Friday, May 11, 2018

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Briefing

May 11, 2018

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

It’s Friday, May 11, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Mormons move to end relationship with Boy Scouts of America is about more than Mormons and Boy Scouts

Sometimes, a major news story appears, and immediately, you tend to ask the question, “How long will it be before a second headline comes?” It’s as if you see one shoe drop, and the only interesting question is how long it will take before the other shoe drops. Just a few days ago, the Boy Scouts of America announced that it would be changing its name, the name of its leading program, and that the word “boy” would be removed from the Boy Scouts of America, from boy scouting. Now, when you saw that original story, you knew that other news stories would follow. It is as if a rock were thrown in a pond, and the ripples are beginning now to spread out.

If you have been following the big questions about the future of the Boy Scouts of America, one of the biggest questions is what would be the response of the Mormons. Tad Walch, of Deseret News, reporting from Salt Lake City, tells us the Latter-Day Saints church is ending its relationship with the Boy Scouts of America. The expiration date for the remarkably robust, 105-year alliance is December 31, 2019, according to a joint statement released Tuesday night by the Boy Scouts of America and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Now, the story goes on to tell us that the decision announced by the Mormon leadership is part of a broader restructuring of the church’s programs for all Mormon children ages eight to 18.

Subsequent to previous announcements, especially about sexual orientation and transgender inclusion in the Scouts, the Mormons had announced that they were shifting the program for older boys aged 14 to 18 away from the Boy Scouts. The announcement that was made on Tuesday night, interestingly a joint announcement from the Boy Scouts and from the Mormon authorities, indicate that the total Mormon involvement with the Boy Scouts of America will cease on the last day of the year 2019. Now, here’s where we need to understand that we’re not just talking about an American religious body responding to the moral revolution happening in the Boy Scouts of America. When we’re looking at the Mormons and the Boy Scouts, we are looking at more than Mormons and Boy Scouts, we are looking at the transformation of American society and the transformation of American religion.

Thinking about one shoe dropping and then the other shoe, the issue here is that no one watching this equation could be surprised in the least that the Mormon authorities made the announcement. The Mormon church continues, under authoritative teachings that preclude the kind of sexual revolution and redefinition of marriage and confusion of gender that is now being embraced by the Boy Scouts of America. Thus, you had an inevitable collision course between the Mormon authorities and the Boy Scouts, but this is not the same kind of collision that we have seen in other cases. When it comes to the Mormons, this is something quite different. The explanation of that takes us back into the 19th century and the emergence of the Mormons as a movement in the American scene.

In the middle of the emergence of all kinds of sects in the 19th century in the United States, Mormonism was restorationist by design. It claimed that the true church of the Lord Jesus Christ had disappeared between the time of Jesus and Joseph Smith. It claimed that with the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, there was a reestablished priesthood, a priesthood that had not existed, again, between the time of Christ and the time of Joseph Smith. Even as Mormons and Christians engaged one another in the 19th century, the one thing that both groups clearly understood is that Mormonism was not claiming continuity with orthodox Christianity; it was claiming, instead, a new restoration of the church.

Mormon theology explicitly rejects the central historic Christian doctrine of the Trinity, and Mormonism is, at essence, a henotheism, a form of polytheism with a hierarchy of the divine reality. Of course, as a restorationist movement, it came with the claim of a scripture that was inspired and revealed after the close of the New Testament. Once again, that set Mormonism in the 19th and early 20th centuries clearly at odds with historic Christianity; there was no confusion at the time. But as we’re talking about Mormonism at the time that it came into this cooperative agreement with the Boy Scouts of America, we have to understand that one of the main ambitions of Mormons at the time, 105 years ago, was to make themselves look as American as possible, even as they had suffered persecution, and, of course, there’s a long history, even about the necessity of abandoning the doctrine of polygamy over against the pressure of the United States, a decision by the Supreme Court and the requirement that Utah legislatively make polygamy illegal before Utah would be accepted as a state in the Union.

So, to put the matter as clearly as possible, the official cooperation between the Mormons and the Boy Scouts of America came as the Mormons were looking at the Boy Scouts as the epitome, in many ways, of what Americanism looked like. The Boy Scout concern for character and the development of young people, it all fit within the Mormon understanding of how the church would become far more mainstream in American culture, and at the same time, the Mormon theology having to do with the development of the person seemed to be almost totally consistent with the movement of the Boy Scouts toward the development of character in boys and young men.

Also very important to Mormonism, then and now, is the gender distinction between males and females, men and women, boys and girls. This is, of course, an issue about the reestablishment of the priesthood in Mormon theology, a priesthood that is limited to men, and it had a great deal to do with the fact that raising boys to be men and girls to be women, according to Mormon theology, was an essential task, and thus, the Boy Scouts were seen as an essential ally. Or, at least, that was true for 105 years.

