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

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