The Boy Scouts: Caught in the Culture Wars

I tend to draw the stories on scouting for the National Catholic Register, so I’ve been watching as the BSA tried to revise their policies for dealing with boys who publicly proclaim same sex attraction. It’s important to note that the BSA does not ask about sexual preference, operating on an unofficial “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” that quite reasonably kept the private sexual habits of people–particularly minors–out of the organization.

The gay lobby and their allies, however, have made it clear that this is no longer an option. Sexuality, long a province of the private sphere–must now be dragged into the sunlight to be celebrated. People who would attempt to demur, or decline to admit same sex relationships on equal footing with opposite sex relationships, must be labelled bigots, targeted, and beaten into submission.

The gays have been pursuing the Scouts for years. Ever since homosexual activist James Dale argued all the way to the Supreme Court for his right to go camping with 14-year-old boys (and rightfully lost based on the BSA’s right to freedom of association), the Scouts have been chased from public buildings, seen their funding attacked, and come under a withering media onslaught. They weathered it well, stuck to their values, and continued on their merry way trying to form boys in civic virtue and manhood without obsessing over-much on gay sex, which is so low on the list of things that concern reasonable Americans as to be invisible.

By the way, it’s also a youth organization that has chastity as required virtue, so scouts aren’t supposed to be engaged in sexual conduct anyway, gay or straight. If you try to hit the combox with arguments that homosexuality is about love not sex, please save yourself the effort. Homosexuality minus sexual attraction is friendship. I object to the current trend of people declaring their sexual habits as they would declare their race or religion, because it shifts homosexuality from behavioral to ontological. “Gay” becomes your identity: your very being.

It’s as though we suddenly find ourselves in a world where people approach you and are compelled to say, “I’m left handed.” And you’re supposed to respond, “That’s awesome! Let’s have a parade!”

And the idea of “gay teens” is particularly problematic. There are, quite obviously, same-sex attracted teens, but the idea that teenagers, who can’t even settle on a hairstyle or a musical preference, can declare a fixed lifetime sexual identity is absurd. Adolescence is a time of flux and experimentation. The emotional and sexual tsunami of teen years is trying enough when we’re just dealing with the behavior and its ramifications.

When we attach ontology to the mix (making these desires central to being), we just make everything more confusing. A teen with same-sex attraction is now a “Gay Teen.” It’s like joining a club you can never leave. There really isn’t a lot I believed or desired at 15 that I believe or desire now. (And the same people who say that gay isn’t a choice also say that sexuality is fluid. I really wish they’d make up their minds. )

In short, most adult homosexuals experience their first same-sex attraction as teens, but not all teens with same-sex attraction grow up to be adult homosexuals.

Setting that “identity” in amber with the current trend of “out teens” ignores the complex psychological, social, situational, and developmental issues that swirl around a lifetime of sexual behavior. There have always been young men (including Boy Scouts) who engage in same-sex sexual behavior without it being central to their identity, or even repeated. Most just grow out of it. Labeling and politicizing this behavior–the ontological shift–is a new phenomena.

The Boy Scouts knew this. They sought to keep sexuality out of their organization. But society–meaning the elite, the media, the politicians, and the activists–has decided sexuality must be everywhere, always, open, and in-your-face.

Their goal–which they will continue to pursue–is to lift the ban on gay scouts and adult leaders. That’s a non-starter for the same reason the Girl Scouts wouldn’t let me overnight with 16-year-old girls.

And can I just add: “Duh.”

The Scouts have already had abuse scandals. Can you imagine what will happen when (not if) an openly gay leader has sex (“consensual” or otherwise) with a Scout?

The initial plan was to kick the decision for allowing openly gay scouts and adult leaders back to the councils and the units. This would have allowed units chartered to a religious organization (which comprise 70% of all units) to set their own policy.

Both gay activists and religious groups argued this was incoherent and would create a patchwork of rules, leading to chaos for regional and national events.