Paighten Harkins, reporting also from Salt Lake City, this time for the Salt Lake Tribune, writes, quote, “The LDS church is the biggest participant in American scouting, with approximately 425,000 Latter-Day Saint youths in Cub and Boy Scout programs. Mormons,” he says, “account for about 19% of the BSA’s membership, which totals about 2.3 million, that according to the Boy Scouts.” And he goes on to say, “Before Tuesday’s announcement, the LDS church had alluded to starting its own global youth program.” Now, from the Mormon side, the announcement that was made on Tuesday night was largely couched in the fact that Mormonism wants to develop its own youth program for children ages eight to 18, and that will continue to be a gender-specific program, but one of the issues that was raised by Mormonism is that it is becoming an international church, and increasingly so, with every passing year, and the Boy Scouts of America had a limited amount of relevancy for Mormons in other parts of the world.

The Mormon authorities had indicated, explicitly and implicitly, their displeasure at the fact that the Boy Scouts were joining the moral revolution, and of course, this led to that inevitable collision between Mormon theology and the new world view that is now represented by the Boy Scouts of America, a world view now so radical and yet so candid that the word “boy” is going to be removed from the Boy Scouts. But most of the news accounts about the joint statement released on Tuesday night fail to understand beyond that the scope of what we’re really dealing with here. This is not just a second shoe dropping, this is a massive defection from the Boy Scouts. We’re talking about a defection of about 20% of the membership by no later than December the 31st of 2019.

In that sense, the announcement made Tuesday night from the Mormon side meant that notice had been served to the Boy Scouts that they were about to lose one fifth, one out of every five Boy Scouts, simply by this action. Now, it is also clear that this doesn’t mean that every single Mormon scout is likely to leave, but it’s almost that, because it comes down to the fact that the Mormons have officially sponsored so many scouting units that will now be without that Mormon sponsorship, and that means, almost assuredly, that scouting will be without the units. But just to indicate how intertwined the Mormons and the Boy Scouts had become in these programs, there is another statistic that has been missed by most mainstream media.

According to reports from the Salt Lake district of the Boy Scouts, the Boy Scouts had achieved, recently, in the area around Salt Lake City, a 50% market saturation. What does that mean? It means that fully 50% of all of the boys in the region who could be scouts were scouts. If you were to visit Salt Lake City, at least until recently, and you were to be very near to Temple Square, the very center of Mormonism, then you would have seen many representations of the relationship between the Mormons and the Boy Scouts, including one massive piece of art. But even now, if the art survives, it’s going to be merely an historical artifact, and an artifact not only of the relationship between Mormons and the Boy Scouts, but an artifact of a passing phase in the history of our civilization, a phase in which it made clear sense for the Mormons to participate in the Boy Scouts, representative of a generalized commitment to Americanism and an effort to mainstream in American culture.

But now, it’s the Boy Scouts, perhaps, looking at a new mainstream in American culture who have moved decidedly away from anything that the Mormon church can tolerate. So, looking at this news headline from Christian worldview analysis, we see that on the one hand, this tells us a great deal about Mormonism. It’s a story that requires some understanding of Mormon history and why the Mormons had such a close relationship with the Boy Scouts of America. Looked at in further analysis, it tells us a lot about the Boy Scouts and the fact that they assuredly had to count the cost of what it would mean to make the announcement that was made in 2013 about gay scouts; in 2015, about gay scout leaders; in early 2017, about transgender scouts. And then, just recently, at the end of 2017, about the inclusion of girls.

Now, with the announcement that the Boy Scouts are taking the word “boy” out of the Boy Scouts, well, at this point, the Mormon church has gone ahead with its announcement. Actually, interestingly, a joint announcement with the Boy Scouts, saying, “We’re out of here.” That tells us a very great deal about how moral revolutions happen, and how those who are joining the revolution have to factor in the cost. That tells us that the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America decided that in order to save the moral reputation of their movement on the other side of the sexual revolution, they just have to do without the Mormon scouts. So, on the other side of this great moral change in our culture, now a great moral change in the Boy Scouts of America, it makes sense for the Boy Scouts to remove the word “boy”, but it also makes sense for the Mormons to decide to take their boys elsewhere.

