Institute on Religion and Democracy
July 5, 2000
Having lost a crucial case in the U.S. Supreme Court, the "gay" lobby is now declaring that the Boy Scouts prohibition against homosexual scoutmasters will soon be overwhelmed by the tides of history and by public opinion.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June, by a majority of 5-4, that the Boy Scouts, despite a New Jersey state law against discrimination based on "sexual orientation," may legally continue their prohibition. Some media pundits, who otherwise sympathize with "gay" causes, have grudgingly acknowledged that the court had little choice. The Scouts are, after all, a private organization and constitutionally have a right to determine their own internal membership rules.
So many editorialists have instead argued that, despite the court ruling, the tide of history will swell around the archaic Boy Scouts and make them irrelevant. This will happen, unless of course the Scouts abandon their current "fear" and "ignorance" regarding homosexuality. Otherwise, those who stand with the Boy Scouts and decline to join the pro-homosexuality "bandwagon" will become "isolated."
It is true that opponents of the "gay" rights agenda find themselves on the defensive. But they should not think that societal trends are irrevocably arrayed against them, nor even believe that they represent a minority within American public opinion. Some trends do not bode well for the "gay" cause, not least of which is the still adamant opposition of Americas religious community to full acceptance of homosexuality.
Arguably, the Boy Scouts could not have won without religious support. The majority of scouting troops are sponsored by religious congregations. The largest of these sponsors are United Methodists, Mormons, Roman Catholics and Missouri Synod Lutherans. The scouting ministries from these organizations endorsed a friend of the court brief on behalf of the Boy Scouts before the U.S. Supreme Court. They rightly feared that if the government forced Boy Scouts to accept openly homosexual scout masters, local churches would be forced to choose between scouting and the teachings of their own religious faith.
Almost all major religious faiths disapprove of homosexual conduct. Unlike the advocates of the latest sexual fashions within modern Western culture, most religions recognize that sexual practice is more than simply an inherited personal preference. They understand that sexuality involves the deepest aspects of personal character development and how we organize our society.
Opponents of the Boy Scouts policy argued to the courts that there is "no single view" regarding homosexuality within churches. But no major tradition within the Christian faith, whether Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox or Evangelical, accepts homosexual practice or any sexual practice outside the context of heterosexual marriage. This teaching has been upheld for 2,000 years, and dates back even further into ancient Jewish tradition.
There are more than 160 million church members in the United States, and only a small fraction of them belong to denominations or local churches that have openly abandoned historic Christian teachings about homosexuality. Those denominations that have leaned towards acceptance of homosexuality, like the 1.5 million member United Church of Christ, have suffered steep decline. This has happened despite the claims that "tolerance" would attract crowds of new church members who subscribe to "alternative" lifestyles.
The growing churches in America today are those with more conservative theology and consequently are the least accepting of homosexual practice. Americas largest churches are the Roman Catholic and the Southern Baptist, neither of which shows any sign of accommodating modern fashions about sexuality. Even Americas third largest denomination, the United Methodist Church, which has a predominantly liberal leadership, recently reaffirmed by large margins its disapproval of homosexual practice.
It is true that our nations cultural elites have changed their attitude over homosexuality in recent years. Movies, television, university campuses, corporate board rooms and many newspapers are abuzz with their insistence that society must accept homosexuality. These institutions comprise an important part of America. But Americas religious institutions are largely in consensus about the unacceptability of homosexuality. So far, polls show that a majority of Americans still agree with their religious leaders on the issue of homosexual behavior.
"Gay" advocates of course argue, like the Marxists of old, that their cause will inevitably prevail. But this type of historical determinism has been disappointed many times before. Nothing is really inevitable in human history, unless people allow it to be so. There is a cultural struggle in our country over sexual ethics, and it is far too early for either side to declare victory.
Indeed, the continued religiosity of Americans, and the failure of liberal religious organizations to retain large memberships, argues that if history does in fact take sides, it will be against normalization of homosexuality in America. But the Boy Scout case was only one skirmish in a very long-term culture war.