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.”

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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.