Part II

Why the grounding of life in human autonomy inevitably leads to a society that claims to author both birth and death

Next, we’ve been following an unfolding story, and at least one final chapter was written yesterday, when a 104-year-old Australian scientist who had gone to Switzerland to end his life, actually did so. Lindsey Bever, writing for the Washington Post, reports the story this way yesterday, quote, “On his final day, before he went to a Swiss clinic to die, David Goodall spoke about his 104 years of life and his scheduled death. The Australian scientist, who had traveled to Switzerland to end his life, because euthanasia isn’t legal in his homeland, answered questions about his well-publicized plans for assisted suicide. Did he want to eat anything in particular for his last meal? He didn’t know. Did he want any special song played at his bedside? He wasn’t sure, but if he had to choose one, it would be the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.”

But then the Post tells us about midday on Thursday, an IV was placed into the professor’s arm, allowing him to turn a wheel to let lethal drugs flow into his bloodstream. Exit International, an Australian non-profit that advocates for the legalization of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, released a statement saying, quote, “David fell asleep within a few minutes.” Now, to take a step backwards for a moment, David Goodall, who did die yesterday at 104, had not been suffering from any kind of terminal disease. In one state in Australia, the state of Victoria, it is possible to obtain assisted suicide if one is diagnosed with a terminal disease. Professor Goodall had no such terminal disease.

In the rest of Australia, assisted suicide is still illegal, and it is still opposed by the largest number of Australian physicians. So, in order to obtain assisted suicide, Professor Goodall went to Switzerland, which has actually developed what can only be described as something of a euthanasia or suicide tourism. He traveled about 8,000 miles from Australia, so determined to end his life at age 104, he went to Basel, Switzerland, where, again, yesterday, he, himself, turned the lever that led to the infusion of the drugs that led to the end of his life.

But as we’re thinking about this in worldview analysis and thinking about what it means to understand that the sanctity and dignity of human life are being undermined at the beginning of life, most importantly in the issue of abortion, and at the end of life, most importantly as we’re looking at the euthanasia of the elderly, and assisted suicide, we need to understand that there is a vast change in morality taking place on this question. At the center of that change in morality is the isolated, autonomous individual, or, at least, the claim that the individual is autonomous, and that autonomy is now being translated into a demand to define, and even to time our own death; to create our own criteria, our own description of what kind of death would be acceptable to us, and what would be unacceptable.

Now, to that, the Christian worldview has responded, so has the Christian church, for 20 centuries, with a very clear statement that our lives are not our own; that we are created by an omnipotent, loving deity; that he is in control of our lives, and that the scripture says he knows the number of our days, because he establishes the length of our lives. Our lives are in his hands. But what we are seeing is that in secularizing society, that worldview simply disappears, and the grounding of human life and human dignity, and anything other than our own, individual autonomy also begins to disappear. Here’s where we need to note that when we accept an idolatrous understanding of human autonomy, we eventually claim to be the authors of both birth and death.

Dr. Goodall did not claim to have a terminal disease. He did not have one. He just claimed to be tired of living at age 104. He said, according to the BBC, quote, “My life has been rather poor for the last year or so, and I’m very happy to end it.” He was also clearly trying to make a statement in support of euthanasia and its broader legalization. He said, quote, “All the publicity that this has been receiving can only, I think, help the cause of euthanasia for the elderly, which I want,” end quote. But going back to the Washington Post article, we need to be reminded that the group known as Exit International, that name’s pretty clear in itself, that it released the statement, said, and I quote, “David Goodall is exactly the sort of member that Exit is made of and is proud of. It was a wonderful experience to know him and to be so intimately involved in his final weeks of life,” end quote.

Now, let’s just remember that Exit International was explicitly involved in being intimately connected to the fact that his life came to an end. It wasn’t just an intimate involvement in the last weeks of his life; the group was doing its very best to make sure that the last weeks were his last weeks. But it’s also interesting to look at the kind of language in that statement. Dr. Goodall, here, is referred to as the sort of member that Exit is made of and is proud of. Merely a member. The word “member” doesn’t fit the dignity of being a human being that such an issue here is being debated.

When we’re talking about life and death, “member” is not an appropriate word. “Person” is a word; “human being” is a word. The word “member”, here, seems to be an almost intentional effort to depersonalize, and eventually to dehumanize the human being at the very center of the equation. But then the article goes on with an even more revealing paragraph, quote, “The organization statement added that Goodall has requested that his body be donated to medicine, and if not, that his ashes be sprinkled locally. He wishes to have no funeral, no remembrance service or ceremony. David has no belief in the afterlife,” end quote.

