Wednesday, February 19, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Wednesday, February 19, 2020. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The Tragedy Is Bigger Than the Headlines: The Destruction of the Boy Scouts of America
One of the most venerable organizations in the United States, the Boy Scouts of America has declared bankruptcy and asked for Chapter 11 protection. As Kim Christensen of Los Angeles Times tells us, "The Scouts made their Chapter 11 petition in Delaware in that states bankruptcy court, and the pleading comes amid declining membership and a wave of new sex abuse lawsuits after several states, including California, New York, and New Jersey, recently expanded legal options for childhood victims to sue."
Now, the legal issue at stake here is that those states, and that list is likely to lengthen, have changed statute of limitations requirements so that those who are now adults can make charges of sex abuse that happened to them while they were children involved in the Boy Scouts of America programs. And looking backwards, almost all of those plaintiffs and potential plaintiffs were actually, of course, boys at the time. After all, we're talking about an organization that at least until recently was called the Boy Scouts of America. As you look at this particular headline, of course, we're looking at levels of tragedy upon levels of tragedy. And in one sense there are two major tragic stories unfolding here.
One is the fact that there was the abuse of untold numbers of boys and young men through the scouting program and that there was the particular failure of the Boy Scouts to protect boys and to intervene when it became known that there had been bad actors, particularly amongst older adult male volunteers working with the boys in the Boy Scouts of America. The culpability, the moral responsibility is not just that abuse happened, but that adequate protections were not in place. And furthermore, once concerns were known, those concerns were not dealt with in a way that is even slightly responsible. That's the accusation and there is plenty of evidence that it is true. Indeed the organization, the Boy Scouts of America, at least as it was previously known, has acknowledged that level of tragedy and for that matter, that level of liability, which is why they are now seeking Chapter 11 protection.
There is a second tragedy unfolding. And at the social level, it is the tragedy of one of America's most vulnerable organizations and one of the very few organizations that had turned out to be effective in helping boys to grow up into maturity and into manhood it is now largely destroyed. And as we shall see as we talk about the issue today, it was not so much destroyed by outside forces as it was destroyed by what developed as its own internal logic. And in that story, that tragedy is a huge tale for the entire nation and particularly for Christian organizations. We have to look very carefully in order that the same kind of tragedy, both of these tragedies as a matter of fact, does not happen amongst us.
Now, as you look at the story of the Boy Scouts of America, we have to go back to 1910 when the Boy Scouts of America became an organization in the United States. The scouting movement, the boy scouting movement, did not begin in the United States. It began instead in Britain. And of course it was Lord Baden Powell in Britain who founded the Boy Scouts of America. Placed in its historic context early in the 20th century, there is a huge historical issue of worldview importance here.
Back in the early 20th century, it was already recognized that modern, advanced, Western societies, those Western societies in Europe and in North America that had experienced the industrial revolution had also experienced urbanization. And the two of those issues coming together created what was known in the early 20th century as the boy problem or the boy crisis. It was noted in Britain, it was noted in the United States and, of course, elsewhere throughout Europe and nations such as Canada as well.
What was the problem? When you had boys growing up on farms, they were working with their fathers and their uncles and their older brothers and they were enculturation into a world of manhood. There in a largely rural environment. It didn't take a massive volunteer organization, an organization specifically targeted for the purpose of helping boys to grow up. It wasn't required back then, but once you had the twin forces of the industrial revolution in which two things happen, not only did you have the shift of so much of the work off of the farm into a factory, but you also had dad, the father in the home, increasingly taken out of the home for significant numbers of hours during the day to work in the factory.
And then urbanization concentrated the problem such that you had gangs and bands of boys who were hanging out together and often up to no good in America's cities that then had a burgeoning population. There was another concern that was rooted in the early 20th century, and it was a concern about health and the decline of masculinity. Also back in the early 20th century, there was the fear that European and North American boys were growing weak. And the masculinity or the masculine health crisis was seen in the fact that these boys were not out on the farm pushing the plow and furthermore just picking up giant bales of hay. They weren't engaged in the same kind of physical activity and they were going soft.
And so, there was the ideal that if you could just get boys together in the presence of men who would guide them and you would get them out of doors, get them out of town, even away from the giant chimneys of the industrial revolution, get them out in the woods and teach them the arts and crafts of woodcraft, and hiking, and for that matter, any number of other outdoor activities including swimming, then you could perhaps help to reverse the boy crisis.
