Civil Religion and the true God of the Bible, we will go with them and think that we are doing the right thing. Jesus came to save us from our sin, not to affirm it. Our task is to hold out the word of life found in the gospel which includes speaking to our sin as well as our only salvation found in Christ.
For a Biblical approach to how Christians should navigate the changing and increasingly hostile culture in regard to this issue, check out how Dan Cathey of Chick-Fil-A has sought to stick with his Biblical convictions on homosexuality while simultaneously seeking to love and pray for those who would be considered "enemies" in all this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shane-l-windmeyer/dan-cathy-chick-fil-a_b_2564379.html