The Briefing 05-27-15

The Briefing 05-27-15

The Briefing


May 27, 2015

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Wednesday, May 27, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Secularists note Gates’ membership proposal purely seeking survival of corporation

Sometimes events that take place around us, often erupting in the headlines, serve as a catalyst for understanding the bigger picture and larger issues. Such is the case with the current controversy that has focused on the Boy Scouts of America. As I discussed on The Briefing yesterday they had to the Boy Scouts, Robert Gates, former Defense Secretary the United States and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, announced that if the Boy Scouts were to survive as a national movement they would have to abandon their compromise policy of the present that allows for the participation of openly gay scouts, but not of openly gay adult leaders. He says that second part is simply going to have to go.

In comments made to a national gathering a scout leaders in Georgia Robert Gates said that the Boy Scouts would have to deal with the world as it is, not as the Boy Scouts might wish that world to be. In his extended comments he made quite an argument for the dropping of the prohibition against gay scout leaders. But his argument was almost entirely centered on how to rescue and preserve the Boy Scouts as a national organization. Moral principle basically did not enter into his discussion at all. As I pointed out yesterday from a Christian worldview perspective, this is pathetic and catastrophic at every turn. It raises the very question whether you can have an organization with any meaning that might be called the Boy Scouts of America. But now, again, one of the most interesting dimensions of the story is the secular response.

For instance, Sarah Kaplan and Michael Miller writing for the Washington Post point out that the Boy Scouts right now can do no right politically. They went on to say,

“That’s because the Boy Scouts are now in a position where politically they can do no right. Besieged by the left for decades for not allowing gay scouts or leaders, the Boy Scouts are now being attacked from the right. By allowing gay scouts two years ago and now considering allowing gay leaders as well, a deeply traditional organization is trying to stay attuned to the times.”

But then they state the obvious,

“But it also risks alienating many core members, for whom the Boy Scouts have long been a bedrock of conservative American life.”

They then make the interesting observation,

“In a way, the Boy Scouts are a barometer of how far the country’s attitudes have shifted on issues of race, gender and sexuality.”

But when it comes to that last statement, again where they say that the Boy Scouts are a barometer of how far the country’s attitudes have shifted on issues of race, gender and sexuality, we have to raise a fundamental question: is it the Boy Scouts who are shifting or is it the Boy Scouts of America, in terms of the national leadership that is indicating this shift? My hunch is that it’s the latter rather than the former, because time’s going to tell whether or not the scouts and their parents go along with this policy change. And even in making his proposal last week, Secretary Gates had to acknowledge that the vast majority of scouting units are actually sponsored by religious organizations, the vast majority of whom are not going to define human sexuality and sexual morality the way the Boy Scouts of America now propose.

Secretary Gates said that religious organizations should enjoy a first amendment privilege of determining the responsibilities and criteria for leadership in the Boy Scout units under their sponsorship. But he had to know, even in making a proposal, that that is a very thin reed.

Once again, as a compromise policy that’s going to please no one. And at this point, that’s a very important point. Because even the Washington Post, writing from a very secular and rather morally liberal perspective recognizes that the Boy Scouts are now in a predicament of their own making. For decades, as the Post said, they had brought about opposition from the cultural left because they resolutely refused to surrender their membership criteria, which as they acknowledged back in 2013 were expected by the vast majority of the parents of scouts.

But now there in the position of angering and alienating the parents of scouts, the scouts themselves, and the sponsoring bodies of the vast majority of scouting units. You’ll recall the fact that yesterday on The Briefing we pointed out that evidently Secretary Gates has one singular concern; and that is to use his own words to preserve the Boy Scouts of America as a national organization.

But that’s where Kevin D Williamson writing for National Review gets to the heart of Gates’ argument, and what’s absent from that argument, and that is a serious moral argument. Williamson writes,

“Gates, whose likeness appears in Webster’s with the entry for “bureaucrat,” says that the Boy Scouts’ policy on homosexuals is “unsustainable.” He warns that attempting to maintain it would mean “the end of us as a national movement.” This sentiment expresses a great deal of what is wrong with the leadership culture of the United States.”