And there were other issues here. Of course, you're also looking at the militarization that came in the early 20th century eventually in the great tragedies of the first and second World Wars. It's not by accident that from the very beginning, the Boy Scouts had uniforms and those uniforms were quasi military. Now they weren't military. Indeed for the most part, boys were to wear shorts. And going all the way back to the English speaking tradition, it was similar in Germany as a matter of fact, boys wore shorts until they were understood to be moving into manhood. That's when a boy moved from short pants to long pants. Men wore long pants, boys wore short pants. Therefore, when you look at so many of the pictures that are there, for instance, on the front of the Boy Scouts of America handbook, the same thing in Great Britain, you saw boys wearing quasi military uniforms.
But rather than having a gun around their shoulder, they had a kerchief around their neck. Rather than having long pants that ended in boots, they had short pants that ended in shoes and that's a very different picture. But nonetheless, it was a very masculine picture. It was a picture of boyhood growing into manhood and getting outdoors, doing what boys should be taught to do in which they would find great fulfillment, not in running together in gangs in the city, but rather running together, hiking together, swimming together and learning together as troops in the outdoors.
But looking back over a century of distance at all that now, what would it have possibly have meant if you had the opportunity to tell one of those early founders of the Boy Scouts movement that by the time you get to the 21st century, the word “boy” is itself indeterminate, at least when it comes to the cultural elites. And furthermore, the idea that you could have a program just for boys, well that has become just an artifact of oppressive patriarchy. All of that is now just baked in to the cultural worldview of the intellectual elites. But that's not the way it is still when it comes to the need of boys to have this kind of organization, for boys to have this kind of influence. The fact is that the scouting movement was directed towards a very real need.
One of the primary responsibilities of any civilization is to assist boys into growing into manhood. If that doesn't happen, the society cannot continue. And the Boy Scouts of America, along with the military, and, of course, Christian churches and other organizations such as the YMCA, that interestingly emerged out of basically the very same concerns they helped generation after generation of boys to move successfully or at least more successfully into manhood. But the Boy Scouts of America could not, or at least they did not withstand the vast moral and sociological changes that came in the United States.
If you were to go back just to the year 1991, the Boy Scouts of America had released a position statement that stated, "We believe that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the scout oath that a scout be morally straight and in the scout law that a scout be clean in word and deed and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts."
Now, that was not said in 1891, that was an official release from the Boy Scouts of America in 1991. Defending their right to identify the rules of association as a free and voluntary association, the Boy Scouts of America went all the way to the United States Supreme Court to defend that right, and they won that case at the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1993, the Boy Scouts came back and said, "We do not allow for the registration of avowed homosexuals as members or as leaders of the BSA."
Now, the fact that those particular statements had to be released to just two years apart tells you something of the increased cultural pressure that was being exerted upon the Boy Scouts of America. Then in 2012, virtually a decade after those statements, the BSA came back and said, "While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open are avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA. Scouting believes," said the statement, "same sex attraction should be introduced and discussed outside of its programs with parents, caregivers, or spiritual advisers at the appropriate time and in the right setting. The vast majority of parents we serve value this right and do not sign their children up for scouting for it to introduce or discuss in any way these topics.” The BSA went on to say, "The BSA is a voluntary private organization that sets policies that are best for the organization. The BSA welcomes all who share its beliefs but does not criticize or condemn those who wish to follow a different path."
Now in retrospect, here's something I want us to note and it wasn't noticed by most at the time. The shift between 2012 and then going back to 1991 in 1992 or so, is the fact that back in the ‘90s, the Boy Scouts used moral language.
By the time you get to 2012, it looks like the BSA is trying its best not to use moral language. That should have been a very big clue about what was coming. Just a month after the release of that statement, the BSA national board indicated that it had concluded a two year comprehensive review of this policy and that it was recommending maintaining the policy. Yet at the same time, there were two major corporate leaders on the board, James Turley, CEO Bernstein Young and Randall Stephenson, the CEO of AT&T who said that they were not supportive of retaining the policy. And there was then the threat of shareholder action at AT&T and Ernst and Young if indeed those particular members were not successful in convincing the Boy Scouts of America to abandon the policy.
So then, the next big date is April the 19th of 2013 when the Boy Scouts of America announced that it would in the future no longer deny membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation, but it would maintain its ban on openly gay adult leaders. Now, one of the things we need to see here is that we're just looking at a sequence of moral surrender. We're looking at the absolute redefinition of the Boy Scouts of America. But buckle your seat belts, what you're looking at thus far is not even a hint of what would eventually happen by the year 2019.
