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A Defense of Boy Scouts

Since the Boy Scouts of America changed its policy yesterday to allow openly gay members, there have been many attacks against the new policy. I’d like to offer a defense by responding to a CNN article titled, “Why my family is quitting the Boy Scouts.”

It begins with an introduction of the author.

John Stemberger is an Eagle Scout and president of On My Honor, a coalition … united in their support of Scouting’s timeless values and their opposition to open homosexuality in the Scouts.

I’m also an Eagle Scout. Patrol Leader. Order of the Arrow. Philmont. Scouting was a big part in my life and, more importantly, a big part of my father’s life. My grandfather died when my father was three, and to a young man growing up fatherless in New York City, Scouting was fundamental in shaping who my father became. I’m an Eagle Scout because he was, too. I understand how important Scouting can be to someone.

Mr. Stemberger doesn’t pull any punches in his critique of the new policy.

This organization that has stood the test of time will probably be destroyed now that they have decided to admit openly gay boys as Scouts.

Why? Was marriage destroyed when they let black folks and white folks marry each other? Change happens, and organizations adapt.

The BSA [Boy Scouts of America] membership application did not ask about sexual orientation, and there has never been a witch hunt in the BSA to find or remove its gay members.

The Boy Scout Law demands that a Boy Scout be trustworthy. A “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy simply isn’t honest.

Stemberger seems to imagine Boy Scouts as an immutable organization, built perfect a century ago with no need to change today. But it has evolved as society has evolved. For example, its rule on race in the early days was that local scouting organizations should follow the local school district’s policies, which meant that troops were racially segregated if the local school system was segregated.

But now it’s not. Sometimes change is good.

The policy fails to respect or revere the religious beliefs, values and theology of the vast majority of Christian churches, which charter more than 70% of all Scouting units.

What if a church had a racist policy for leadership—should that be respected when picking a scoutmaster? What if a church rejected conventional medicine in favor of prayer—should that be respected when a boy is injured on a hike?

Religion isn’t a trump card in a society governed by a secular constitution. “However free the exercise of religion may be, it must be subordinate to the criminal laws of the country” (1890 Supreme Court case Davis v. Beason).

The new policy also leaves all Scouting units with no options and no legal protection if they refuse to allow open homosexuality among the boys of their units.

Troops would also be without legal protection if they wanted to discriminate based on race. Does that trouble you as well?

Most important, the new policy robs parents of Boy Scouts, like me, of the sole authority to raise issues of sex and sexuality with their kids.

I hate to tell you, but the issues of sex and sexuality will be raised among teenage kids whether you like it or not.

You do know that these open homosexuals are attending public school with other kids, right? Of course parents have the right to steer their boys on the path that they think is best, but unless your kids are in solitary confinement, don’t imagine that they won’t be exposed to—and even seek out—information on sex from other teens. If you’re concerned about misinformation, talk to your kids early and often about sex.

And what do you fear will now be discussed around the campfire? Sex? It can’t be news to you that sex has always been a topic of interest with teenage boys.

[My wife and I] are concerned for the safety and security of our boys, as are many other parents who are considering leaving as well.

Safety? Is homosexual rape what this is all about? I’m pretty sure that the new policy doesn’t condone that. And I can’t imagine that you think that rape would be any worse after the new policy, when gays can be out, than before the policy, when gays were closeted. I suspect that there have always been gay boys in scouting.

I love the Boy Scouts and want my boys to enjoy the same great experiences as I and millions of others have had over the years. That’s why I regret that Thursday’s vote refused to keep sex and politics out of the Boy Scouts and stand firm for those timeless principles.

What timeless principles?

Slavery used to be legal, polygamy used to be legal, racial discrimination used to be legal. Now, not so much. Society changes. Don’t you applaud at least some of society’s changes?

The Scout Law says that a Scout is brave. The oath from which your organization takes its name includes this obligation: “To help other people at all times.” How about showing a little of that bravery and commitment to doing the right thing?