You’ll notice he says a problem with the leadership culture of the United States, not just with the Boy Scouts of America. This is not, Williamson writes, because Gates is just taking what he calls a “friendlier attitude towards homosexuals.” It is because, he says, he is merely arguing from “organizational self-interest.” Nevermind if it is right or wrong. The policy puts Scouting Incorporated, says Williamson,

“so best to abandon it. Duty to God and country? [he says that’s simply out of the picture now]— management always has its own priorities.”

Then Williamson writes a very important line. In his words,

“Depending on your point of view Gates is either doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason, or doing the right thing for the wrong reason.”

Williamson gets to the heart of the issue when he continues,

“ For those among the shrinking minority of Americans adhering to something like the Scouts’ longstanding view of homosexuality — that it represents a set of choices and behaviors that constitute at the very least a bad example for children — Gates’s decision must be understood as simple moral cowardice: The gay-rights movement is energetic and totalitarian, and its demands are fortified more often than not by the dictates of judges. Faced with overwhelming cultural and political pressure, Gates did not have the mettle to lead the Boy Scouts of America as a kind of Nockian remnant, keeping the tablets until such a time as civilization once again returns to certain eternal truths.”

With striking a brilliant prose Williamson gets right to the heart of the problem of the Boy Scouts of America under the leadership of Robert Gates. But in this case Robert Gates is mostly the bureaucratic spokesperson for the corporate board that is behind the Boy Scouts of America.

But the point made by Williamson here is that if one holds to a traditional understanding of sexual morality, then Gates is proposing the wrong thing, and for the wrong reason. But then he continues and he writes,

“For those who take the more contemporary view of homosexuality, Gates’s position is arguably even more distasteful. If the Scouts have been wrong about the moral and social status of homosexuals, then they have been wrong about something important. If their exclusion of gays from leadership positions was based on error or malice, then they owe it to those they have excluded to admit as much, freely and openly. Perhaps more important, if the exclusion of homosexuals has been wrongful, then the Boy Scouts’ leadership owes it to the young men whose moral development is in part entrusted to it to be forthright about that fact.”

What’s really interesting here is that two secular perspectives are agreed on this; the policy that was suggested by Secretary Gates is a morally bankrupt. It’s morally bankrupt whether one comes from the understanding of the sinfulness of homosexuality or the normalization of homosexuality. In either event what Secretary Gates called for was a capitulation to the direction of the culture – not to what was considered either right or wrong. The moral context used to be entirely absent from his argument.

2) Boy Scouts’ rules against water gun fights furthers estrangement from actual boys

Meanwhile in a far less important front (but also very revealing) the scouts found themselves in yet another controversy in recent days. This one not over sexuality, but water balloons and water guns. It turns out that in recent days the scouts have restated their position in an advisory to scouting units that even though Boy Scouts may play with water guns, they may not own them at other. Now as I said, in the great moral scheme of things this is a far less important issue, but it is nonetheless revealing. Because as I said the big question is whether or not you can have in modern America, an organization that might be actually called the Boy Scouts of America that might be appealing the boys.

In a statement no doubt timed for the beginning of summer, the scouting authorities intended to alert scouting units to the fact that the 2015 Boy Scouts of America National Shooting Sports Manual says,

“Water guns and rubber band guns must only be used to shoot it targets, and eye protection must be worn.”

When it comes to water balloons, the Boy Scouts of America has an official national policy,

“For water balloons, use small, biodegradable balloons, and fill them no larger than a ping pong ball.”

Just in case anyone should miss the details of the policy,

“Pointing any type of firearm or simulated firearm at any individual is unauthorized. Scout units may plan or participate in paintball, laser tag or similar events where participants shoot at targets that are neither living nor human representations.”

