April 24, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, April 24, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The Boy Scouts of America, which voted last year to include openly gay scouts, but not openly gay scout leaders, just earlier this month, removed a scoutmaster, an openly gay scoutmaster, from leadership of a troop in the area of Seattle, Washington. Now The New York Times reports that the Boy Scouts of America has removed the church, that is, the Rainier Beach United Methodist Church near Seattle, from the list of approved congregations to sponsor a Boy Scout troop. As Kirk Johnson of The New York Times reports, this essentially bars the Rainier Beach United Methodist Church and its 15 scouts from using logos, uniforms, or names associated with the Boy Scouts, as long as the scoutmaster, who is himself a former Eagle Scout, named Geoffrey McGrath, remains in charge.
Now earlier this month, we talked about the fact that the Boy Scouts of America found itself now in a very difficult position and it put itself in that position. It was last year that the Boy Scouts at the national level changed their national policy. Up until then, they had gone all the way to United States Supreme Court and actually won several years ago on the claim that it was their responsibility, especially to the parents of the boys involved in Boy Scouts, that they would maintain a policy of excluding persons who were openly gay from either membership and the participation that comes with membership or leadership, as in being a scoutmaster. But when the Boy Scouts made this change, openly caving to cultural pressure—there was no doubt about what was going on. The very argument they made was that we are out of step with the culture and that we have to do this. And there were in the background open issues involving corporations of those who were on the board, that is, the employers of those who were on the board, putting pressure on their own employees as board members of Boy Scouts of America to effect this change or resign their posts.
But now as you have the story unfolding near Seattle, the story is even more interesting. The Boy Scouts of America put themselves in the middle of this controversy by caving to public pressure, but going only halfway. In other words, last year they announced that they would change their policy to allow openly gay scouts, but not openly gay leaders. The problem is the two often go together when it comes to the policies of a sponsoring Boy Scout troop, and that’s exactly what has happened with respect to this United Methodist Church and it scouting troop near Seattle, Washington. The pastor of the church, the Rev. Dr. Monica K. Corsaro, said on Monday of this week that the scoutmaster was going to stay and the Boy Scouts would have to go. She pleaded with the Boy Scouts to change the policy, but she said, “We’re going to stand firm. Geoffrey attends our church, and this is a way to support our youth in the neighborhood.”
Now as the story has also reported in detail, it turns out that this is the kind of church, as you would expect a liberal church in the United Methodist Church, that is standing for the full inclusion of homosexuals at every level. They support same-sex marriage. They’re an open and affirming congregation, by their own designation, and they are part of a fellowship of churches within the United Methodist denomination that is pushing for the full inclusion of gays and lesbians. They say we can’t reverse our policy when it comes to our convictions in order to meet the demands of the Boy Scouts of America.
But it is an open letter written to Time magazine by the pastor the church that makes another very interesting point from a worldview perspective. You see, after the Boy Scouts of America changed their policy last summer, a large group of conservative churches and denominations, not to mention parents, decided to withdraw their boys or their units from scouting and start an alternative organization that would maintain a very clear understanding of sexual morality when it comes to the issue of homosexuality and same-sex attraction. And yet what’s revealed in this article coming from this pastor now published in Time magazine is the fact that her congregation is going to be looking for an alternative on the left. In other words, if in this kind of cultural crisis, you try to find some kind of halfway position, you will end up pleasing no one. Because if you do not stand on principle, then you are simply caving to some kind of cultural accommodation, and eventually it won’t be satisfactory.
From a Christian worldview perspective, this is easily understandable. If you stand on principle, the principal doesn’t change. The application and the context may change, the cultural moment may change, but the principle, the conviction doesn’t change. Those who understand that the Scriptures have revealed an objective sexual morality that is not ours to do with as we will, it’s not ours to compromise, it’s not ours to accommodate, we may find ourselves standing in a very awkward cultural position (surely we will), but we can’t be accused of a kind of insecurity or a kind of basic dishonesty by contradicting ourselves. That’s exactly where the Boy Scouts now find themselves. They had the strong principle that it was their responsibility to stand on a very clear sexual morality, and that included a moral judgment on same-sex relationships and behaviors. When they changed that position, but only for the scouts and not for scouting leaders, they left themselves in the position of having no clear principle other than they have one policy for the scouts and another for scoutmasters. Clearly, that’s not going to hold. We said that back when the national scouting organization changed its policy, but now this church near Seattle, Washington, may become the catalyst for forcing the Boy Scouts of America or at least leading them to forfeit their policy when it comes to scoutmasters and scouting leaders as well.