Maybe instead of digging in your heels, you could see how our future leaders could learn from this. We can’t go back to the fifties and encourage an end to Jim Crow laws, but we’re right in the middle of another civil rights issue. We have a small opportunity to nudge society in a better direction. Why shield your boys from that? How about instead give them front-row seats to social change, a change that  surely won’t be society’s last?

The truth of the matter is that
you always know the right thing to do.
The hard part is doing it.
— General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

Photo credit: Wikimedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Y. A. Warren

    I believe that acting out of sex should be forbidden in the context of all children’s activities. Until a child is of legal majority, the parents are held legally accountable for all their actions, including pregnancy and treatment of STDs. If the voice of religion spoke louder of responsibility and reason, we may have less fear of ghosts and witches. (It is also my opinion that many people experience confusion about their sexual orientation well into their teen and adult years.

    We should all be free to weigh the pros and cons of attaching ourselves and our future families to any set of standards, to the exclusion of all others, before we reach adulthood. For this reason, I believe adults not legally responsible for our children should keep their sexuality to themselves. Scouts have no place for teaching or demonstrating sex, even if the children want to discuss it among themselves.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Y:

      Scouts have no place for teaching or demonstrating sex, even if the children want to discuss it among themselves.

      The same goes for schools and school teachers. We seem to have that one pretty well figured out. Wouldn’t the same principles apply well with scouting?

  • http://hausdorffbb.blogspot.com/ Hausdorff

    The strangest argument I’ve seen is that this will lead to rape. Some people seem unable to tell the difference between a homosexual and a pedophile.

    • JohnH2

      Because this policy only applies to the scouts themselves then it isn’t pedophilia. (Even if it applied to leaders it wouldn’t necessarily be pedophilia as Scouts go until 18, making Leader-Scout interaction possibly pedophilia legally but not medically).

      The people concerned would not place a teenage boy with a teenage girl in the same tent and placing a gay teenage boy in a tent with other boys doesn’t seem that different.

      Scouts are supposed to be “morally straight” and avoid all sexual relations while a scout, regardless of the gender of the other party.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        John:

        The people concerned would not place a teenage boy with a teenage girl in the same tent and placing a gay teenage boy in a tent with other boys doesn’t seem that different.

        It’s plausible that the boy and girl are both interested in sex with the other. Not so with (what I assume to be) your hypothetical of a gay boy and straight boy.

        • JohnH2

          Bob,

          I think you may not be aware of some of the concepts of Total depravity of man (and in the case of boy-girl, the extreme temptation of the feminine form). Theologically such things don’t fly very well in LDS doctrine, but the culture influence is still there.

          Basically there is this theology that men are completely evil and that only by way of very strict rules do men not rape everything that moves. Under this idea the boy-girl don’t have to be interested in sex with each other for sex to “naturally” occur, they just have to be a boy and a girl in close proximity to each other outside of strict supervision.

          Given some of that theological family’s opinion otherwise on homosexuals then I am sure their fears are infinitely worse then normal.

          If you wish to understand part of where this idea is coming from; Just imagine that you really enjoy sex and have had a lot of it, but now you are celibate and believe the body to be evil (two or three times over) but you spend all of your time with pretty young rich women helping them to be chaste and you are thinking the entire time about sex. That should give some insights into the mind (and therefore theology) of people like St. Jerome.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          the extreme temptation of the feminine form

          I’m a guy. Yeah, I get it.

          Basically there is this theology that men are completely evil and that only by way of very strict rules do men not rape everything that moves.

          Sounds like Muslim rules. Ain’t it great when people across the religion spectrum can clasp hands in brotherhood with a shared view of the world?

          Under this idea the boy-girl don’t have to be interested in sex with each other for sex to “naturally” occur

          They’re not interested in sex, but sex happens anyway? Sorry—I’m missing how that works.

          But let’s go down the path you point. There are religious people who have nutty beliefs about sex. Sure, I can understand that. Now—how does that help us either with secular society or with the Boy Scouts? Are you saying that the union of all religious beliefs should be the final authority over any action that any nationwide organization takes?

          I’m sure you’ll correct me if necessary. Perhaps I’m missing your point completely.

        • JohnH2

          “They’re not interested in sex, but sex happens anyway? Sorry—I’m missing how that works.”

