Scouting is about to make a leap forward

And that will leave one more important step to take. Soon.
And that will leave one more important step to take. Soon.

My church, the Magnolia United Church of Christ in Seattle, has conflicting legacies. It has been an open, affirming church accepting of gay people for decades. It has had several leaders that are gay.

It has also been the sponsor of Boy Scout Troop 80 and Cub Scout Pack 80 since the 1940s.

The Boy Scouts, however, have been embroiled in a bitter controversy regarding the participation of gays and lesbians. The official, national policy does not permit participation by homosexuals. In 2000, on a 5-4 vote, the US Supreme Court ruled that the ban was permissible. Last year, the BSA reaffirmed that policy.

Curiously, since the beginning of this year, the debate has reopened. The 1,400 voting members of the national council will take action on the issue this month. It is an issue that threatens to rip the organization in two.

To its credit, the organization (for which my wife works) has gone to great lengths to listen to its membership. Scouting surveyed 1.1 million sponsors, leaders, parents, and alumni. Beginning in February, town hall meetings were held at more than 250 local councils. Discussions were held with other youth leaders, donors, and experts in youth protection and safety.

Scouting is a 100-year old organization for boys. Its mission is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes. In 2012, there were 2.7 million Scouts and over a million adult leaders.

Religious groups sponsor about 70 percent of Scout troops. Many of the sponsors are opposed to including gays. Sixteen percent of Scouts are in Mormon units. Another 7 percent are affiliated with the Catholic Church. Many Scouting units are sponsored by the Baptist faith.

This composition is reflected in the BSA’s research. Beliefs about gays and lesbians are mixed—and changing.

  • Scouting parents narrowly oppose the current policy of excluding gays and lesbians by a 3 percent margin—a radical shift from three years ago when the support for exclusion was 58-29 percent.
  • A large majority of adult leaders continue to support the exclusion.
  • A majority of Scouts and teens oppose exclusion.
  • Overwhelming majorities strongly agree that it is unacceptable to deny an openly gay Scout an Eagle Scout Award based on his sexuality.

BSA’s research also found that the nearly universal opinion among sexual abuse authorities is that same-sex sexual interest or experience is not a risk factor for sexually abusing children. Research, according to the BSA report, also clearly indicates that having homosexual parents has no apparent effect on children’s adjustment, mental health, or sexual orientation — strongly suggesting that Scouting leaders would not either.

Scouting’s Executive Committee has proposed a resolution that states that “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.” But no changes regarding adults are proposed.

For our congregation, Scouting’s ban on gays has been troubling. Since 1996, the church has been open and affirming, and there has been a strong belief in welcoming all.

The Cub Scout Pack 80 and Boy Scout Troop 80 sponsored by the church have been among the strongest units in the local district. The Troop has produced 126 Eagle Scouts.

In light of recent developments, we began a discussion between the troop, the pack, and the church. Curiously, not many remembered what our own actions on this policy had been.

After the 2000 Supreme Court decision supporting the right of the BSA to exclude gays, according to former Scoutmaster Doug Johnson, the parent committees voted to oppose this decision and circulated a letter to parents. In 2003, the national United Church of Christ passed a resolution in opposition to the BSA policy. Our Troop Committee sent a copy to the Chief Seattle Council reiterating our open policy.

Both the Pack and the Troop leaders have confirmed that its open policies have continued. Everyone is welcome in Boy Scout Troop 80 and Cub Scout Pack 80.

I find it fascinating, though, that our predecessors took such a position over a decade ago — and it was forgotten. When you really think it through, it doesn’t really matter in the operation of most Scouting units. Sex isn’t — and shouldn’t be — allowed in Scouting. And as far as I am concerned, any adult of good character that wants to help kids grow up responsibly is OK.

What we don’t know, of course, is how many parents and boys in Magnolia have rejected the Scouting program because of the national policy.

The leaders of our church, troop, and pack are of a single mind in this issue. We have written to Scouting’s leadership again urging a change in policy. We reiterated that we have long standing policies to welcome everyone.

No objection to our policies by the Scouting hierarchy has ever been voiced.

Late last month, the Mormon Church announced that it is satisfied with the proposal of the Executive Committee. The Boy Scouts of America have made a "thoughtful, good-faith effort to address issues that remain `among the most complex and challenging issues facing the BSA and society today.'"

This is a tectonic shift for Scouting — and almost certainly will result in the adoption of the new policy later this month. The proposed change in the national policy is a step in the right direction, but I hope that Scouting will soon open its doors to all people that accept the principals of the Scout law and oath. It is my belief that this will happen soon.

It was my privilege to sit recently on a Board of Review for a fine young man applying to become an Eagle Scout. I asked him what his opinion was on this issue.

He spoke from his wheel chair. He told us that he faced struggles with his disability and from the perceptions that people had of him because of it. He said that all he wanted from others was a chance to be judged on the strength of his accomplishments and his character.

He thought it was only fair that other people were judged the same way.

And it made me very proud of him — and the impact that Scouting has had on him.


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