The compromise was to add a sentence to the requirements for being a Scout that explicitly said no Scout would be rejected for reasons of sexual preference alone. It seems fairly clear that the National Catholic Committee on Scouting gave tacit approval to this compromise to prevent a full lifting of the ban.

Bishop Robert Guglielmone, the USCCB episcopal liaison for the National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS), told me that the Church can “live with” this compromise.

“I kind of expected that this is the way the vote would go,” Bishop Guglielmone told the Register. “I’m not particularly encouraged by it, but I knew it would happen eventually. As the policy change is right now promoted, we can live with it. Unfortunately, there are many people who are interpreting this policy to go much further than it actually does, particularly in the secular press.”

“My concern is that we have well over half a million young people in the program,” he said, “and most of those kids are going to stay no matter what happens. We have a real obligation to stay in dialogue and to stay connected to the program.”

Added the bishop, “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. That’s why I feel it’s imperative for the Church to continue to be involved. And if it gets to the point where some of our basic issues are threatened — such as being able to pick leaders for Catholic chartered groups or in diminishing the role of religion and God — then we will have to re-evaluate our participation in the program at that time.”

The wording of the resolution seems almost custom-made to appeal to Catholics, separating as it does being and behavior. On that level I don’t object to it. The idea of a boy being removed from a fraternal organization devoted to cultivating character and morals at a time when he’s struggling with sexual identity seems cruel and contrary to the principles of scouting.

It’s certainly not Catholic to “kick people out” because of an inclination to sin. We don’t even kick people out for sinning. We’re supposed to be the hospital for sinners. We’re the people who separate being and behavior–sinner and sin–because we know that a person is not their sin.

Activists are pushing these boys to “come out.” They’re being used as shock troops to advance an agenda, when in fact most would probably rather just go about their own struggles and deal with their desires without getting a giant rainbow “I’m gay!” banner tied to them. The number of boys dismissed from the Scouts for homosexual inclination is vanishingly small for a very simple reason: the BSA doesn’t ask. A “gay Boy Scout” might as well be a unicorn.

On the other hand, I understand that Catholic families may head for the hills in the wake of the decision. The shift in policy shows that the BSA is willing to concede moral high ground. It’s a victory for the gay lobby, which has already declared that they’re unhappy with the compromise and will continue to pester, sue, and otherwise harass the BSA until openly gay adult leaders are approved. That time will come, either sooner or later, because the idea of the primacy of conscience, freedom of association, and freedom of religion have been destroyed in the modern era.

When they win that victory, the BSA will cease to exist as anything but a shadow of its former glory. No reasonable parent will send a child or teen off with an adult leader who may desire sex with him. That’s insanity.

The problem is that the policy, while reasonable, is also incoherent. Scouting is a lifetime commitment for most. The rule essentially banishes men from the Scouting leadership once they turn 18.

It also raises countless practical questions. If a boy declines to share a two-person tent at summer camp with a gay scout, will he be subjected to criticism and complaint? Putting two gay scouts together in those tents doesn’t solve the problem: you wouldn’t put a heterosexual teenage boy and a heterosexual teenage girl in the same tent, would you?

I don’t envy the position the Scouts are in. They are an honorable group being used for the culture wars, and it ill suits them. They just wanted to help boys be men. They wanted to stand by their values, which are the same always and everywhere, and not subject to the shifting winds of moral relativism. That was the mission and the vision of Lord Baden-Powell. In a world where manhood is demeaned and degraded more with each passing year, they are more essential than ever.

And at just the point when they are most needed, they are distracted, pummeled, weakened.

Kicking out Scouts for publicly proclaiming a desire was never optimal. In most cases, the units and councils rolled with these things and dealt with them privately and sensibly. Activists, however, engineered some very public cases in order to force the issue, and left the BSA struggling for a response. The response pleased no one, however, and the battle is far from over.

Meanwhile, the boys who need them–including boys struggling with same-sex attraction–will become just more causalities of the culture war.

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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.