          Go ask for an explanation from “Love Joy Feminism”.

          ” Are you saying that the union of all religious beliefs should be the
          final authority over any action that any nationwide organization takes?”

          No, I was attempting to explain things.

      • http://hausdorffbb.blogspot.com/ Hausdorff

        Oh right, I was thinking of scout leaders, not fellow scouts.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        The people concerned would not place a teenage boy with a teenage girl in the same tent and placing a gay teenage boy in a tent with other boys doesn’t seem that different.

        This aligns well with the hypothesis that the most adamant homophobes are closeted homosexuals. That hypothesis is also supported by numerous anecdotes of homophobe leaders having homosex (George Rekers, Ted Haggard, Larry Craig, et al). What can we conclude but that JohnH2 is secretly sexually attracted to boys?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Reginald: That conclusion about John isn’t well supported by the few facts that we have, but I do agree that Haggard’s Law is relevant.

          “Methinks the lady doth protest too much” does come to mind with conservative leaders who make their living using a particular kind of “pro-family” persona.

        • JohnH2

          “make their living”

          Because I totally make my living posting comments on blogs….

        • JohnH2

          You do realize that this measure would not have happened had my church been opposed to it, right?

        • Reginald Selkirk

          I don’t know which church is “your church,” and I don’t care. I just know that in my youth I camped out with other boys and never had any inclination to have sex with any of them.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          John: I’m not following your point. Are you saying that you and your church take credit for this change? Or is your point that your church is so powerful that it could’ve changed things (but deigned to let it pass)?

        • JohnH2

          I have no power to sway actions either way on anything.

          What I am saying is that the church has sufficient number of scouts, troops, and leadership within the scouting organization to be a key player in determining what gets passed at the national level in scouting. Obviously, acting alone it wouldn’t be enough (even assuming that everyone listens to church leadership on the issue).

          http://www.dallasnews.com/news/community-news/irving/headlines/20130425-mormon-church-supports-boy-scouts-proposal-to-lift-gay-ban-for-youths-keep-it-for-adult-leaders.ece

          http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-responds-to-boy-scouts-of-america-policy-vote

    • primenumbers

      It’s not so much they can’t tell the difference, but don’t want to know the difference as they want to keep thinking of the gays as evil.

  • JohnH2

    Bob, “duty to God’ – bars atheists from being Scouts. If you were a Stoic or followed Kant or something similar then you could probably take the Buddhist route in being part of Scouts or organizing a troop. Basically God in Scouting doesn’t have to refer to an actual deity per se but to a broader concept of morally obligatory sets of behaviour independent of legally required action: that the obligation to help others transcends legality and sociality, for instance. Given the absolute moral relativistic position that you have advocated here then I don’t see an honest way of participating actively in scouting; I am pretty sure that Pastafarian wouldn’t work.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      John:

      “duty to God’ – bars atheists from being Scouts.

      That’s true. Weird how an organization that discriminates can get federal funding, isn’t it?

      Basically God in Scouting doesn’t have to refer to an actual deity per se but to a broader concept of morally obligatory sets of behaviour independent of legally required action

      You strive for a noble goal, but that whole “God” thing remains a problem. I don’t think that we can whitewash it this way.

      Given the absolute moral relativistic position that you have advocated here

      No, not quite that. I simply reject objective morality (seeing no evidence for it).

      You’re welcome to show me some!

      • JohnH2

        Buddhists can be Atheists and still be Scouts.

        • Greg G.

          That makes it weirder that they would want to keep non-Buddhist atheists out.

    • kenofken

      At the end of the day, BSA is a conservative Christian movement that makes a little bit of room under the umbrella for other Abrahamics and a grudging tolerance for Buddhism and Hinduism as a concession to its international scope. If you’re atheist or polytheist or anything the BSA doesn’t consider a “real” religion, you’re not welcome. Their official face of religious tolerance is a false facade. You either swear allegiance to the God of the Bible or have a damn good reason for not doing so, and don’t push it….

