The Boy Scouts of a Better America

The Boy Scouts of a Better America May 22, 2015
Change Is Good
Change Is Good

Word has come from none other than Robert Gates that the Boy Scouts of America will have to end its openly discriminatory policy of not allowing gay adults to serve as Boy Scout leaders.

What I find so delicious about the BSA’s supreme leader’s opinion is the position of chagrin and shame into which it has put so many low-level minions who have treated advocates of change in this matter like so much dog droppings. Go treat Robert Gates—former CIA director and former U.S. Secretary of Defense and current president of the Boy Scouts of America—like so much dog droppings, I’d like to say to each of them. Yeah, I’m a petty person.

Mostly I’d like to confront the smugly obstinate leadership of the Great Salt Lake Council, the biggest and most powerful BSA council in the universe. For years, they’ve been callously mistreating my friend Peter Brownstein for advocating just this change. As it turns out, Brownstein has been a prophet, and the BSA leaders who treated him as a heretic are now confronting the possibility that they themselves are the heretics.

You can read my slightly dated account of Brownstein’s travails here.

Personal kudos to Peter Brownstein for choosing the right, and not letting the forces of mean-spirited yesteryear tell him that he and his hope for a more diverse, more inclusive, more happy BSA is incompatible with scouting. And cheers for Robert Gates, for moving to make antiquated and, in any case, mean-spirited arrogance incompatible with scouting, instead.

Of course, Gates can’t make a policy change, unilaterally, and he says that he has not yet made a proposal on the matter to the BSA board. So, there’s plenty of wrangling to come over whatever the core principles of scouting might be.

As the most powerful sponsor of scouting in the United States, the opinion of the LDS church on any scouting matter matters. The New York Times called the LDS church’s response to Gates “guarded”. But the church’s response seems much more to me like the kind of veiled threat Brownstein has been confronting for the past couple of years.

According to its official release, the church plans to “examine any such changes very carefully to assess how they might impact our own century-long association with the B.S.A.” Since the very close relationship between the LDS church and the Boy Scouts has been based on BSA’s willingness to let local church units select the leaders for the troops they sponsor, any change to BSA policy may be meaningless for LDS troops, the leaders of which are selected expressly by the LDS church.

But the church’s “guarded” statement is clearly code for “if you say that gay men can be leaders in any troops, we might just go home and take our 437,000 scouts with us.” This very tactic was adopted by a coalition of conservative Christians who formed Trail Life USA last year when BSA finally stopped kicking out gay scouts.

I would point out one thing that I don’t think will make any difference to the LDS church or its members who will cling, no matter what, fiercely and hopelessly, to a world in which the privileged have a responsibility to exclude and oppress the marginalized:

The LDS church would have 437,001 scouts to hold hostage in its fight against change, except that my LDS son belongs to a troop sponsored by a Methodist congregation, rather than to the troop sponsored by our own LDS ward. Not only is the Methodist church closer to our home, its scout troop is managed with much more competence and care by leaders who are mostly deliberate volunteers (rather than “called” [read: appointed] as is the LDS practice). Furthermore, the Methodist troop includes not only Methodists, but also Catholics, Baptists, nondenominationals, nones, atheists, and at least one Mormon (accommodating a Mormon, let’s face it, is a sign of being genuinely progressive in the American South). Whether any of these scouts or leaders are gay, I don’t know. Does not matter. As a bonus, the Methodist congregation’s pastor is a woman.

My point is, the threat to go home and to take one’s scouts with one, like most such threats, can curl around and bite one on the proverbial ass. Robert Gates is expressly worried that not dispensing with openly homophobic policies “will be the end of us [the BSA] as a movement”. Between willing departures and increasing instances of ideologically-driven excommunication, the LDS church is beginning to bleed membership. The LDS church may end up hurting itself more than scouting—which, through Gates, might just be saving itself for the next century—by digging in its heels in a way that can only say to the world’s population, “We insist that gay people, as a matter of being gay, are incompetent, and should not be treated as people.”

Change comes. You can resist it, in which case it will overtake you and, perhaps, destroy you. Or you can acknowledge that the world is change, always, ever, and mostly not in a “the world is going to hell” way, but in a “the world is going to heaven” way.

Ideologies that value truth and right might concede that change is truth and right, that change is the way in which the world moves towards being better.

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