As a former Boy Scout myself, I can certainly lament the continuing dissolution of that organization, but you know, the interesting point, the really interesting point for Christians is this: If you begin to compromise principle and conviction in order to meet some kind of cultural pressure, it will never be enough. You take seven steps this way and ten more will be demanded. There is no way to find stability in the surrender of principle. This is now where the Boy Scouts of America find themselves. But they put themselves in this position. And now you have not only churches on the conservative side withdrawing scouts and units from the organization, you also have those on the liberal side saying we’re going to do the same thing for the equal and opposite reason. Driven by the opposite convictions, we find the current position of the Boy Scouts untenable. That’s a strange position in which the left and the right now find themselves agreed and the Boy Scouts of America in no man’s land in the middle.
The latest issue of Scientific American has a very interesting article entitled “The Genesis of Justice.” It’s written by Michael Shermer. He is himself a skeptic—he’s the publisher of Skeptic magazine—a prominent advocate of evolution, but he writes concerning a book recently published by Yale University psychologist Paul Bloom. The book is entitled, Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil. And, by the way, the title of that book is a play on words. It’s not Just Babies as in only babies; it’s Just Babies as in babies who understand justice. You see, Paul Bloom, that psychologist at Yale, is making a very interesting case. He’s making the case that there is an innate moral judgment in what it means to be human. Human beings have an innate moral knowledge and innate moral capacity. Even babies can’t help making moral judgments. As Shermer describes in this article in Scientific American, Paul Bloom decided to test the theory that we have this innate moral sense. He provided experimental evidence that “our natural endowments include”—in his words—“a moral sense, some capacity to distinguish between kind and cruel actions, empathy and compassion, suffering at the pain of those around us and the wish to make this pain go away, a rudimentary sense of fairness, a tendency to favor equal divisions of resources, a rudimentary sense of justice, a desire to see good actions rewarded and bad actions punished.” In other words, here you have this secular psychologist arguing that when you look even at infants, you discover what he calls “a rudimentary sense of morality,” a sense that good things should be rewarded, bad actions should be punished.
I think you’ll appreciate the evidence from one experiment that he conducted. In his laboratory, a one-year-old baby watched puppets enacting a morality play. One of the puppets rolled a ball to a second puppet, who passed the ball back. The first puppet then rolled the ball to a different puppet, who ran off with the ball. The baby was next given a choice between taking a treat away from the nice puppet or the naughty one, and—guess what?—as Bloom predicted, the infant removed the treat from the naughty puppet and rewarded the good puppet. But this little morality play also involves not only giving a positive reinforcement, but punishment. When the bad puppet was shown to the baby, “the boy then leaned over and smacked this puppet on the head.” As the article in Scientific American explains, in his inchoate, or very early and undeveloped moral mind, punishment was called for.
Now that’s a very interesting thing. Here you have a one-year-old baby, who doesn’t have the moral vocabulary of good and evil, who can’t even speak in terms of good and evil. Here you have a one-year-old baby with very rudimentary knowledge of anything—it’s described here as an inchoate moral mind—but the baby has the sense to know, the innate moral sense to know, the difference between a good act and a bad act, a just act and an unjust act. And the baby has the moral knowledge to want to reward the good action and to punish the bad action, even to the extent that this baby smacks a bad puppet on the head for having taken the ball away and run.
Now Scientific American finds this very interesting. As the article says:
Morality, according to Bloom, entails certain feelings and motivations such as a desire to help others in need, compassion for those in pain, anger toward the cruel, and guilt and pride about our own shameful and kind actions.
