I remember fondly my years with the Boy Scouts. Overnight campouts with my father. Lessons in outdoor survival and the care of nature. Building camaraderie in an environment uniquely suited to develop boys into men.
As a teenager, I became too involved in academics and other activities to continue in the Boy Scouts, but I have always admired the Eagle Scouts I met and consider their achievement to be enormously significant. The list of notable Eagle Scouts includes President Gerald Ford, astronaut Neil Armstrong (the first man on the moon), Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, and businessman Sam Walton.
The Boy Scouts have been one of America's great cultural institutions. Five years ago, things began to change.
What the BSA has done
From their inception in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) excluded openly gay people from membership or leadership. The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that they had a legal right to continue this position.
Then companies such as UPS, drug manufacturer Merck, and the United Way began opposing the organization's policy, choosing to stop or postpone their financial support. A gay advocacy group gathered more than 1.2 million online signatures to protest the BSA's position.
In response, the BSA voted on May 23, 2013, to open the organization to openly gay individuals. On July 27, 2015, they chose to permit openly gay Scout leaders.
On January 30, 2017, the BSA announced that transgender boys would be allowed to enroll in boys-only programs, effective immediately. On October 11, 2017, they announced that girls would be allowed to become Cub Scouts in 2018 and that a separate program for older girls would begin in 2019.
To further the inclusion of girls, the BSA is now dropping "Boy" from the name of its signature program. Starting in February 2019, the Boy Scouts program for boys ages eleven to seventeen will be called Scouts BSA. The overall organization will remain Boy Scouts of America.
The organization said the decision was in response to the needs of families and because of dropping membership. The BSA has lost about a third of its members since 2000.
Why the Mormon response is important
When the BSA decided to include openly gay Scouts five years ago, a leader in the organization told me that the key reaction to watch would come from the Mormon Church.
For a century, any boy who was part of a Mormon congregation was automatically part of the Boy Scouts. As a result, more Scouts have come from Mormon churches than from any other organization.
However, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced it will sever all ties with the BSA. Their affiliation will end on December 31, 2019.
This change will affect hundreds of thousands of Mormon boys in more than thirty thousand congregations across the country. The church will create its own youth program, to be launched in January 2020.
The church said it was "deeply troubled" by the BSA's decision to lift the ban on openly gay adult leaders in 2015. The Mormon Church opposes same-sex marriage, teaches that sex outside of marriage is sinful, and does not permit openly gay men or women to hold leadership roles.
Abandoning vital distinctives
I recently read an advance copy of John S. Dickerson's Hope of Nations: Standing Strong in a Post-Truth, Post-Christian World. Dickerson is a pastor, researcher, and award-winning journalist. His latest book is an illuminating, troubling, and inspiring look into the likely future for our culture.
In light of Dickerson's outstanding research, it is clear to me that BSA leaders are responding to a culture that should trouble us all. Dickerson notes that 89 percent of Americans believe "people should not criticize someone else's life choices." A frightening 74 percent of Millennials believe morality to be a matter of cultural consensus (compared with 39 percent of Elders who agree).
Bernie Sanders ran for president in 2016 as an overt socialist. More Millennials voted for him in the 2016 presidential primaries than for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton–combined. Clearly, the younger Americans are, the less committed they are to traditional values and biblical truth.
BSA leaders apparently believe that compromising their traditional values and distinctives by including all sexual identities and genders is the way forward in this pluralistic, relativistic day.
I would respond that they are abandoning what made them such a unique and vibrant part of our national ethos.
If a ship in a storm jettisons the cargo it was intended to protect, it fails its mission.
How to be good ambassadors
You and I are "ambassadors for Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:20). Ambassadors have three jobs: (1) understand the foreign culture where they now live; (2) represent the authority on whose behalf they serve; (3) work faithfully until they are called home.
Today, you will be the presence of Christ to those you meet. They will judge your Master by his messenger. If you ask the Holy Spirit to author your words (Mathew 10:19) and sanctify your character (Galatians 5:22-23), he will.
Jesus came "to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18-19).
Let's join him.