October 12, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, October 12, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll see the Boy Scouts of America continue to evolve. We’ll see the words boys and girls become increasingly ironic. We will see the Pope condemn the death penalty and, on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, remind us of why Sola Scriptura is so important.
The next step in the evolution of the Boy Scouts of America: accepting girls
The headline in the Los Angeles Times got it just right. I quote,
“The newest step in the evolution of the Boy Scouts: accepting girls”Show Full Transcript
Now the key word in that headline is the word evolution, meaning as it is intended to mean, one step after another after another. You’ll also note that the word evolution, well, it insinuates progress, linear movement in one direction. And that movement—well it’s in accordance with the moral revolution. That’s why many people are celebrating the headline. But we have to look at the background. The Boy Scouts of America were established in 1910, and they were following upon the example of the Scouting movement, the Boy Scouts, as that movement was established first in Great Britain. In the English-speaking world on both sides of the Atlantic at that time, there was the recognition that boys needed an organization to help them to develop, to help to develop comradery and certain models of characters, to help to instill certain moral doctrines and also to help to instill in boys a certain understanding of nature an embrace of being outdoors. And so Boy Scouting from the beginning has been associated with camping and hiking and other outdoor activities. It has been associated with the development of leadership and the celebration of comradery. It has been about from the very beginning the formation of a certain understanding of character.
And of course as you’re looking at the Boy Scouts now, it is still about many of those things, but not all of those things. But the main point we need to recognize here, the biggest point of all is that at this point the words boy and girl can only be used in our society with either a sense of nostalgia or a certain intention of irony. And what we’re looking at here in terms of this evolution takes us back not only to 1910 and the formation of the Boy Scouts of America, but to the last 10 to 15 years when successively the Boy Scouts have caved to pressure beginning first in that next stage of development to accept openly gay boys as Boy Scouts. And then in the next stage of their evolutions to decide to accept openly gay leaders, and then just earlier this year in the next stage of the Boy Scouts of America’s evolution to accepting transgender boys within Boy Scouting. And now yesterday it was announced one further step in the evolution of the Boy Scouts accepting girls.
The Los Angeles Times begins the story by saying,
“The Boy Scouts of America announced Wednesday that it will admit girls into the Cub Scouts starting next year and establish a new program for teenage girls,” using the organization’s same curriculum.
But as you observe and then compare the coverage of the story in the mainstream media, especially in just the last several hours, several patterns become clear. The first pattern is this, just about everyone understands what is the big story here. And that story is that for the first time reversing not only recent practice but the entire history of the organization The Boy Scouts of America will include girls all the way from entry into the Cub Scouts to the eventual rank of Eagle Scout. The second pattern that becomes clear is a pattern of confusing exactly what is going on here because the headlines would indicate at first glance that this means that girls and boys are going to be intermixed at every stage of this process, but it becomes clear looking at the announcement from the Boy Scouts of America that is not yet the case. But we are looking at an organization that is by its own reckoning evolving almost now month by month. But the third pattern is this, after the mainstream media seem rightly to understand what the big story is and then when they helped to sow some confusion about how exactly this is going to work, the third pattern comes down to the fact that at the central blame for the confusion is the Boy Scouts of America because they have announced what is a monumental change without providing very much information about how it is to actually take place.
According to the statement from the Boy Scouts of America,
“Today, the Boy Scouts of America Board of Directors unanimously approved to welcome girls into its iconic Cub Scout program and to deliver a Scouting program for older girls that will enable them to advance and earn the highest rank of Eagle Scout.”
They went on to say, and I quote,
“The historic decision comes after years of receiving requests from families and girls, the organization evaluated the results of numerous research efforts, gaining input from current members and leaders, as well as parents and girls who’ve never been involved in Scouting – to understand how to offer families an important additional choice in meeting the character development needs of all their children.”