Now, by the way, that also explains why your two-year-old hides from you when she misbehaves. In other words, where does she get that sense? Why does she like Adam and Eve in the Garden after eating of the forbidden fruit, why do they flee? Why do they hide themselves? Why do we do these things? It is because we do have an innate moral knowledge. We don’t have to be taught to do these things; there is something within us. And that’s why Scientific American finds this very interesting because they can only have one explanation for why that would be so. Somehow—and you’re in advance on this in figuring out what they’re going to argue—somehow evolution has to have programmed us to have this kind of innate moral knowledge. Somehow, by a purely naturalistic and materialistic means, we developed to the point where even our infants have a rudimentary moral knowledge that came as a gift of evolution. Now if you’re going to accept that, you’ve got to accept the fact that somehow a purely naturalistic process over millions and millions of years by natural selection somehow produces a one-year-old baby who is has the moral sense to smack a bad puppet on the head. If you’ll buy that, then you’ll by the modern theory of evolution and all that the scientific community claims will go with it.
On the other hand, this is a magnificent testimony to what it means for every single human being, including every one-year-old little baby, to be made God’s image, to be made in the image of God. Because as the Scripture tells us, that moral knowledge that is within us and is even there, though undeveloped, in a human infant is there by God’s gift because we are made in His image and there are certain things we cannot not know. There are certain things that are made within us by the fact that we are made in God’s image. There is a knowledge that we don’t have to earn, we don’t have to learn; it is simply there. It is because we are not just human creatures, as Homo sapiens, the thinking being, we’re also the moral being, not because some biological or evolutionary accident explains this, but because God shows His glory in making us like Himself in this respect; made in His image as a moral creature. We are moral creatures because we were made by a moral God, a Creator who shows His glory and brings Himself pleasure in creating creatures who do know the difference between good and evil and are accountable for it. And, furthermore, it’s the glory of God in the fact that a one-year-old baby boy knows which puppet to be rewarded and which to be punished when he sees behavior enacted before his little eyes. That should give you hope. That should give you joy. It brings glory to God, and whatever brings glory to God, should bring us happiness as well, even if it throws the scientific community and its naturalistic worldview into absolute confusion about how in the world to explain this thing.
While we’re on the topic of young people, Paul Barnwell, a high school English teacher writing at The Atlantic, says that we ought to be very concerned about the growing inability of our adolescents to be involved in a decent meaningful conversation. He writes:
Recently I stood in front of my class, observing an all-too-familiar scene. Most of my students were covertly—or so they thought—pecking away at their smartphones under their desks, checking their Facebook feeds and texts.
As I called their attention, students’ heads slowly lifted, their eyes reluctantly glancing forward. I then cheerfully explained that their next project would practice a skill they all desperately needed: holding a conversation.
Several students looked perplexed. Others fidgeted in their seats, waiting for me to stop watching the class so they could return to their phones. Finally, one student raised his hand. “How is this going to work?” he asked.
Paul Barnwell, a high school English teacher, is writing about the fact that so many adolescents now find themselves or are found unable to engage in a meaningful conversation, or what he calls here even holding what can meaningfully be called a conversation. He writes:
As I watched my class struggle, I came to realize that conversational competence might be the single-most overlooked skill we fail to teach students. Kids spend hours each day engaging with ideas and one another through screens—but [now in this generation, for the first time in human history] rarely do they have an opportunity to truly hone their interpersonal communication skills. Admittedly, teenage awkwardness and nerves play a role in difficult conversations. But students’ reliance on screens for communication is detracting—and distracting—from their engagement in real-time talk.
Further evidence comes from outside this article in a recent report indicating that when parents and children, especially teenage children, are communicating even within their domicile, within their own family home, they are increasingly relying on text messages in order to communicate when the kid and the parent are just feet or yards away from each other, or perhaps separated by one floor of space, the bedroom and the kitchen are only separated by a matter of meters, and yet the parent and the teenager are communicating by text messaging because it’s easy. Well it may seem to be easy to communicate, but as this English teacher has absolutely put before us as a challenge, it isn’t a conversation. And he’s absolutely right. Conversation is one of the most essential skills for an adult in terms of human society. You can’t get a job unless you can have a conversation. You can’t keep a job usually unless you can have a conversation because getting a job and keeping a job means working with someone in communicating ideas and sustaining a relationship that requires a conversation. Employers are telling us they find young people whom they can’t hire because they can’t have a meaningful conversation to find out if they actually are qualified for the job or how they would fit within the job classification. Or they don’t believe that if they ever put this young person before a customer, they could have a meaningful conversation with the customer.