By the year 2019, the Boy Scouts of America wouldn't even really be for boys. So in 2013 they said, "Okay, we're going to change everything that we've said. We're going to drop all the moral language and we're simply going to say, 'Okay, now you can be an openly gay Boy Scout.'" That is an openly gay boy engaged in the Boy Scouts, but not openly gay adult leaders. But all that changed two years later by May of 2015. And at that time you could be an openly gay scout, you could be an openly gay scout leader.
But you've already figured this out, the T in LGBTQ would not stay out of the picture and thus by the time you fast-forward from 2015 to 2020 successively you had the Boy Scouts of America decide that those identified as transgender boys, that is girls who declared identity as boys could enter the Boy Scouts of America as boys recognized by the organization. And then you had the announcement that came that the Boy Scouts of America was no longer just going to be for boys because after all they'd already given up even on the definition of boy and instead they were going to be Scouting USA.
Now, there can also be no question that the sex abuse crisis was real. For one thing we know that it has been found throughout the society. We know that where there is a vulnerability where children and others are not protected, this creates the opportunity for abuse to take place. And, of course, we are looking at a huge sexual abuse crisis. And you're looking at the fact that the Boy Scouts of America certainly seen in retrospect had a huge vulnerability if the organization did not, and there's plenty of evidence that it did not, adequately ensure by standards and policies and procedures and furthermore, by the response of the organization that boys would be protected and that anyone who might even be suspected of preying upon boys would be removed from the process. That is, after investigation clearly removed from the process so that he had no opportunity for further predation on boys.
A Parable for Our Times: Lessons from an Onward March of the Sexual Revolution
But then you also have to note that there are those who have seized upon this opportunity to say, "See, there should be no single sex organizations either for that matter, for men or for women or for boys or for girls, whether at the ages of childhood or even the ages of adolescents. It should not be allowed. But here we go back to one of the things I mentioned earlier. One of the things that is extremely well-documented is that boys need the presence of other boys and the presence, especially in influence, of adult men to grow successfully into manhood.
And thus if you're going to destroy the organizations, the very few organizations that make that possible, then you are going to create an even greater crisis for the entire civilization. The answer cannot be destroy organizations such as the Boy Scouts, but rather reform and protect organizations such as the Boy Scouts and make them live up to their responsibility to protect all of those who were involved in scouting programs.
But of course when it comes to the moral revolution, there's no point to defending the Boy Scouts because they ceased defending themselves when it comes even to their definitional issue of whether or not they know what a boy is. It is interesting to see the kind of argument now coming from the cultural left—an illustration as an opinion piece from Clay Risen. He's the deputy daily opinion editor of the New York Times. The headline on his article released yesterday, “Save Scouting and the Boy Scouts.”
There's a very real sense in which even the surrender of the Boy Scouts is not close to enough for the cultural left. Instead you have in this article the affirmation of alternative organizations that he describes with reference to one of them as "progressive, coed, secular.” Now just think of those three words, “progressive,” “coed,” “secular.” All three of those are basically the refutation of the founding ideals of the Boy Scouts of America.
The Boy Scouts of America from the beginning was a religious organization, or at least it required an affirmation of theism on the part of the boys and of the volunteers who worked with him. It was also single sex, after all, it was the Boy Scouts of America. Later there would be the emergence of the Girl Scouts of America, but those were two separate organizations. But then the word “progressive” used in this context as a reminder that the Boy Scouts of America in holding up traditional classic virtues of manhood for boys was in a very real sense conservative. Conservative in the sense that it sought to conserve the virtues on which civilization depends and to inculcate those virtues in the lives of boys as they were growing into manhood.
Here we're looking at an entire constellation of very important observations. One of them is the pressure that was brought from the outside on the Boy Scouts of America. The fact that the cultural left targeted the Boy Scouts as a particularly odious organization just for being the Boy Scouts, that secularists had targeted the Boy Scouts and, of course, the moral revolutionaries of the sexual revolution had targeted the Boy Scouts. But we see also that there is an internal collapse, an internal surrender without which this story could not be what it is.
