Friday, May 24, 2013

Casualties.

Every war has unintended casualties. 

Military commanders may try to limit civilian deaths, but it's inevitable that innocents will be caught in the crosshairs of almost any armed conflict. World War 1 alone left more than 6.5 million civilians dead across the European continent. 6.5 million. That's the whole state of Tennessee. And what exactly was accomplished by World War 1? We're still not entirely sure.

The Culture Wars are no different. The battle lines are drawn. The trenches are dug. Opposing sides take aim...and fire. Victories and half-victories are won...or at least proclaimed. Just like scorched ruins of Europe's cities, devastating destruction is left behind...and for what exactly?

We find ourselves in the heat of yet another Culture War battle. It's a battle that's been raging for quite some time, but the recent decision by Boy Scouts of America to allow openly gay scouts has touched off quite a firestorm. 

You don't have a war without warriors, though. So who exactly are the warriors in this Boy Scout battle? Let's take a look... [emphasis added]
  • Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote on Wednesday, "The culture wars came to the Boy Scouts many years ago. For the last few decades, the Boy Scouts have had to fight battles with both secularists and homosexual activists."
  • Back in March, Texas Gov. Rick Perry made headlines by going after Madonna, who had recently dressed up in a Cub Scout uniform and called the organization's ban on gays "stupid."
  • Yesterday, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association tweeted: "BSA now stands for Boy Sodomizers of America, because that's what will happen. Mark my words."
  • Michelangelo Signorile, editor-at-large for Huffington Post's Gay Voices, wrote last month, "the BSA must be considered an enemy of civil rights. Any parents in good conscience must continue to realize what they are a party to by enrolling their kids in an organization whose policies would help drive hostility toward a minority group."
Wow. So what we have here is a fight between homosexual activists and an enemy of civil rights. Sodomizers and secularists joining forces against the backward, "stupid" Boy Scouts. We see opposing crusaders as diverse as the Governor of Texas and the Queen of Pop.

Of course, both sides are guilty of wildly overblown rhetoric and unhelpful caricature, but I'm much more concerned with the response of the church. Why?

FIRST-- Important disclaimer: I certainly don't claim to speak for the entire Church. Many committed followers of Christ find themselves on different sides of this issue. However, as a conservative, evangelical Christian of the reformed tradition, I am saddened particularly by the responses of many who share my little corner of Christendom. 

I realize the evangelical church isn't waging this culture war single-handedly, but far too many of our churches are ready allies in this shock-and-awe, scorched-earth campaign against the "homosexual agenda." We shoot first and ask questions later. We launch our theological missiles at the "homosexual activists", secularists, and other assorted degenerates we see on the news. We forget the real boys and real girls that are collateral damage in our war of words and litigation. 

Boys and girls with names, faces, and stories. 

Boys and girls who didn't sign up to be soldiers in a culture war.

Boys and girls who look an awful lot like you and me.

What's missing in so much of the pro-gay-ban rhetoric is any acknowledgement that these gay scouts are real boys, not just simple pawns in a chess match.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council wrote last month that "this decision would send the wrong signal from the national body: that political correctness ultimately triumphs over character...Scouting has never been about political correctness. Making it so today would have disastrous results for the organization." 

Is that really what this is about? Political correctness? What about the life-long scout who fulfills all of his Eagle Scout requirements only to be denied the honor because he chooses not to hide his sexual orientation? Is this debate about political correctness for him? Is he trying to advance the "gay agenda" or does he just want the final honor that he's spent much of his childhood striving for, like all his fellow scouts? Is he an activist or a just a responsible teenager? Do we view him as an enemy solider or an image-bearer of God? It's an important question, because an enemy solider demands our firepower, but an image-bearer of God demands our love.

Here's the thing: the Boy Scouts are not condoning homosexual activity. They maintain that no form of sexual activity, gay or straight, is acceptable for a scout. They are not trying to teach a deviant sexual ethic or advance a political agenda...they are giving their scouts the freedom to be honest about themselves. Part of growing up and becoming a man is learning how to deal graciously with people who are different than you, and thus, becoming a healthy and productive member of society.

In the wake of the BSA's decision, thousands of Christian scouting families are mulling their options. There is talk among some like-minded families opposed to the change of forming a new "character development organization for boys," and many other church-based scouting programs are expecting boosts in membership from scouts leaving the BSA. Of course, families have the right to enroll their children in the programs of their choice...but what message does this mass exodus send? As families boycott the Boy Scouts, what message are the boys hearing, both those who leave and those who stay?

Mark Makela for the New York Times
This New York Times photo shows the smiling Mackey family of Pennsylvania. One son is an Eagle Scout, three are currently involved in scouting, and the youngest is hoping to join one day. According to the Times, "All the sons said they were willing to abandon the Boy Scouts if openly gay members were allowed." I've never met the Mackey family, and I don't know what they believe. However, are these the values that we really want to instill in our children? --If they are included, then I will leave-- Maybe we as adults can grasp the complexity at work here, but what is being ingrained and reinforced into the worldview of these young boys? "I am respected for standing against 'the gays.'" Not for standing against homosexuality, but against homosexuals. Fellow scouts. Their friends.

Maybe the homosexual-oriented scouts aren't the only "civilian casualties" of this culture war battle. Maybe we are also harming these other boys by elevating the virtues of purity and personal righteousness over those of humility and social righteousness. The Old Testament prophets had some things to say about that...