Now as you look in detail at the announcement from the Boy Scouts of America, this much becomes clear. The first step is going to be the inclusion of girls in the Cubs Scouting units, but not in the same units in which there are boys or at least not within the smallest of those units. But you also have the promise that beginning in about 2019 The Boy Scouts are going to move towards the inclusion of girls in a program similar to the Boy Scouts program for boys that will lead eventually to girls being able to earn the rank of Eagle Scout. Now, as you’re looking at this you come to understand it appears that the Boy Scouts are now evolving right before our eyes and perhaps evolving without any clear roadmap about where they are going. One another symptom of the current development is that even as the announcement was made as they are now using the kind of bureaucratic language to which we are accustomed, saying that “they did research” and “this is a request from families,” it is also clear as the national media have recognized that this is coming after years of sustained pressure coming from women’s groups and advocates for girls that girls should have the right to access most particularly to the Eagle Scout program to reach the rank of Eagle Scout.
Randall Stephenson identified as the Boy Scouts of America’s National Board Chairman said,
“The BSA’s record of producing leaders with high character and integrity is amazing.” He went on to say, “I’ve seen nothing that develops leadership skills and discipline like this organization. It is time to make these outstanding leadership development programs available to girls.”
The words "boys" and "girls" are becoming increasingly ironic
When you look at the development like this, there is the immediate question that comes to mind. Just how important is this? It would be possible, of course, to overestimate the importance of this kind of development. It would be equally possible to underestimate its importance. So trying to gain balance in this, let’s go back to that accurate headline in the Los Angeles Times and see once again what it tells us. I repeat,
“The newest step in the evolution of the Boy Scouts: accepting girls”
Now at first step when you look at the words Boy Scouts you would think that that means boys, and you would assume we know what that means. But, of course, the entire headline comes down to the fact that this next step in the evolution of the Boy Scouts is accepting girls. Now let’s just assume at least for matters of arguments that we understand that there are such creatures as boys and girls and that there is a distinction in these creatures known as boys and girls. Then the one thing that we do know is that girls are not boys. So here’s the next step we can predict and that is that if the Boy Scouts are going to include girls they can no longer really remain the Boy Scouts. There may be some continued legal existence of the Boy Scouts of America, but if the Boy Scouts are undertaking now as they themselves announce a major change toward the inclusion of girls all the way from Cub Scouts up to Eagle Scouts, then eventually you can count on the fact that there will be no justification or for that matter accuracy to continue to call the organization The Boy Scouts.
Well one response to that realization could be this—that’s not really a big deal. It really doesn’t matter to our society whether or not an organization such as the Boy Scouts can continue to exist. But here’s where we need to be very honest, morally honest and intellectually honest. The Boy Scouts of America did not begin this process identified by the Los Angeles Times as evolution from some kind of internal soul searching. As a matter fact, within just the past generation, the Boy Scouts went all the way, successfully we should note, to the United States Supreme Court in order to defend their right as a voluntary association to stipulate their own criteria for membership and leadership. And that was when the Boy Scouts were really clear about two things they were willing to defend. First that as an organization The Boy Scouts of America is for boys, and secondly that as an organization The Boy Scouts of America is for boys who to agree to certain terms of morality and a certain definition of character. And the Boy Scouts of America within just the last generation went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to argue that that understanding of character was incompatible with the practice of homosexuality. Well as we could say that was then and this is now. The Boy Scouts have evolved since then, and they are continuing to evolve before our eyes.
But this is where the intellectual honesty and our analysis of what’s going on in the culture should make very clear that the Boy Scouts of America have successfully at every stage of this evolution caved to what they perceive to be an overwhelming cultural and moral, indeed political, and economic pressure. The background to that pressure is perhaps an even bigger story than the resultant policy changes by the Boy Scouts of America. But those policy changes are not unimportant. And what we have seen is the redefinition of boyhood and now the redefinition of childhood and of youth to the point at which as I have said the most lamentable realization is that increasingly even the words boys and girls can be used only with nostalgia or irony.