    • Erp

      Actually the BSA is fairly explicit about requiring the actual deity (even iif it only be a rock as a certain past president of the BSA stated) though the World Organization has a far broader definition. The BSA description is “The recognition of God as the
      ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful
      acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary
      to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts
      in the education of the growing members.” The World Organization has “Under the title “Duty to God”, the first of the above-mentioned
      principles of the Scout Movement is defined as “adherence to spiritual
      principles, loyalty to the religion that expresses them and acceptance
      of the duties resulting therefrom”. Note that, by contrast to the title,
      the body of the text omits the word “God” to make clear that the clause
      also covers non-monotheistic religions, such as Hinduism, and those
      that do not recognize a personal God, such as Buddhism.”

      As for Buddhists I think the BSA national leaders know little about them.

  • Obliged_Cornball

    I too am an Eagle Scout, though I lost my faith at about the time I was working on a project (for a Church, no less!). Finishing my obligation to an institution that I no longer felt attached to spiritually and emotionally was an important lesson in promise fulfillment. I still strive to live the principles I swore to uphold, though “A Scout is Reverent” is perhaps a bit difficult, haha. I try to redirect said reverence toward believers and their feelings, as I myself have lived through the collapse of a cherished belief system.

    Though the Scouts could have retained their stance against against homosexuality, I still see this change as a good one. The “God” of Scouting is too nebulous to serve as grounds for condemning homosexual actions. Now if the tradition were grounded within a specific theological tradition with a definite stance against homosexuality, refusing to allow openly gay boys and men would at least be consistent. But because various religious denominations have differing opinions of homosexuality, their global stance never made any sense.

  • avalon

    It’s important to identify what this guy has a problem with.

    He says:

    “This organization that has stood the test of time will probably be destroyed now that they have decided to admit OPENLY gay boys as Scouts.”

    “The BSA [Boy Scouts of America] membership application did not ask about sexual orientation, and there has never been a witch hunt in the BSA TO FIND OR REMOVE IT’S GAY MEMBERS.”

    So he’s knows there’s always been gay scouts and he’s OK with that. He just doesn’t want it to be OPEN.

    Then he says, “[My wife and I] are concerned for the safety and security of our boys, as are many other parents who are considering leaving as well.”

    Well hold on a minute! You just admitted there’s always been gay scouts. Why weren’t you concerned before? And surely you realize your children can meet gay youths many other places as well. Are you concerned about gays everywhere or just this one organization?

    “I love the Boy Scouts and want my boys to enjoy the same great experiences as I and millions of others have had over the years.”

    And what experience would that be? There were gays before, there will be gays now. The only thing that changed is the openness. So you’ll miss the experience of pretending nobody was gay and making them pretend too?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      avalon: Great point. I hadn’t appreciated how freaked out he was about just the openness.

  • Carol

    How in the world can you compare skin color to sexual behavior? To throw the racist trump card in this is absolutely ridiculous. I am a huge Harriet Tubman fan, she is my hero….what she did to set fellow slaves free is unbelievable and took so much courage. Rosa Parks is also a hero of mine, she was fighting for the rights of black Americans. So for you to compare sexual behavior to someone’s skin color is a disgrace on behalf of those that lost their lives fighting for freedom for slaves.

    • kenofken

      The one common thread that unites all forms of bigotry throughout human history is a sense of exceptionalism. Proponents of every form of hatred and discrimination argued that their form of bigotry was noble, and not grounded in bad faith, and rooted in tough love for those who were the target of their bigotry. The real tragedy is that most of them believed their own propaganda. The justifications used historically for slavery and segregation are, word for word, the same used by homophobia. Not a glint of daylight between them. All real civil rights advocates knew that freedom and rights and dignity either accrue to all of us, or none. Those who demand their own freedoms while de-legitimizing others are not engaged in civil rights, just a grubby scramble for a larger slice of privilege in a caste system of slaves.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Carol:

      So for you to compare sexual behavior to someone’s skin color is a disgrace on behalf of those that lost their lives fighting for freedom for slaves.

      Take it a little slower. You’ve lost me. Did I say something racist? Show me.

      I’m a big fan of the civil rights heroes as well. So tell me what mistake I made.


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