Tony Perkins continued, "An organization that teaches character, courage, and conviction shouldn't be exploited for the purpose of sexualized political correctness. For decades, the BSA has kept the interest of the boys it serves as the focus of all its actions." 

What about the character of humility and compassion? What about the courage to be honest about your story or struggle in an organization where such simple honesty is frowned upon as activism? What about the conviction that we are called to love those who are different than us...even those who might consider themselves our enemies? What about the boys already involved in Scouts who are gay? Is this ban really in their best interest? Are they not some of the boys who could benefit most from scouting?

To be fair, Mohler does cut the BSA a little bit of slack: "We must sympathize with the organization's rightful hope to include as many boys as possible within its honored and respected program. At this point, we should remember that homosexual scouts and scouts with any number of sexual confusions have always been involved in Scouting. But this new policy relates to openly homosexual youth. Bringing that advocacy within an organization for boys is both unwise and calamitous."

I'm glad Dr. Mohler recognizes the fact that there are plenty of homosexual-oriented boys already in the BSA who must remain silent (although I would argue this imposed silence is more harmful to these boys than he might imagine) I also agree that some scouts and leaders will likely use this policy change as a platform to advance their political or social agenda...which I agree is harmful to the organization. Boy Scouts is no place for political agendas. 

But here's where we come back to the main point. I don't deny that there's a real honest discussion to be had here. I'm not saying that lifting the ban will or won't be a great decision in the long run. I'm not here to fight the war...for either side. I'm here to say "please watch out for the civilians! for the innocents!" No matter how much Madonna tries to hog the spotlight, Madonna is not the real face of this issue. Neither is the American Family Association. It's not the men wearing leather and waving rainbow flags or the Southern Baptist Convention. It's so easy to get sucked into battle-mode. We see outlandish activists and demonstrations, we hear dramatic speeches and rhetoric, and we instinctively reach for our weapons. 

We take to our platforms and pulpits to fire back at the enemy. We drop bombs. Big bombs. We can't look weak. We have to send a strong message to the other side. But it's not just the "homosexual activists" who receive this message...it's also the scared and confused young kids sitting in our church pews and on our youth room couches every week who hear our message loud and clear. 

We've so caricatured the other side that our perceived enemies hardly resemble reality anymore. We're firing nuclear missiles at Madonna and flamboyant drag queens, when it's the lonely and confused 16-year-old boy, with no one he can talk to, who is absorbing the full impact of our warfare.

Maybe some scouts or scout leaders will take this as an opportunity to push a political agenda. I hope not, but of course, that's a real possibility. However, in our efforts to thwart an agenda, let's not sacrifice the boys caught in the middle who really are struggling with their sexual identity, struggling with who God made them to be and what He expects of them. And let's also not sacrifice the boys who need to learn the importance of love and compassion toward their fellow man in addition to the importance of truth and piety.

Yes, as Christians, we must engage the conversation. We need to be a part of the discussion, and we need to be honest. There are dangerous worldviews out there that must be challenged, and there is innocence that must be protected. However, we must limit our warfare to appropriate levels and accurate targets. 

I love these words from the hymn "O Church Arise,", describing the nature of the Church's "war." 
With shield of faith and belt of truth
We'll stand against the devil's lies;
An army bold whose battle cry is "Love!"
Reaching out to those in darkness.
Our call to war, to love the captive soul,
But to rage against the captor;
And with the sword that makes the wounded whole
We will fight with faith and valor.
We have proven ourselves excellent at mobilizing as an army...but is our battle cry "Love"?  We've shown ourselves adept at waving our swords...but are we wielding the sword that makes the wounded whole? 

Yes, we must stand against the devil's lies. We must rage against the captor. But if in our fervor we start causing collateral damage, we should not be silenced by political correctness, but we should be silenced by love. We should silence ourselves for a season to seek God's guidance on continuing the fight in a way that truly loves the captive soul and seeks to make the wounded whole.

I've never been a Boy Scout, so maybe that takes away some of my credibility here.

But I do know what it feels like to grow up with sexual attractions that I don't understand, that I didn't ask for. I do know what it feels like to live a lie, to have to pretend...to live in fear of being discovered. I know what it feels like to be drafted as a soldier in a war I didn't sign up for. 

I also know the freedom that has come from sharing my struggle with my friends and loved ones. I know the ways I've seen Jesus in the love and support of my friends. I know the ways my friends have learned and grown from me sharing this part of my life with them.

I know I am a better man today because I've been started being honest with others about my sexual orientation. I know I have seen Jesus more clearly in the process, and I've grown to be more like him. I know how I've seen sinful behaviors lose their grasp in the light of Christian community. I know I've learned to be more Christ-like toward those who are different than me or those I disagree with. I know I am more convinced of the Truth of the gospel now than I have ever been before.

It's my prayer that all young men who share my struggle would know these same things, and it's my prayer that the Boy Scouts of America would be a place where all young men could learn these things in a safe environment, with friends and mentors to show them the unconditional Christ-like love that should characterize any organization claiming His Name.

Friends, there is indeed a war to be fought. There is a war going on for the souls of men and women all around us, men and women and children who are lost and searching for hope. Let's focus on this war, a war that will only be won with the self-sacrificial love of Christ. When our weapon is Love, casualties are a good thing...a very good thing, indeed.

Grace and peace,

Your Brother Behind the Mask

2 comments:

  1. Absolutely agree with you. Thank you for your wisdom.

    ReplyDelete