But here’s another issue. Those who have been pressuring the Boy Scouts of America at every stage of this evolution, how have they responded to the announcement yesterday? Well, it’s clear in the Los Angeles Times article and the New York Times and the Washington Post they’ve responded by saying this is a really good announcement, but you can count on this, the Boy Scouts of America will need to take the next step. And there’s no question about what that next step will be. It will be the inclusion of girls with the boys in terms of every stage of the Boy Scout and program. It’s also really clear just looking at membership statistics that the Boy Scouts have been suffering in recent years as fewer and fewer boys are actually signing up for the program. And we can understand why because the Boy Scouts make sense in a society in which an organization like the Boy Scouts as the Boy Scouts is both respected and understood. In a society in which those conditions are not met an organization like the Boy Scouts that even as it admitted in 2013 was acting over against the convictions and wishes of the majority of parents of the boys in scouting well that organization shouldn’t be surprised that it’s having a hard time in recruitment.
And the Girl Scouts of America—remember them, long-standingly more progressive and liberal than the Boy Scouts—they are complaining loudly about this announcement that came yesterday from the Boy Scouts of America. Why? Because they clearly see it as competition for the programs of the Girl Scouts. The Girl Scouts as an organization actually preceded considerably the Boy Scouts in joining the LGBTQ revolution. But the Girl Scouts do not see it as a friendly move for the Boy Scouts to decide to include girls. And you might think that means feminists are against it, but no feminists have been clamoring for it. The National Organization for Women has loudly and publicly demanded that the Boy Scouts do what they did yesterday, but of course the National Organization for Women is demanding that the Boy Scouts go further than they did yesterday. And there’s every reason to believe that perhaps quite shortly they will.
Some have said that the Boy Scouts that this action simply to include girls most especially at the level of the Eagle Scout, allowing girls to have access to the leadership development and to the recognition that comes with Eagle Scout rank. But that really doesn’t explain the announcement made yesterday, which begins with the Cub Scouts and is over the protests of the Girl Scouts. And that means there’s even more here than meets the eye. But that’s really the point, regardless of the announcement made yesterday.
The Pope condemns the death penalty
Next, in this very year that we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the Pope dropped a bomb, a doctrinal bomb, and he did so in an audience yesterday with cardinals, bishops, priests, nuns, catechists and ambassadors from many countries. They were gathered together for a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the current catechism of the Roman Catholic Church. What was the bomb? Well the bomb was the fact that the Pope called for what is described by Catholic authorities as a radical change in the church’s catechism. That change? To declare that the death penalty is contrary in every case to the gospel.
Now the announcement really isn’t such a surprise when it comes to Pope Francis. His opposition to the death penalty has been known for years and goes back to the time that he was a Cardinal Archbishop in Argentina. But what constitutes the doctrinal bomb is that on the 25th anniversary of the catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope has called for a change in the catechism on this issue. And here’s what’s really important to evangelicals, to Protestants, he made the argument that this represents what he recognizes is the development of doctrine. That’s the really crucial issue. In the Catholic magazine America, Gerard O’Connell writes,
“Pope Francis declared today that the death penalty is ‘contrary to the Gospel.’ He said that ‘however grave the crime that may be committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it attacks the inviolability and the dignity of the person.’”
The Pope went on to condemn the death penalty as,
“an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out. And [it] is, of itself, contrary to the Gospel,” said the Pope, “because it is freely decided to suppress a human life that is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator, and of which, in the final analysis, God alone is the true judge and guarantor.”
Now that sounds like Pope Francis, but it doesn’t sound like the catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, which isn’t a really old document. It goes back to 1992 under the leadership of then Pope John Paul II, and John Paul II was also a critic of the death penalty. But as the catechism makes clear, he criticized the death penalty but allowed for its use under certain circumstances to restrain evil. But the current Pope is calling for a change in the catechism to reverse the understanding of Pope John Paul II, and he’s doing so very openly, very honestly. And this is where the story just gets more interesting.
