Monday, March 6, 2017

A slow pace of change designed to minimize losses. . .

In what has to be the most predictable surprise of all, the Boy Scouts have evolved their position again to allow transgenders to become "boy" scouts -- that is, girls who gender identify as boys.  It was sure to come once the prohibition on openly gay scouts was withdrawn.  What the Scouts do is not my subject but rather how the slow pace of change works to minimize losses and wear down the opposition.  So the NY Times has reported:
Despite disenchantment from many on the right, the Boy Scouts have reported less pronounced membership declines in recent years. The Roman Catholic and Mormon churches, which collectively sponsor a large percentage of Scout units, have not left in overwhelming numbers, as some feared, and campouts, service projects and pinewood derbies have continued.
Whether allowing transgender boys to join will lead to significant departures remains unclear. Representatives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod did not respond to requests for comment about the policy. The Mormon Church said in a statement that its leaders were studying the announcement.
But in some places, reaction was pointed and critical. A statement from the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis referred to transgender boys as “girls struggling with gender dysphoria,” said Boy Scout policies were “becoming increasingly incompatible with our Catholic values” and expressed hope that the Scouts would “recognize their error.”
The successful change (with minimal losses) has come in the usual way.  People begin to think that those who decried the change as Chicken Little's who said the sky would fall -- but it didn't.  Not only those in corporate offices noticed this.  The local scouting organizations noticed that their ordinary routine did not radically change despite the dreaded announcement.  It is the inevitable conclusion of those who find what was once never to be in my backyard proven to be in my backyard but it is still my backyard and everything is still standing.

That is exactly how change comes in the Church.  It seldom happens in the big votes to leave tradition behind and embrace positions that conflict with past stances (although this does happen).  Change in the Church comes slowly -- so slowly the people get used to the change and do not notice any real difference.  Then the next change comes in the same way and in a generation or so it is definitely NOT your grandfather's church anymore (and those who notice begin to believe that is a good thing).

Change that confronts openly this break with the past usually makes for big enemies (witness the bleeding of the ELCA in the wake of the 2009 CWA changes on sexuality that openly admitted they were diverging from their past).  Change that comes more slowly and is couched in terms such as compassion and openness and acceptance not of doctrinal positions but of people is more likely to turn the rudder of a church body without precipitating major losses.

Lets fact it.  Even though Missouri had a big moment in the spotlight in the 1970s, we did not bleed off the numbers some expected.  In the end only about 120K decided to leave.  The Seminex revolution did not produce a huge number of defections from the Missouri Synod.  However, the flirtation with evangelicalism and conservative Protestantism has not had a spotlight moment and therefore has been much more successful in changing the course of the good ship Missouri.  Within a couple of generations, worship without the book has become as normal as worship from the hymnal, the praise bad as commonly accepted as a pipe organ, the pastor in casual clothing as routine as the pastor in eucharistic vestments, and the authors of pop Christian literature as familiar to the readers of our Synod as the heralded names of Walther and Lohe and even Luther himself (few in the pews can name Martin Chemnitz or Johann Gerhardt but nearly everyone can name Joel Osteen or Rick Warren).

This is why we cannot take great comfort from the successful battles won on a Synodical level.  We have to be more diligent about the slowly evolving changes that happen on a local level and end up reshaping not only the church but our faith over time.  The leaders of the Boy Scouts took a calculated risk -- the first level of change went down (a difficult thing for some to swallow but they did).  So why not risk it all and fully embrace the emerging sexual culture?  In the end, it was not a real risk.  The leaders of the evangelical revolution for the staid, old, grandpa church called the LCMS have been slowly making these kinds of changes for years.  Whether we want to admit it or not, they have been highly successful.  In fact, they have been so successful that those who resist such normalizing of Lutheran evangelicalism have been easily labeled as narrow minded, judgmental, and fearful folks who love doctrine more than people and who are content to die rather than try out a new idea.

If you want to see where our church body is headed, the convention is probably not the first place to look.  Instead, take a look at the little things that seem small and do not threaten.  In those little things the big changes are hidden.  In the end, we have found ourselves with a church in which we no longer know each others liturgy, hymnody, or doctrine but we insist that this is a creative diversity that is not only healthy but will help us grow.  So far, I have seen little evidence to suggest that our diversity has done much of anything but divide us and keep us warring over worship, the shape of our piety, and the value of our confessions and doctrine.


Carl Vehse said...

How many LCMS member congregations still sponsor Boy Scout troops and how many members of LCMS congregations are Boy Scouts?

Shouldn't this be as forbidden as members of LCMS congregations being members of lodges? Oh, wait. Who enforces that view anymore?!?

Anonymous said...

Precisely. This phenomenon, known as incrementalism, continues to plague and erode both kingdoms of the left and right hands in the name of tolerance and political correctness – a term equally pernicious to civil society and pure doctrine, respectively.

Anonymous said...

Gramsci's Long March.


Kirk Skeptic said...

Grace and kindness should be differentiated from soft- or empty-headedness; niceness isn't the virtue it's been cracked up to be.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

When, in former years, the Boy Scouts accepted openly homosexual scoutmasters (and potential) pedaphiles into their ranks, I commented on the LCMS website that we should now remove our sponsorship from the BSA. It seemed to me that it would never stop with scoutmasters alone, as the ultimate goal would be to place gay scouts among the largely heterosexual body.. The so called "inclusiveness" doctrine which progressives implement in the culture through incremental steps eventually taints the moral climate. But this change in the BSA did not sway even some of our own LCMS pastors, who remarked that it was still no reason to stop sponsorship. After all, they remarked, it gives us an opportunity to "witness" and show our Christian sense of brotherly tolerance. did that work out? Some churches, like the Pentecostals, abruptly kicked out the BSA, something we should have done immediately, but failed to do. Perhaps, now some LCMS churches will wake up. Perhaps, some have the will.

Carl Vehse said...

The 2013 LCMS/BSA Memorandum of Fabulous Understanding should never have been signed by the Missouri Synod. It ended up being another pathetic example of wishy-washy leadership.