Now I will simply point out as a former Boy Scout and frankly, just as a former boy, that there is no fun and having a water gun unless you can shoot it at someone in proximity – hopefully, a friend, perhaps even a sibling. And that done with the full expectation that they will then turn and shoot their water gun at you. Now it should be stated (obviously) that this should be done with adequate adult supervision. But what are the adults to supervise is the kids can’t even shoot the water guns at each other?

Oh and by the way, if you’re going to allow water balloon fights and you think the boys are going to stop when they have enough water to constitute being about the size of a ping-pong ball then you’ve never been around boys, and you certainly never been a boy.Writing at World magazine, D.C. Innes simply points out that this is part of what can be described only as the end of the Boy Scouts. Similarly, Rich Cromwell writing at the Federalist simply uses the headline “The Boy Scouts Continue to Devolve into a Garden Club.”

On the far more important moral issue of human sexuality and the leadership of the Boy Scouts, the Boy Scouts are taking an unprincipled position that will surely collapse in the face of continued cultural opposition. Having abandoned the moral high ground, they now find themselves in a position of being swept along by the cultural currents by a matter of bureaucratic policy in order to preserve themselves as a national movement. That may explain, if this change takes place, why many parents pulled their scouts out in why many scouts have less interest than ever in participating in the scouting organization and why the religious organizations sponsoring the vast majority of scouting organizations may well try to find some other organization to sponsor.

But it also raises the question, if in the context of our current cultural and moral confusion you can even have a meaningful organization called the Boy Scouts of America, with a very politically charged word ‘boy’ right in the first name of the organization.

But this advisory on water balloons and water guns from the Boy Scouts simply raises the question of why any boy would want to be a part of this organization in terms of its continued direction in the very first place?

And that’s said with a real sense of loss, because the scouts have been such an important part of American culture and in the boyhoods and in the maturation of so many boys and young men in America – for that matter, many old men in America look back with great fondness and appreciation to their experience in the Boy Scouts.

3) Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts membership decisions reveal shrinking moral middle ground in culture

One of the most interesting aspects of this comes in the contrast between the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, because the Girl Scouts of also been in the headlines in recent days. That comes in report for instance, at CNN by Katia Hetter writing that the Girl Scouts are now to welcome transgender girls. The Girl Scouts are saying this is not an innovation, but just a restatement again of their policy.

As seen and reported,

“Transgender girls are welcome in the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, a stance that has attracted controversy from some conservative groups over the past [several days].”

A spokesperson for the Girl Scouts USA, that is Andrea Bastiani Archibald said,

“Our position is not new. It conforms with our continuous commitment to inclusivity”

Now when I see a statement like that, I simply want to remind all of us that there is no individual and there is no organization, not on the planet, that doesn’t discriminate on some basis. There is no individual, there is no congregation, there is no organization, on the planet that is actually committed to “a continuous commitment to inclusivity.” This is now the language of political correctness in terms of the new moral regime. She went on to cite a frequently asked questions page at the Girl Scouts website in which it is said,

“Placement of transgender youth is handled on a case-by-case basis, with the welfare and best interests of the child and the members of the troop/group in question a top priority. That said, if the child is recognized by the family and school/community as a girl and lives culturally as a girl, then Girl Scouts is an organization that can serve her in a setting that is both emotionally and physically safe.”

Now without going into various arguments about the impracticality of that policy, I’ll simply point out that here you have a trajectory that is very different than the Boy Scouts of America, even when you take into account the statements made by Robert Gates in recent days. Because what you see, very clearly, is that the Boy Scouts of America – as Kevin Williamson said, regardless of which side of the divide you’re on – the Boy Scouts are being dragged, kicking and screaming as a national organization into this moral revolution. Not so the Girl Scouts. The Girl Scouts have been a driving force in so much of this ever since the ideology of feminism overtook that organization decades ago.