Now, that’s not really all that surprising, but it is really important. We are told that Professor Goodall had no belief in the afterlife. That is to say, he did not have an understanding of his status as a human being made in God’s image, he seemed to have no belief in God whatsoever, and there was no expectation about an afterlife. What does that mean? Well, it simply underlines the fact that the secular worldview believes in a beginning and an end that is only in this life, with nothing before and nothing after. No eternity in view, and that makes human life simply an experience that can begin one way and end, perhaps, another way, but most importantly, when we no longer experience the criteria that we would define as being meaningful for life, according to that worldview, this is all that there is anyway, so just bring it to an end.

It is, again, revealing, if ironic, that the USA Today coverage of this story cites another group fighting for the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide, but this group is known as Eternal Spirit. The irony is, of course, that this entire worldview is premised upon the fact that there is no such reality as an eternal spirit. So, why the name? Well, the name is marketing, the name is branding, and in that sense, it makes sense. When we think of death, we can’t help but think of eternity. By the way, that’s explained in the Bible in the book of Ecclesiastes in chapter three, where we are told that God has planted eternity in every human heart. So, an organization named Eternal Spirit spoke for the right of this Australian professor to commit suicide, in which he believes in no afterlife, and thus has had no funeral or no remembrance.

This is one of those sad stories that just gets sadder as you look at it. One final note on this story: what we should be very careful of is the fact that the argument will shift, and you can be assured of this, from the right of the elderly to die to the duty of the elderly to die. The argument will quickly come that no one has the right to take up so much space and use so many resources if one has already lived this long and is making no net contribution. That is a stunningly pagan, godless, and secular view of the world, but if we do adopt, as a society, a remarkably pagan and godless and secular view of the world, then all of this will make very tragic, but very deadly sense.

Part III

When it comes to sex education, the big battle is not over sex, it’s over morality

But next, we come back to the United States for a very important front page article in USA Today. The headline is this: Sex Ed, an Age-Old Struggle of Morality Versus Reality, Enters a New Era. Now, the headline is truly alarming, where you have the juxtaposition of morality on the one hand, versus reality on the other hand. That’s confusing enough, but it’s also described as an age-old struggle. Actually, that’s not true at all. Modern sex education is decidedly modern. Sex education that’s taught in the schools is decidedly recent. This is not an age-old human debate, not when we’re talking about sex education that’s taught in the public schools.

The public schools aren’t actually age-old, and this debate about sex education is far more recent than this headline would indicate. The most dangerous part of the headline, however, is the juxtaposition, the apparent contradiction, between morality and reality. Now, the good news is that the news article itself is not so extreme. Alia E. Dastagir, writing this front page article for USA Today, says, quote, “For more than a century, the nation has engaged in a war over sex education in America’s schools. Battles ignite around questions that seem practical, but are decidedly moral. Should teens be given more information about sex, or less? Should they be encouraged to wait until marriage? Do young people have a right to understand their sexuality, or do adults have a duty to protect them from it?”

Most importantly, as the article goes on, we are told by Debra Hauser … She’s the president of a group known as Advocates for Youth … Now, this is, quote, “a national organization that says it promotes healthy teen sexuality.” She said, quote, “There are two opposing forces. There are those that want comprehensive sex education to not only help young people prevent unintended pregnancy, STDs, and HIV, but also to educate young people about healthy relationships and the prevention of sexual violence.” On the other side, says USA Today, Hauser said, are proponents of abstinence-only programs who want to, quote, “promote a just-say-no approach,” end quote.

Now, what’s really important here, from worldview analysis, is the understanding that if you’re talking about sex, you’re talking about morality, and if you’re talking about sex education, you’re talking about someone’s morality. There is no such reality as sex education without morality. By definition, that cannot exist. The only question is, whose morality? Dastagir has it exactly right when she says that these questions are practical, but decidedly moral. Of course they are decidedly moral, and the statement from Debra Hauser, who, by the way, has been a proponent of radical, comprehensive sex education for a long time, her statement acknowledges there are two opposing forces. But beyond that, of course, we recognize there are two opposing worldviews.

But finally, the other important aspect of this story comes when USA Today writes, quote, “Parents and educators today face new challenges. The accessibility of free pornography, hypersexualization of social media, and the myth of hookup culture are obstacles sex educators must overcome.” Now, you look at that and you say, “That’s all profoundly true.” Sex education, which is always, everywhere moral, the only question being, whose morality is taught, is now in a different moral context than ever before, with ubiquitous pornography just a click away.

And, of course, with the hypersexualization that is reflected in that statement, and also, what you have as a vast change in the moral landscape of the entire country. The most important conclusion from a Christian analysis is this: you can’t have sex education without moral education, and there should be no confusion about the fact that the big battle is not really over sex; the big battle is over morality. Of course, beyond that, the big question is what kind of morality will be taught to the children and young people of America? That’s about as big a question as we can imagine.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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