This goes hand-in-hand with other research reported in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and so many others that the distinction between many successful young people as teenagers and young adults and unsuccessful ones is whether or not the family ate a meal together, especially the evening meal with the family gathered together. Now is it the food that makes the difference? Well food’s important. That’s what you’re doing once you sit down to a meal, but that’s not what people take away. Children walk away from the family meal not just filled with food, but having the opportunity for a real face-to-face conversation, and in many cases, the only face-to-face conversation they are going to have with adults in the course of that day, the only face-to-face conversation they’re going to have with anyone in which there can be a genuine conversation about ideas and events and concerns and hopes and aspirations and all the things that people talk about when they talk meaningfully to each other. A family that doesn’t sit down for this kind of meal, that instead communicates by means of these small exchanges by text message or Twitter or whatever form of social media, is a family that is producing children that, by and large, are described in this article; children, adolescents, and young adults who simply can’t engage in a normal conversation.
And, of course, there’s more to this. This gets back to the fact that we are made in God’s image, and God made us in his image giving us the capacity for communication, giving us the gift of language. Even the secular world understands one of the key distinctions between the human being and all other creatures is that the human alone has the capacity for language. The human alone has the capacity for meaningful, linguistic conversation, but if we do not use that capacity, we are denying a purpose for which we were made. And something is not only unformed within the individual, but a capacity is simply unformed to the glory of God. That’s something that should concern us all. It’s not only about worldly success—getting a job and keeping a job—it’s not only about the exchange of ideas, it’s about the development of the human being to the glory of God, fulfilling the purpose for which we’re made, a vocation that is implicit in our creation in God’s image. And that’s why when we look at a story like this, as appears in The Atlantic magazine, we need to recognize this English teacher—teaching high school English, bless his heart—he’s onto something, but he’s onto something that is far more meaningful than he knows. From a Christian perspective, this is even more important than he fears.
Finally, Jill Filipovic of The Guardian, that’s a left-wing newspaper in Great Britain, reports on a study done in the United States on American adolescents undertaken by the Robert Wood Johnson foundation that finds—now buckle your seatbelts for this—that in terms of teenage romances, girls feel the pain of the breakup far greater than do boys. Now if you’re writing that down as news, you probably have never been an adolescent or have ever been around a high school or ever known teenagers. This is hardly news, but it tells us a great deal about our society that someone needed a report in order to document this.
So how should we respond to this? The Guardian, again, is a left-wing newspaper. It shows a feminist agenda, but I think you may still be shocked by the kind of policy changes that the paper calls for, in terms of how to level the field so that girls are not hurt more than boys. They write:
Policy-wise, there’s a lot to be done: ending abstinence-only sex ed and finding more funding for a diversity of educational programs including art and music that can help all students forge individual identities and develop their talents. Outside of schools, policies allowing women to be equal players at work and in life would go a long way in shifting assumptions around female identity.
Does that sound like the wrong set of answers to the problem? In other words, where’s the sanity in this to say maybe parents need to be helping their teenage girls not to establish that kind of romantic relationship too early when it is an assured thing that the relationship will end and their hearts may well be broken? Where’s the response of this that indicates that parents should be involved here? And where in the world would even a left-wing newspaper come up with the idea that somehow ending abstinence-only sex education and finding more money for music programs is going to solve the problem of the broken hearts of adolescent girls? What we have here is a classic example of a secular society denying the obvious. And as we look at it, here’s the thing that Christian parents and others must remember: it’s one thing for the secular world to deny the obvious; it’s another thing for us to deny the truth. We’re to be the people who know these things in advance, long before a study comes along to tell us what we already know.
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