This year I turned 62. As we age, we learn more about bereavement. My latest bereavement is the Boy Scouts of America.
The first funeral I attended was as a preschooler. They included me in standing before the open casket to view the deceased. They told me he was sleeping. I knew that was not true, but I did not understand what was true, and could not enter into the strange behavior of the adults around me. I didn’t know bereavement.
In the last few years, my father, oldest brother, and a sister in law have died. Brother David died of liver cancer. Sister in law Mandy died of brain cancer. The illness leading to death drags out the suffering and allows a person a chance to catch up a little bit to what is happening, and thereby to enter into bereavement.
Things besides outright death can feel like bereavement too. My wife, Marilyn, and I experienced this strongly when our former Pastor, Rev. David Warner, was called from our congregation to become a missionary in Spain. Like the time between David’s and Mandy’s diagnoses to their deaths, the time between the call of Pastor Warner to his decision felt quite like bereavements from illness leading to death.
The time between when the BSA allowed openly gay Scouts to recently when it allowed openly gay leaders has been like that. You see, Scouting is part of my family. My brothers and I all are Eagles, Pro Deo et Patria (American Lutheran Church), and Order of the Arrow. One of my brothers and I went to National Jamborees, and my other brother went to a World Jamboree. Marilyn’s and my three sons all are Eagles and Order of the Arrow. All of my nephews are Eagles.
Now I have had to decide to terminate my financial support of what was part of my family, and furthermore to encourage Lutheran churches to cease sponsoring Scout troops and find alternatives.
In the first draft of this article, I provided an overview of the great things Scouting had done for our family and for so many others. As I reread it, I thought, what are you doing? This sounds like a brochure promoting Scouting, rather than sticking to the subject of explaining why my relationship with Scouting is ending. Rereading it again, I realized, no, that is not a promotional brochure. That is a eulogy. I was writing from bereavement. Eulogizing Scouting would be easy. It has been a great program and such a friend of our family.
Scouting always has had a tense relationship with Lutheranism. The relationship with Lutheran churches has worked only when a few very important things were held clearly. Scouting contributes nothing to a congregation’s life of Word and Sacrament, which are the core breath and blood of Lutheran life. It says nothing in support of the Gospel, without which, there is no Lutheranism. Insofar as religion is concerned, Scouting is pretty much (with the exception of optional things like Pro Deo et Patria) about the Law in two ways. First, it promotes civil righteousness in boys in the Lutheran understanding of the Law’s first use. Second, it promotes love of one’s neighbor in the Lutheran understanding of the Second Table of the Law. Scouting entails risks of syncretism and unionism. Certain parts of Scouting, such as the Order of the Arrow, entail risks relating to secrecy.
When these matters are held clearly in mind and the congregation exercises good control over selection of leaders and the manner in which the program is executed, the program can be and has been beneficial.
With the admission of gay leaders, however, Scouting has moved into an unworkable condition. It is one thing to allow openly gay Scouts. It is another to allow openly gay leaders.
One of the reasons my parents wanted us boys to be Scouts was the leaders. They wanted to extend their parental influence on us by putting us into association with and under the leadership of great people. My older brothers’ Scoutmaster was a devout member of our Lutheran church, and he was the Youth Probation Officer for our county. My first Scoutmaster was a devout Lutheran and a neighboring farmer who grew up near the farm where my Dad was born and raised. My Scoutmaster for most of my time in the troop was a devout Lutheran who held many positions in the congregation, was a lawyer, a legislator, a community servant, and the Best Man at Mom’s and Dad’s wedding.
My folks were holding these people up to us as models, and to show us that their civil righteousness, already becoming culturally unpopular in those days, was not weird, but shared by respectable people.
There is no getting around the didactic or teaching effect of who the leaders of a troop are. To have a gay Scout leader speaks. It teaches. It catechizes. It says being openly gay and practicing a gay lifestyle is a righteous way to live. It holds that life up as a model.
Scripture teaches that homosexual desire and actions are sins. These sins, like others, can be forgiven for Jesus’ sake on confession and repentance. But those who believe, teach, and confess that these things are not sin do not confess or repent of them. People do not confess as sin what they deny is sin. They themselves, not Christ, Scripture, or the Lutheran church, close the door on forgiveness by refusing to confess and repent. Their exclusion results not from which sin they are involved in, but from the nondiscriminatory effect that refusing to confess and repent has with respect to any manner of sin, not just this one. The exclusion is indifferent toward which sin and mindful of refusal to confess and repent.
Approving homosexual living in leadership of a sponsored organization is inherently and inimically in conflict with the Lutheran church. Why? Because the communion and fellowship of Lutherans is our communion of confession, our fellowship of the teaching. Our words of communion and fellowship are, “We believe, teach, and confess.” We believe, teach, and confess what Scripture teaches. To not merely associate with, but to sponsor organizations who teach contrary to our confession is to fork our tongue. It is to squander one of our treasures, which is our confession.
Inevitably that kind of two-faced confession would bear an impact on various teachings including the Lutheran view of Scripture, the Lord’s Supper, ordination, qualification for congregational offices, and the Baptismal life of repentance. These impacts would not happen all at once, but that is no comfort, unless we are heartless toward our children, grandchildren, and others.
So I have had to terminate my financial support of the Boy Scouts of America, and to encourage Lutheran churches to terminate sponsorship of troops. I say it with no glee. It is like watching the color of a cancer patient’s skin turn grey when his blood stops circulating.
But there are worse deaths. Worse is the death that comes from loss of confession of the faith. Without repentance, that death is eternal. That death for ourselves and everyone we teach is what we risk when we corrode our confession.
Farewell, my Scouting friends. We have shared our last campfire. Would that we all would come to repentance.