A Quick Reply to Dr. Peters About the Scouts

My thanks to Ed Peters for the link and comment to my post about the Boy Scouts lifting the ban on openly gay scouts. Dr. Peters had this to say about what I wrote:

Update, 29 May 2013: But for one sentence, I basically agree with Tom McDonald’s take on the Boy Scout matter. The one sentence that stands out–nay leaps out–but is completely unsupported by everything else McDonald wrote, is this: “The shift in policy shows that the BSA is willing to concede moral high ground.” Huh? How? Where? Please point to where the BSA did anything such thing.

Anyway, pace that lone line, the rest of McDonald’s essay, imo, reads well and usefully.

I can see where that’s confusing, because I shifted to talking about process when I’d been talking about the policy itself, so let me clarify.

I don’t believe the BSA really needed to address the issue at all. The standing policy was largely effective for over a century, and the issue was only forced by the grotesque political and social theater of the activists and their obsession with the sex lives of children. If not for the addition of two powerful executives–Randall Stephenson and James Turley–to the BSA board, the issue would have simply been left as is, with councils making common sense decisions on individual cases.

Several contrived instances of scouts being dismissed for sexuality, however, were whipped into a media frenzy in order to force the hand of the BSA. Nothing substantial is different about the content of a Scout’s moral being  in 2013 than it was 1910. We adapt to the accidents of modern life in certain ways, but the Forms (if you will) of boyhood and manhood should remain constant. That was the whole point of Scouting: to the shape the boy with timeless values.

The BSA allowed itself to be forced into action, and their efforts in reaching a compromise have been fumbling and often disturbing. Early proposals suggested that they were willing to abandon the ban on adult leaders as long as it was limited to the local level. Considering that the BSA had once said they’d hold the line on admission of openly gay Scouts and adult leaders, this was a pretty major concession of core Scout values. When they now claim they’ll “hold the line” on gay leaders, can we really believe them any more? They already indicated it was a one possible solution to the issue.

Let that sink in a little: the organization that argued the Dale case all the way to the Supreme Court (and won) was debating a local concession on the issue at the heart of that case.

The BSA conceded on a point they once (rightly) said they didn’t need to address. Social, legal, internal, financial, and political pressure forced them to address it. That’s what I meant by “conceding the moral high ground.” I think the policy is in keeping with Catholic teaching and the values of scouting. However, I think the process of reaching this policy tainted the Scouts, and puts a crack in the edifice through which other compromises may, in time, force themselves.

Pressure them enough (this episodes suggests) and the Scouts will concede. Their concession, in this case, took a form that was compatible with their values and ours. Will the next one? As Bishop Guglielmone told me: “The leadership of the BSA has made it very clear that they intend to hold the line on adult leaders, but they also said they would hold the line on this issue, so where this could go, I don’t know.”

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • BobWilliams1950

    BSA sold their principals for the promise of favorable politics and money (donations from large corporate sponsors). As such, this Eagle Scout and long time adult leader can no longer support BSA.

    Last one out, turn off the lights.

    Boy Scouts of America
    February 8, 1910 – May 23, 2013
    Rest in Peace

  • Howard

    “Their concession, in this case, took a form that was compatible with their values and ours.” By “ours” I take it you mean “those of Ed Peters and Thomas L. McDonald.” Otherwise, unless you are secretly the Pope, be careful to obtain the consent of those for whom you speak.

    So you and Dr. Peters want to say this isn’t checkmate for those of us who hoped to preserve the Scouts as an institution promoting a moral world view in concord with the Catholic Church. Well, maybe not, but it’s the point in the game where the opponent says, “I have checkmate in four moves.” And he does, too; it is no longer possible to win this match. Or, to use another analogy, the Scouts are like a tiger barb when it starts swimming on its side. It may not be dead just yet, but it will be floating upside down in the tank by morning. Take it from someone who has tried nursing them back to health, nothing can be done for them.

    Listen: I respect Dr. Peters and agree with him on most things, but this is neither his area of specialization nor a matter in which he is given special supernatural protection or authority. This is something about which people can legitimately disagree — just like King George did not agree with Parliament that the surrender of Cornwallis meant the end of the Revolutionary War. After all, the British still held New York City, still commanded the seas, and still had colonies in Canada and Florida. Yet King George was still wrong.

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    If you have sons in the Boy Scouts and you are a Catholic who’s serious about your faith, pull them out before it’s too late. The BSA is now corrupted by those who have lost their moral compass. It’s time to form an organization of scouting that repsects Catholic morality, as in “morally straight.”

  • TXCatholic

    Great piece in the Register Tom — thank you.

  • Deacon Steve

    Deacon Ed I must respectfully disagree with your claim that we need to pull our sons out now. BSA has never claimed to stand only for the moral teachings of a particular faith. They have had some guidelines, and this change in allowing gay scouts in as youths does not contrast anything in Catholic Teaching. The new policy does not allow discrimination solely on orientation, which is in line with Catholic teaching on sin. Inclination to a sin does not equate to guilt. If one refrains from committing the sinful act, then a person is not in a state of sin. The policy does not allow for youth in scout troops to be sexually active and remain in the program. This applies to both homosexual and heterosexual sexual activity. Both are morally unacceptable under the new guidelines, as they were before the guideline was revised.
    The National Catholic Committee on Scouting is working with our Bishop Liaison and those of us in local Catholic Committees for Scouting to come up with guidelines for Catholic sponsored units so they may remain part of BSA and stay true to our faith. I am an Eagle Scout and I am the Chaplain for the Catholic Committee in my Archdiocese. We do not need these knee-jerk reactions that are not based on Catholic teaching. We need to work to stay part of the program to help direct the discussion and support our Catholic scouts and units.


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