And thus we come back to that double tragedy. The first tragedy, the most important tragedy, which is the tragedy of lives that had been so harmed by abuse. Young men and boys who were preyed upon by the leaders and volunteers of the scouting organization and basically got away with it for a very long time. And yet you have that second tragedy, which is one of the most important organizations in American society that is now not only basically eviscerated from what it was, but basically surrendered in order to maintain some kind of cultural toehold, only to find out that even surrender is not enough. That becomes something of a triple tragedy.
One final observation on the Boy Scouts, the seeking of bankruptcy protection might not be adequate protection financially because even the Chapter 11 protection is not likely to hold back a flood of lawsuits that will come when not only the three states mentioned, but other states change their statute of limitations provisions. And you're likely to be looking at a tidal wave of litigation for which Chapter 11 protection will not be adequate, not by a long shot.
How should Christians think about this as we think about our own responsibility? Well, it goes back to point two, the indispensability and essential nature of the rightfully functioning and structured family. That is to say the Boy Scouts of America is of much less urgent need when there is a father in the home and there are brothers and cousins and older boys and other influences of good influence accessible to a boy growing up in a home.
It also points to the responsibility of Christian congregations, of Christian churches to take up this charge and responsibility and to help boys to transition into manhood. And to come up with the kinds of organizations and structures even within the life of the church or several churches of like faith and practice, of good gospel and biblical conviction coming together to create the kind of organization that won't be just vaguely spiritual or minimally theistic, but will actually be grounded in biblical truth.
And those organizations, those congregations have to take responsibility as we look across the entire spectrum of responsibilities to protect from sexual and other forms of abuse, just to make sure that the boys are safe and that everything is done such that total accountability is put into place. Christians must know that that's our responsibility for every single person involved in the life of the church or anyone who would come into the life of the ministries of the church.
Parental Rights Under Fire: How Critics of an Iowa Bill Seek to Undermine Parental Authority in Sexual Education
But finally, we will leave the Boy Scouts of America and it's crisis in order to look at a story coming from the state of Iowa. CNN reported with the headline, "Iowa bill would require schools to tell parents before lessons touching on sexual orientation.” This story came just in the last several days. CNN reports, "The bill House File 2201 was introduced last month and has been advancing in the Iowa legislature. It's currently sitting in a house subcommittee sponsored by 13 house Republicans. It would require school districts to annually notify parents about any instruction regarding sexual orientation and gender identity."
The story continues, "That would give them," that is the parents, "the chance to pull their children from participating and allowing them to inspect the materials used ahead of time." Now, the story immediately then says that this bill is one of 13 bills currently pending in the Iowa legislature that LGBTQ forces say would be discriminatory or harmful to LGBTQ persons and their interests.
Now, notice what is harmful here. What is defined as harm is the parents of children in the public schools in Iowa having advance notice that sexual orientation is going to be treated and discussed and taught in class in one way or another, and giving those parents the right to inspect—it doesn't say to approve or disapprove, but merely to inspect—those materials ahead of time. That is now defined in a way that the national media finds actually evidently quite convincing that's now defined as a harm.
Now, one of the ways to imagine the comprehensive sweeping nature of the revolution in sexual morality that has so reshaped Western civilization is to consider the fact that what no one would have possibly questioned as the essential unquestionable right to parent is now defined more as a matter of political controversy, perhaps even political opportunism, and also an opportunity of harm.
The predictable line of suspects is against this bill, including the ACLU, that's the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund—again, that's liberal mainline Protestantism—the Iowa conference of the United Methodist Church, and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa. Now, what would Planned Parenthood, notoriously enough, what would it have as a stake in this bill? Well, the Planned Parenthood organization seems to have a stake in every particular dimension of the moral revolution. It's actually, we are reminded all of the piece, it's all really one big package.
It's also very notable that Veronica Fowler identified as the communications director of the ACLU of Iowa referred to the proposed legislation as overly vague. In her words, "Teachers rightly have raised concerns about what would and would not need parental approval, citing examples is fundamental as whether or not they can mention that presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg, is making history as an openly gay presidential candidate."
She went on to say, "The bill also would marginalize and discriminate against LGBTQ students by mandating that they and their sexual orientation or gender identity must be hidden and not discussed." You just look at that logic, it's a revolution. The society turned on its head. The moral order of society absolutely capsized. But notice something else here. You have the accusation that the problem with this bill is that its purposes would be vague, but of course that's not the real objection at all. The real objection is not that the purpose is vague, but that the purpose is clear—to recognize the authority of parents. That clearly enough is the real ground of offense. And that tells us just about everything we need to know as the program for today must come to an end.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.