After a hiatus from my involvement with our local Boy Scout troop, I spent three days in a row reengaging, beginning with an Eagle court of honor and ending with a board of review for yet another Eagle scout. Watching these emerging young men make the final step in their scouting journey is always encouraging, especially if you have been part of that journey as an adult leader. However, it should be noted that in scouting the Eagle rank, the highest of the ranks in scouting, does not represent an end in their involvement, but rather a new beginning. It also carries with it a new burden, the burden of being an icon of the highest ideals of scouting. Both young men were reminded repeatedly of this burden and the charge to now step forward as a leader of the generation to follow them, exhibiting more than ever the ideals of the movement as they have confessed them countless times before in meetings and ceremonies.
As a scout leader I too have joined in these pledges beginning with the familiar "on my honor...." Yet as a pastor and community leader these words always carry additional weight. Honor represents a code of conduct that reflects back on all that I represent. Even though I will never be perfect, I realize that my behavior must always strive to be respectful of what I represent rather than bringing shame to those with whom I am joined by common cause. I pray I may live up to this in the days my Lord still allows me to serve.
As I wore the uniform and saluted the flag, I felt that familiar sense of national pride and was pleased to carry its honor. Yet as I reflect back on my church I wonder, do others who represent the fellowship to which we belong feel as much a sense of being honored? Over the years the initials LCMS have sometimes been uttered with barely veiled contempt, or have been stated as a contradistinction to some larger ideal of Christian virtue the synod seemingly failed to uphold. Likewise the label "Lutheran." How often has the phrase been heard "I am a Christian first and a Lutheran second," as if the first is somehow different or less than the second. As an officer of my synod I know only too well that the denomination with which I am joined lacks perfection. We are sinners. Yet the confession we proclaim remains grounded in a scripture independent of my own moral failings or the foibles of those in the membership. It is still an honor to represent that confession, not a shame, and I strive to be faithful as its representative.
Of course, such an effort does not come easily. Popular opinion and personal desires rebel against its principles constantly, making association with the fellowship appear at times as almost less than Christian. "Missouri Synod" carries with it in some circles a sense of narrow-minded isolationism or a kind of religious bigotry that looks down on others and wishes only to exclude those different. Faithfulness brings boundaries, and boundaries naturally exclude, and exclusion, even if done with respect and concern, still manages to be interpreted as less than loving. Thus, many distance themselves from the identity with the group, veiling the label, avoiding association, changing practice to be more accommodating to whatever may be desired.
Still, as I spent time among the Anglicans, especially last summer, I found my differences, even in open practice, to offer an opportunity for teaching. Was it awkward to always step out of the way as everyone else went forward to receive the Eucharist? Yes. Yet I was pleasantly surprised when one of the Episcopal clergy, who was in my dorm, later expressed his respect for my actions. He may not have completely understood or even agreed with what I felt I needed to do, but he respected it. He respected the honor with which I held my confession. I also endeavored not to reinforce stereotypes as I upheld my confession. One can be faithful without being obnoxious or pompous. That is also an ideal we want to see in our scouts: humility. You carry a burden of honor, not a personal mantle of praise.
A battle rages even today in the church over what this code of honor will eventually become. I fear in a world that tends to weaken commitment and dilute identity that the trend will be to distance rather than confess. Yet I pray nevertheless that courage will still remain, conditioned by a love for all.