And it’s not just Christians operating out of a biblical worldview find this interesting. A very important article appeared at the Atlantic in recent days by Kate Tuttle. Its headline, “Boy Scouts are from Mars, Girl Scouts are from Venus.” The subhead of the article, “Behind the khaki uniforms and the merit badges the two organizations have vastly different political leanings.” Tuttle offers some very interesting historical background and the differences between the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts – both came out of the same historical vision rooted in Robert Baden Powell, the British man who gave the vision for the Boy Scouts and also by inspiration to the Girl Scouts. Tuttle then writes,

“In truth, while the two organizations were founded with similar purposes, history has enormously widened the ideological gulf between them. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts share a founding father…[But] the Boy Scouts quickly came to represent a kind of all-American ideal of health, outdoor exploration, and patriotic goodness. It also served as a pipeline to leadership in a country still ruled mostly by men.”

She then acknowledges,

“Anyone could be a Cub Scout, but those who have ascended to the pinnacle of scouting, Eagle Scout, are overrepresented within military academies, NASA, and even Congress.”

Meanwhile, as Tuttle tells us, going back decades, the Girl Scouts begin moving in a profoundly feminist direction and also in the direction of secularization as far back as 1993, even though the Girl Scout manual included the words “love God.” in the Girl Scout promise. The national organization ruled that a girl could substitute whatever words fit her individual belief system. That explains in part, Tuttle acknowledges why back as far as 1995 conservatives formed an alternative to the Girl Scouts of America known as Heritage Girls. It also explains why only in recent years has an alternative organization to the Boy Scouts emerged. That group is known as Trail Life USA.

The development within both of the scouting organizations are important in and of themselves, but as I said in the beginning, the greater importance lies in the fact that they are catalysts for understanding just what’s going on in the larger culture. And they also point to the fact that there is no middle ground remaining on these issues. The Boy Scouts are trying to find middle ground. And now they find that there is no middle ground. Having abandoned moral principle and moral argument they now find themselves only trying to preserve themselves as a national organization.

In the final analysis, once you surrender a moral argument, there are no real arguments left. Add together the capitulation of the Boy Scouts of America and the continued trajectory of the Girl Scouts of America and then you’ll understand why there is so much worldview confusion in the world we know today.

4) Surge of cremation popularity in America linked to decline of Christian worldview in society

Next, when it comes to many moral issues, many pastoral questions a confront the church, there are issues in which it is very easy on a biblical authority to know what is right and what is wrong. When it comes to some other issues, it is not quite so easy. And moral judgments in some cases should be in the form of declarations, as when the church declares on the clear basis of Scripture, we understand about human sexuality and marriage. When it comes to some other issues we have to be a bit less declarative and put the issue into a larger context.

Such is true with the question of cremation. From a Christian worldview perspective cremation is not necessarily a sin, but it is according to the Christian worldview inadvisable. This comes to light in terms of a recent report that was published at Slate magazine, indicating that at least as many cremations as burials are now taking place in the United States. And given the trajectory of this movement, it is almost without question that by the end of this year there will be more cremations than burials in America.

Now what’s really interesting in terms of this article by Andrew Khan is that he recognizes that something basic in the worldview has to have changed. And though he doesn’t use the word ‘secularization’ that is exactly what he describes. Looking at the radical rise of cremation as a practice in the United States he acknowledges this couldn’t happen if the Christian convictions that had shaped the population in decades and centuries past had continued. He acknowledges the very basic Christian instinct against cremation because of the biblical understanding that we are created as a psychosomatic unity. And Christians are not seeking the liberation of the body (as we’ve discussed in the past) but we’re looking forward to the resurrection of the body. That is a fundamental conviction of Christianity and respect for that body is been very important to Christianity from the very beginning as it was also very important to Judaism.

