When I started putting this blog together a few weeks ago, I had no idea what my first post would be. I had lots of ideas. But never in my wildest dreams did I believe it would be this.
In case you have not yet heard, the national office of the Boy Scouts of America made a rather startling and exciting announcement that I am still trying to get my head around. The bottom line is that BSA is now considering changing its official policy on excluding all homosexual scouts and leaders. They would allow individual troops (in reality, their charter organizations) to decide for themselves if they will choose a policy of inclusion or exclusion on issues of sexual orientation.
The last 24+ hours have been quite an emotional roller coaster for me as I try to take in all the impact of this (potential) change and have been following the commentary being posted to the BSA’s Facebook page.
I am exceedingly proud of my experiences in scouting. As a kid, I joined Cub Scout Pack 586 in 3rd grade. Earned my Arrow of Light. Bridged to Boy Scouts Troop 586 in 6th grade. Transferred to Troop 510 in 7th grade. I am an Eagle Scout. Scouting took me in as a shy, gawky, socially awkward kid and taught me some extremely important life skills. I’m not just talking about knots and first aid and how to set up a tent. I’m talking about self-reliance and leadership. I’m talking about pride in what I can accomplish despite my fears. As an adult, I came back to scouting when my son was old enough to join cub scouting. I have served these kids as den leader, cubmaster, scoutmaster, and (currently) assistant scoutmaster. It is truly humbling to be allowed to be such an influential person in the formative years of these boys as they grow into men. Bottom line, I love being part of an organization that does such great good.
But (and you knew it was coming), I have been very uncomfortable with BSA’s official line on excluding scouts that are homosexual. I have found it a glaring blemish on something I otherwise cherish so much.
So, when I first heard the announcement on NPR (WAMU) during my commute home, I could not contain my excitement. I made a handful of calls to a few people I knew would share my excitement. When I got home, I verified that I heard it correctly by checking out the BSA website. It was as if someone I love finally admitted to a self-destructive behavior and was now willing to seriously seek help.
This morning, I realized that I should add my Like to the BSA Facebook page to voice my support for this potential change. I made the “mistake” of reading the comments that people were leaving. All of my jubilation was suddenly and heart-wrenchingly flushed down the toilet. I knew that this would not be a universally welcomed change. I knew that changes like this never are. I was, however, completely unprepared for the degree of very hateful homophobia that was being spewed by a group of people who claim to be associated with the rather lofty ideals of the scout oath, law, motto, and slogan. I left my comment of support, liked a few of the other sparse comments that also voiced support, and then left for work in a bit of a funk. Over the course of the day, I realized that this was going to be my first post.
Most of those opposed to the change gave little or no salient reasons for why they were opposed. Those that managed to do more than rant tended to cite one or more of the following reasons:
- Scouting has now lost its moral compass!
- Where will it end? Why don’t we just throw out duty to God and duty to country while we’re at it?
- I don’t want my son camping with homosexuals!
- How can I feel safe knowing my son’s leader may be gay?
- Won’t this make local troops that don’t accept gay scouts open to lawsuit
- BSA is only doing this to increase profits.
I’m going to try to address all of these points, but first I want to make a couple of points why I believe that BSA is finally taking a step toward coming down on the (morally) right side of history.
- A scout is loyal (2nd point of the scout law)
- A scout is friendly (4th point of the scout law)
- A scout is kind (6th point of the scout law)
- A scout is brave (10th point of the scout law)
- On my honor I will do my best… To help other people at all times (part of scout oath)
- On my honor I will do my best… [To keep myself] morally straight (part of the scout oath)
- “A scout is reverent. […] He respects the beliefs of others.” (from “Scouting for Boys”, by Lord Baden Powell)
1. Scouting has lost its moral compass
We have somehow come to a point in our society where we immediately equate morality with sexual morality. On the contrary, morality has everything to do with how we treat our fellow man in our hearts, in our minds, and in our actions. If you’ve ever been picked last for the playground kickball game, you know what rejection feels like. If you’ve ever been told to go home because the teams are filled, you know it even more poignantly. When scouting tells young men that they are not welcome because they are inherently immoral, scouting is exercising unkindness of the highest degree. Couple this with the fact that most of the young men at which this message is addressed are already struggling with issues of self worth. This is the real immoral act. By reexamining this stance, BSA is taking a step toward morality, not away from it.
Yes, there is another side to this. Many (probably most) religious institutions teach that homosexuality is wrong. I fully acknowledge this fact. I also acknowledge that for most people, the church is the final authority on issues of right and wrong. For these folks, the question then becomes one of balance between the greater immorality (homosexuality or unkindness to an insecure child). But… not all religious institutions and definitely not all people of religion believe that homosexuality is a sin. When BSA told us that we cannot extend the open arms of inclusion to all potential scouts, they were imposing a particular religious/moral view on us. Lord Baden Powell was very explicit (see above) that scouting respects the beliefs of others. By reexamining the policy on homosexuality, BSA is taking of allowing us to have a plurality of religious views.
And finally, even if you cannot let go of the idea that homosexuality is immoral, what makes this particular violation of scouting’s lofty ideals worthy of exclusion from the organization? Do we start kicking out every scout that does an unkind act to someone else? How about telling lies? How about the scout that fails to help out someone else in a time of need? Yes, there is a fundamental difference between a person’s nature and a person’s actions. But the fact remains, this is one of only two infractions that we even discuss expelling scouts over (the other being atheism). There are so many other ways that I see scouts routinely violate our lofty goals and nobody even suggests removal from scouting (and rightfully so).
