Robert Gates to Boy Scouts: Surrender Your Principles

The Boy Scouts of America is a venerable institution. I can well remember when, as a Cub Scout in southern Louisiana, I learned the mysteries of initiation into the Scouts. It was exciting to become part of such a universally respected group. There were badges denoting achievement, uniforms indicating rank, handshakes conveying to other boys the hidden riches of membership, and, perhaps best of all, there was an oath.

It was a galvanizing promise. One recited the oath while aiming for the heights, straining beyond one’s boyhood to glimpse the upright man that, with God’s help, one hoped to become. I learned the Cub Scout oath, too, but I also read ahead in our manual and learned the oath to become a Boy Scout, which I still remember to this day:

On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Email subscribe inline (#4)

When I was a boy reciting the oath at the St. Margaret Mary Cub Scout troop meetings, irony had not yet dyed the fabric of American society. We recited the oath sincerely, thrilling at the higher things revealed to us by those lofty words. Now, some thirty years later, irony having long since blotted out the nobler meanings of the oath, the last functioning clause—that binding us to serve both God and country—has been disassembled, rendering the oath not only superfluous, but actually meaningless.

In a speech to the Boy Scouts on May 21, Dr. Robert Gates, former Defense Secretary and head of the CIA and now president of the BSA, laid out his vision for how the link between God and country—the core of the Scout Oath—could, and should, be broken.

On the one hand, Gates makes what appears to be an impassioned plea for the continuation of the Scouts. “Scouting,” he tells us, “is needed in this country now more than ever.” One might have thought, given the Scouts’ long history of instilling values of service, patriotism, and moral rectitude in its members, that Gates was positing the Scouts as a sign of contradiction in a corrupt age—a bulwark against the steady erosion of Christian civilization in the United States.

Quite the opposite, in fact. What Gates seems to be saying is that the Scouts are needed now more than ever for the purpose of advancing the federal government’s ongoing—and increasingly aggressive—program of social re-engineering. The self-styled “hard-eyed realist,” as he described himself in a speech to the same body one year ago, cautions that we “must deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.” And the world as it is, Gates says, is a world in which acceptance of homosexuality—even among an organization dedicated to forming and protecting boys—is no longer up for serious debate. The battle has been waged and won. The Scouts must recognize that sodomy is the fashion of the age, and make allowances for it.

To be sure, upholding “high principles and moral values” is Scouting’s purpose, Gates says. But to hear Gates tell it, these principles and values are secondary to what the courts, the federal bureaucracy, and the surrounding cultural climate demand. Scouting, then, far from being a paragon of moral uprightness in a wayward age, is now to be the vehicle for the pragmatic capitulation to Leviathan. Boys must be Scouts in order to learn how to compromise, in a strategic way, with what the Bible unequivocally teaches is a grave sin.

In other words, what is on display in Gates’ speech, in detailed menagerie, is the same decoupling of God and country that is now rampant throughout the United States.

Not that the two were ever coterminous. It has long been a temptation, especially among social conservatives, to conflate patriotism with religion, and the nation-state with the divine. Millions of brave men have been sacrificed on the altar of American freedom, but there have been times when these noble sacrifices seemed, for some, to share a kind of equality with the one Sacrifice from which all true freedom flows. We should remember that those men died for a much higher purpose, ultimately, than mere democracy.

Nevertheless, the truce hammered out by the American Founding Fathers between the radical secularism of the Aufklärung and the fundamentalist Christianity of the Puritans held, remarkably, for some two hundred years. The Bill of Rights’ free establishment clause was predicated upon the bedrock assumption that there would exist, in the United States, a Christian society that could be largely left alone to organize itself. De Tocqueville confirmed this in his tour of the young American republic, albeit with the ominous reflection upon what might happen should the underpinnings of American Christian decency give way. It was Christianity that glued us together as a nation. Even—especially—at the darkest crisis of the republic, Christianity bound and helped heal the wounds incurred when the political union of Christians had broken utterly in two.