It is our belief, based in Scripture that the body is not an accident, but that God has created us as embodied creatures made in his image. And also Christians have to remember that our eternal promises are also grounded in the fact that we will be embodied even in our glorified state. Even though then we will have a glorified body. As the apostle Paul argues in 1Corinthians 15 in one of his major emphases, as Christ now is in his resurrection body so believers one day also will be. It makes sense according to some worldviews to destroy the body by fire after death because in some Eastern worldviews this represents the liberation of the soul or spirit from the body, and in other situations it simply reflects a secular worldview that assigns no continuing importance to the body, and no divine origin of the body itself.

Andrew Khan writing at about the growth in terms of cremation in America says,

“Meanwhile, spiritual views of the body and soul have also changed. Christians historically believed that the body should be preserved whole in the hopes of reunification with the soul at the end of days… [he’s there citing Stephen Prothero of Boston Universitym who is the author of the book Purified by Fire:  A history of cremation in America] But the ’60s ushered in a wave of New Age notions that reflected a new view of the body as subordinate to the soul, like reincarnation, karma, and transcendence.”

Kahn then writes,

“As the counterculture has gone mainstream, so has cremation.”

In another very interesting paragraph Kahn writes,

“Cremation is more environmentally friendly than burial, and it’s easier to “customize.”

He then cites Barbara Kimmis who is head of something called the Cremation Association of North America. He goes on to say,

“Cremation is more environmentally friendly than burial, and it’s easier to “customize,” as Kemmis puts it. You can enshrine cremated remains in customs urns or jewelry; you can spread them across a beloved landscape, or two, or three; you can divide them among multiple family members. You can embed them in a painting. Prothero once met a family that had packed some cremated remains into a bullet for hunting deer. “You dream it, you can do it with cremated remains”

according to Barbara Kimmis. She is again head of the Cremation Association of North America. She then added,

“Sorry, I get really excited about this stuff.”

Well, she may indeed get excited about this stuff, but Christian should think very seriously about the question of burial and cremation, understanding to the Christian tradition, the Christian worldview based upon Scripture has had a very strong understanding of the importance of burying the dead with respect rather than with destroying the body.

One of the most important aspects of this story that appeared at Slate is the reminder that we have to think about these things as Christians, and we should think about these things as members of churches where we are in a continual moral discourse about how we are to fulfill our discipleship in Christ. And the time to discuss the implications of burial and cremation is not just at the moment when that decision becomes necessary, but rather right now when Christians should be encouraging one another to think most biblically.

As I’ve suggested the question of cremation is not a question of right and wrong in the same sense that some other issues are. But Christian faithfulness is not found that merely in being on the right side of questions that are clearly right and wrong, but being on the side of faithfulness in terms of what the Scripture would encourage us to think when we think about major issues including what should happen upon our death.  But Andrew Kahn’s got itfundamentally right when he points out this radical rise in cremation in America couldn’t happen if Americans still held pervasively and overwhelmingly to a Christian understanding of both life and death.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For more information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Secularists note Gates’ membership proposal purely seeking survival of corporation

Why the Boy Scouts can do no right politically, Washington Post (Sarah Kaplan and Michael E. Miller)

Gates, Gays, and the Boy Scouts, National Review (Kevin D. Williamson)

2) Boy Scouts’ rules against water gun fights furthers estrangement from actual boys

Water guns OK for target shooting, not for firing at other Scouts, Scouting Magazine (Bryan Wendell)

The end of the Boy Scouts, World Magazine (D.C. Innes)

The Boy Scouts Continue To Devolve Into A Garden Club, Federalist (Rich Cromwell)

3) Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts membership decisions reveal shrinking moral middle ground in culture

Girl Scouts welcomes transgender girls, CNN (Katia Hetter)

Boy Scouts Are From Mars, Girl Scouts Are From Venus, The Atlantic (Kate Tuttle)

4) Surge of cremation popularity in America linked to decline of Christian worldview in society

Cremation in America, Slate (Andrew Kahn)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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