The importance of Sola Scriptura asserts itself on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation
On the one hand, the story is the death penalty, but even more importantly, the big story here is doctrine, the development of doctrine. Because into this particular question, the Pope dived quite deeply. The Pope went on to acknowledge that what this represents is a development of doctrine. He claimed his responsibility and authority. He identified himself as the successor to St. Peter. He declared the right and the responsibility of the magisterium, the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church to develop doctrine beyond Scripture.
In making his statement, he understood the radical change he was calling for, he understood the very conception of the development of doctrine he was claiming here. He went on to say,
“it’s not sufficient to find a new language to announce the faith of always; it is necessary and urgent that, faced with the new challenges and new horizons that are opening for humanity, the church can express the new things of the Gospel of Christ that, while enclosed in the Word of God, have not yet come to light.”
If you want to understand the Reformation, in a nutshell there it is. The Reformation comes down to the question as to whether or not there are doctrines and major theological understandings that should be seen in Scripture but aren’t there. But the Roman Catholic magisterium claims the right to see and then to develop as official doctrine. Let’s understand what the Pope is saying here. He is saying consistent with the theological authority the Roman Catholic Church has claimed for years that the magisterium of the church headed by the Pope has the right to develop doctrine that clearly isn’t found in Scripture. Instead, they hold to two different sources of Revelation, one being the Scriptures the word of God, the second being the tradition of the church under the supervision and the leadership under the guardianship of the magisterium of the church with the Pope at the top.
When the reformers made very clear that they were standing upon the authority of Scripture alone, this was exactly the argument that they were confronting. The argument that on doctrine, such as penance and ordination, the entire sacramental system of the church, what wasn’t found in Scripture was claimed by the Roman Catholic Church to be valid because it claimed the responsibility to develop doctrine beyond the Bible. And that’s exactly what the Pope was claiming yesterday. In speaking of this change the Pope went on very honestly to say that behind it includes,
“the changed awareness consciousness of the Christian people, that rejects an attitude which consents to a punishment that heavily harms human dignity.”
Now this is where the evangelical might ask a question that would come unavoidably to mind. Is the Bible wrong on the question of the death penalty? Because there could be no question that any honest reading, first of all the Old Testament points to not only God allowing the death penalty, but demanding it, calling for it under certain circumstances. But the Pope says that the death penalty is always in every case a violation of human dignity. The New Testament, especially in a text like Romans 13, also acknowledges the fact that God gave the government for the restraint of evil the power of the sword, clearly speaking of the power the enforcement of law all the way to capital punishment. Now that is not to say that Christians can’t enter into a good conversation about the death penalty and how it is to be applied. But this is something very different. Here you have the man identified as the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church saying that he is to lead a change in the church’s catechism, even as it celebrates its 25 years of existence in which the understanding of Pope John Paul II, which he will not say is wrong, he will say it was right in 1992 that was just then. The church has learned something since 1992. Well the Bible hasn’t changed. So what has changed? The Pope is very honest. What has changed is the consciousness he says of the Christian people, and thus the doctrine is to develop. And as he develops the doctrines what was true in the Bible isn’t true now. What was true in the Old Testament isn’t true now. What was true in the New Testament isn’t true now even what was true 1992 isn’t true now.
The big headlines in much of the conversation about the Pope’s announcement yesterday is going to be about the death penalty, and that’s quite legitimate because the Pope made the death penalty the major issue that is likely to interest the press. But to evangelicals observing what happened yesterday, the really big news isn’t so much the death penalty, it was the Pope claiming the authority to develop doctrine and developing that doctrine right before our eyes. So if you want to understand just how relevant is the Protestant affirmation of Sola Scriptura, yes, look back to 1517. But as the Pope made clear yesterday just look 2017. The issue is just as clear now.