2. Where will it end? Why don’t we just throw out duty to God and duty to country while we’re at it?
Ah yes, the “slippery slope” argument. I don’t want to spend much time on this argument other than to point out that it is the battle cry of fearful. Change is scary. I get that. Examining your values is scary. I get that. Refusal to examine your values is cowardice. That violates the 10th point of the scout law. Might there come a time when we are discussing throwing out duty to country? Possibly. But, I don’t see that anywhere on the horizon. I don’t hear anyone clamoring for it. Might there come a time when we are discussing throwing out duty to God? Possibly. But, again, I don’t see that happening anywhere on the horizon. While there are a handful of people that would like to see this happen, they are almost all outside BSA.
The bottom line is that if those discussions do need to happen in the future, then they will need to be discussed on their own merits and detriments. There is no reason to believe that they will be an automatic corollary to allowing troops to decide their own policy on acceptance of homosexual members.
3. I don’t want my son camping with homosexuals
If we are talking about sharing a tent with a homosexual, then this is one concern I genuinely understand. I’m not about to tell anyone that their innate parental protective response is out of line here. It is clearly a logistical issue that troops that choose to accept homosexual scouts will need to work through. I suspect each unit will initially handle it differently based on the feeling of the scouts/parents associated with the troop. I suspect over time, guidance will be issued (much like the existing Youth Protection policy) to help units work through this. But, I would like to suggest that with the current policy, a homosexual scout that wishes to remain in scouting must keep it a secret. Your sons might be sleeping in a tent right now with a homosexual scout without even knowing it. By revising the policy, BSA is opening the door to addressing the issue of sleeping arrangements when one or more scouts in the troop is gay.
If, however, we are talking about being in the same campground, hiking on the same trail, or paddling the same canoe, I don’t know where to begin. This is blatant homophobic bigotry. It reeks of the sentiment behind the discrimination laws against blacks that we abolished in the 1960s. And, this is why I believe it is a good that BSA would be leaving the decision up to the individual units rather than trying to force a troop that is hostile to homosexual to accept them. It is hard to image that it could possibly be in the interest of either the unit or the individual when he is not truly accepted by his “fellow” scouts.
4. How can I feel safe knowing my son’s leader may be gay?
Nobody is talking about eliminating the existing Youth Protection policies. Through the late 1980s, scouting was plagued with way too many cases of pedophilia. Many (most?) of these violations were perpetrated by leaders that were believed to be heterosexual. They had wives. They had kids. Not your “typical” homosexual. BSA woke up and put in place a series of policies to make scouting an environment hostile to pedophiles.
As above, I would again like to suggest that under the current policy there are homosexual leaders. They are simply forced to hide that fact about themselves. The policy revision would allow them to identify themselves. This could only lead to our children’s safety by allowing units to address concerns directly.
Still not convinced? Ask yourself this: Which environment is more likely to “go bad?” A middle-aged man spending time camping with a group of 11-13 year old boys or a middle-aged man spending time camping with high school aged girls? The current policies are working in both scenarios to keep our youth safe from sexual predators.
5. Won’t this make local troops that don’t accept gay scouts open to lawsuit
The argument goes along the line that individuals (or leftist activist groups) will see this change as an opportunity to sue the living daylights out of individual charter organizations to force them to comply with the new policy of acceptance of homosexual scouts and leaders. In our litigious society, this would seem to be a valid concern. I am, however, skeptical of the likeliness of this becoming an epidemic.
I am highly skeptical that such a lawsuit would be brought by an individual who wants to join a particular troop. Why would someone want to force themselves into a crowd they know doesn’t want them. Everyone ends up bruised and nobody (including the person bringing the suit) benefits. It would make so much more sense to find that troop that is willing to accept you.
I am less skeptical that such a lawsuit might be brought by an activist group trying to make a point (or a name for themselves). I can only make one observation on this potential threat. This November, Maryland along with a handful of other states approved gay marriage. Part of that legislation makes it clear that no clergy will be forced by the state to perform any marriage to which they object on religious grounds. We are not seeing a slough of lawsuits being raised against clergy that choose to not perform these marriages even though this is a much more politically rich ground for making a social point.
While I would hate to see any troop go under as a result of a lawsuit, I still hold that BSA is heading in the correct direction by giving individual units the right to decide what policy will work best for them. I applaud the bravery they are demonstrating in failing to cower in light of this potential threat.
6. BSA is only doing this to increase profits
This one just makes me laugh!
It did not require any sort of magic to predict that a fairly notable portion of the BSA membership would not be happy with this change of policy. It is very likely that a notable portion of the BSA membership will leave if the policy change is adopted. At the same time, the gay community is not exactly banging on our doors to be let in. They are well aware of the (current) BSA policy on membership regarding sexual orientation. Even with the policy change, it will take time for the gay community to lose its distrust of or bitterness towards scouting.
If BSA is considering the policy change from an income point of view, I don’t want them involved in any way, shape, or form with my personal finances.
I am thrilled with the prospect of BSA removing this blemish from its otherwise excellent program.
I hope and pray that it happens.
I hope and pray that units will arise that serve as models that demonstrate that there is no need to fear homosexual scouts and leaders in the BSA program!
Please note, that I am not currently moderating comments. I welcome any lucent comments that agree or disagree with me. I will not, however, tolerate any hate language in any of the comments. If you get nasty with me or anyone else, your comments will be deleted and I may block you from any future comments anywhere on the VMWishes blog site.