What the most powerful men in the country now posit, though, is the abrogation of this truce. The government is no longer to be the handmaiden to the church, but, rather, the church’s master, and, eventually, executioner.

This tension courses through the words and actions of everyone who seeks safe passage between the Scylla and Charybdis of church and state in America in 2015. Consider, for example, Robert Gates, who claims that “discrimination based on sexual orientation” is probably nothing more than bigotry (a position he shares with at least a sizeable minority of the members of the United States Supreme Court). But, Gates is quick to add, the “church partners” who sponsor some seventy percent of Scout troops must not be made to act against their own teachings. Of course, many churches are already changing their teachings on the subject of sodomy, Gates points out. And the Scouts, if he has his way, will change, too. But, for now, there are some churches who hold to the old, bigoted view, and these churches must be accommodated. “We must, at all costs,” Gates pronounces, “preserve the religious freedom of our church partners.”

Here, Gates comes to the heart of his speech, as well as to the project in which our godless state is currently engaged.

Our oath calls upon us to do our duty to God and our country. The country is changing and we are increasingly at odds with the legal landscape at both the state and federal levels. And, as a movement, we find ourselves with a policy more than a few of our church sponsors reject—thus placing Scouting between a boy and his church.

In other words, yes, we have an oath. And, yes, our oath asks us to do our duty to God and our country. But the country is changing, and we must change with it.

To deal with the obvious problem here—namely, that he is serving his country at the expense of God—Gates illicitly shifts from speaking of his duty to the Almighty, to his organization’s legal obligations to churches as corporate entities. And because the churches are changing anyway, it seems as though God, too—through an implied illicit shift back in the opposite direction—has decided to change his mind and finally get on board with the pro-sodomy policy of the United States federal government.

But even if we take Dr. Gates at his word and believe him sincere in his desire to defend religious freedom “at all costs,” what is there in either his overall message or his actions to sustain us in such a belief? In the face of a now-familiar onslaught from the American cultural elite, Gates immediately surrendered all under his authority—i.e., the Boy Scouts—and, in effect, redirected the enemy’s fire on the churches, instead. (He had already surrendered the US military to the LGBTQ activists in 2011.)

In the moment of crisis, Gates abandoned his post, betrayed his troops, slandered his mission, and left the way clear to the undefended heart of his estate. When the holdout churches to which he has guided the militant LGBTQ army appeal to a godless state for quarter, mercy, and rights—all in the name of “religious liberty”—is there any reason to suspect that Gates will defend what he has so enthusiastically surrendered? And how much longer will the federal government tolerate this obsolete obstruction to their social engineering program?

There are many who see the current homosexual revolution as a logical continuation of the chaos of the Sexual Revolution begun in the 1960s. This is only partially correct. For while the Sexual Revolution was always aimed at diminishing, and ultimately destroying, the cultural power of the Church, the LGBTQ Revolution is aimed at replacing that ecclesial authority with naked state power. What we are witnessing now is the joining together of Alfred Kinsey and Saul Alinsky. The overlap between church and state—between God and country, to use Scouting terms—is now almost wholly severed. (Roe v. Wade was a great victory for the Sexual Revolution, but it was not until Obama’s HHS Mandate, and now the homosexual “marriage” cases before the Supreme Court, that the federal government made a concerted effort to force churches to choose between Christ and Diana.)

This is a Balaam moment for the United States. The modern-day prophets—our self-styled cultural elite—are desperate to find safe passage between obedience and expedience. It is our common human lot to grasp beyond our reach, but one feels that God, then as now, will not be trifled with.


  • Jason Morgan

    Jason Morgan is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Foreign Studies at Reitaku University in Chiba, Japan. He earned his doctorate in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2016. His reviews, essays, and translations have appeared in Modern Age, Metamorphoses, Japan Forward, Logos, Human Life Review, University Bookman and elsewhere.

Join the Conversation

in our Telegram Chat

Or find us on

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...