Ceremonies make me cry. Any ceremony, no matter how cheesy. But some ceremonies are deeply meaningful and important, which is how I about cried off all my makeup recently at a Boy Scout Court of Honor where the son of my Probe colleague Byron Barlowe received his Eagle Scout rank.
Understanding God’s gift of gender is a big deal to me, and I viewed the ceremony through that grid. I saw the glory of healthy, godly masculinity on display, particularly the goodness of men teaching boys to be men.
I saw men serving others through leadership and modeling. The long-term commitment of many volunteer years in this particular troop showed that the leaders understood the value of faithfulness and persistence over time. Each Eagle Scout recipient was featured in a video that included remarks by the scout, each of his parents, and his troop mentor, and the many thank-yous to the men who gave of themselves as leaders pointed to their servant leadership.
Boys who had earned badges and who had advanced in rank were rewarded with a badge, affirmation and applause. (Which included the left handshake, which I now know, thanks to Uncle Google, is a worldwide scouting thing.) Nobody gets badges and pins, much less the coveted Eagle scarf and pin, without working hard for them, a powerful antidote to the “everybody gets a trophy for showing up” mentality. It was a good reminder that true self-esteem and confidence don’t come by speaking feel-good affirmations into a mirror; they are earned the hard way by accepting a challenge and working through it to achieve a goal. But none of the boys who earned badges and rank advancement did it on their own. It took cooperation with and encouragement from others to achieve these things. The men were teaching boys that “no man is an island,” that God intends for men to do life in community, learning to ask for and accept help from others even as they offer help to others.
In the midst of all this male-glory, I loved that each boy advancing in rank was called forward with his mother, given a pin to place on a ribbon worn over her heart, and directed to give her a hug. When one of the scoutmasters was honored for achieving a leadership rank that he had worked on for many months, his wife was asked to come to the platform to assist with the ceremony, and he asked for the whole family to come up. All nine children. In this troop, boy scouts are not just about boys and men. Their connections and commitments to family are also valued, another glory of godly masculinity.
At one point, one of the scout leaders was at the microphone calling scouts and their mothers forward. His own son and his wife, carrying a toddler boy, stood on stage to receive their pin. As soon as the toddler saw his daddy, he started jumping excitedly and reaching for his father with uncontainable joy and delight in his daddy, who took him into his arms with a big smile. Later, I told this leader something I heard recently from an experienced therapist who wrote A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality: even with boys on the emotionally sensitive, artistic, creative end of the gender spectrum, the ones more at risk for taking a gay identity when they get older, if a little boy lights up and runs to his father when he comes home (or, as in this case, when he sees him unexpectedly), that boy is in a good, secure place emotionally. A warm and positive connection with his father is the best foundation for emotionally and gender-secure boys.
And that is one of the benefits of Boy Scouts for any boy, especially the fatherless or the badly fathered. When a boy receives attention, affirmation and affection (the Three As) from father-figures, he gets what he can only get from men, and which he needs to grow up to manhood. Even if a boy’s dad is not around, those needs can be met by other men who can introduce him to the world of men in safe, healthy, godly ways. (And that is why the idea of gay scout leaders is scary: men who lack gender security cannot impart to boys what they don’t own. They are still looking to get their own need for the Three As met, and that unmet need can so easily turn into predation. Even if they don’t intend that initially.)
The final highlight of the evening was the scoutmaster’s comments and charge to each of the two Eagle recipients. His grasp of the meaning and application of God’s word, combined with his personal knowledge and understanding of each young man’s character and story, was one of the most excellent manifestations of a pastor-teacher I’ve ever seen. The newly-minted Eagles were blessed by a man soaring in his position and responsibility as a spiritual leader as he pointed them, not to himself, but to Christ, and urged them to follow hard after Him. This is what godly leadership looks like.
I have long seen that women cannot imprint masculinity on a boy’s heart; we can confirm it, we can affirm it, we can clap and cheer for it, but we cannot imprint it. We don’t have what it takes, because God gives men that privilege.
And I am so, so glad He does.
This blog post originally appeared at blogs.bible.org/tapestry/sue_bohlin/boy_scouts_lets_hear_it_for_masculinity on May 6, 2014.