Thoughtful Thursdays: BSA Membership Decision

I am thankful for the Boy Scouts of America. I started my adventures in Scouting in April of 1970, when I became a Bobcat (Cub) Scout. I have thoroughly enjoyed Scouting.

PLEASE BE ADVISED: I usually put in at least a little bit of thought into my posts and try very diligently not to post anything I’d be embarrassed by anytime later. I’m likely to be doing a bit thinking out loud here, and while that’s frequently what blogs are about, I am very conscious of my interweb presence.

I am an Eagle Scout (Class of ’79) and Wood Badge trained (Beaver Patrol). I have held numerous adult positions (Scoutmaster, Asst. Scoutmaster, Committee Member, Chaplain, Religious Emblems Coordinator). And the only reason I mention any of this is to point out my connections with this most excellent organization.

The decision of the National Council to lift the ban on gay youth is, to say the least, controversial.

And I find that I have a number of thoughts about this issue and have been thinking on it for some time, although I still might not have my thoughts very well organized. We’ll see how this turns out.

The current policy hasn’t exactly protected boys 100%, even though the establishment of the Youth Protection Program has been a tremendous step toward that lofty goal. The fact of the matter is, predators will still find ways to attack their victims, just as it is impossible to absolutely guarantee that your valuables are 100% theft proof, If someone wants “the goodies” bad enough, they’ll do whatever it takes to get them. That being said, all of our theft deterrents  are exactly that: deterrents, intended and designed to make the(perceived) risk of getting caught higher than the (perceived) potential rewards. That’s what Youth Protection & 2 Deep Leadership, etc are all about. But even then, all that is targeting inappropriate adult/youth contact. The BSA itself estimates that 70% of the inappropriate contact that happens is youth/youth. A poster on one of the LinkedIn Eagle groups had this excellent suggestion: that youth tent with same age kids, i.e. middle schoolers with middle schoolers, high schoolers with high schoolers. Yet another step to make abuse (essentially a “power trip”*1) more challenging to enact, for the sad fact of the matter is that there is no way to stop boys from…how to put this delicately…experimenting, if they are truly determined to do so.

There’s a part of me that’s thinking, “OK, since the BSA has lifted the ban, at least folks would ‘know who to watch.'” And that’s scary too, since it’s automatically reinforcing the witch hunt mentality that’s already out there. Hey, I’m all for protecting youth. But what are the unintended consequences of promoting paranoia, especially in the guise of watchfulness.*2

Frankly, when I first tuned into this issue, the resolution hadn’t reached it’s final form and was going to include wording to the effect that the BSA would have no formal stance one way or another and that the local units or council would be making that call. The libertarian in me was kind of excited about that option. The traditionalist in me wasn’t quite so elated because I immediately saw that leading to a potential split into two organizations, similar to that of the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) and the American Heritage Girls (AHG), who split over theology.

So I looked up the resolution as it passed and there are a couple of points I noticed right away:

AND WHEREAS, Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting; and

I’m thinking…Yea! Verily! Yea!

Then they go on to say:

WHEREAS, the Boy Scouts of America does not have an agenda on the matter of sexual orientation, and resolving this complex issue is not the role of the organization, nor may any member use Scouting to promote or advance any social or political position or agenda; and

Except for the tiny, easily overlooked fact that this very statement and the resolution in which it is said, does exactly that.

There are other things too, but this link will take you to an open letter (pdf) from OnMyHonor.net that very clearly makes those points.

While all the “Whereas”es (sic) are all very fine sounding, they really don’t mean diddly. What is important is the actual resolution itself:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT:

The following membership standard for youth members of the Boy Scouts of America is hereby adopted and approved, effective Jan. 1, 2014:

Youth membership in the Boy Scouts of America is open to all youth who meet the specific membership requirements to join the Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, Sea Scout, and Venturing programs. Membership in any program of the Boy Scouts of America requires the youth member to (a) subscribe to and abide by the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law, (b) subscribe to and abide by the precepts of the Declaration of Religious Principle (duty to God), and (c) demonstrate behavior that exemplifies the highest level of good conduct and respect for others and is consistent at all times with the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law. No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.

I’m all down with it, right up to the last sentence. This forces ALL Scouting units to accept openly gay boys. What is the BSA saying to the 70 some percent of the units that are chartered by religious organizations who oppose this? What happens to said gay youth, who may have been “out and proud”–right until he turns 18, becomes an adult by BSA definition, and is kicked out? Can you say “law suit?” Sure you can.

And this is in spite of the BSA’s own admissions that the majority of the councils and units oppose this change–you’ll actually have to read & do a bit of math here, but the data I found was here.

Another page on the Scouting.org website (National Council website) also states:

 “The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive, and unresolved societal issue. As the National Executive Committee just completed a lengthy review process, there are no plans for further review on this matter. …

I beg to differ. The sacrifice has been made and the organization consumed. And, in  my VERY humble opinion, this will be revisited. Just like the “Great Urbanization” Scouting tried in the 70’s–a massive change to try to make Scouting more appealing to urban youth. Two words: Utter Disaster. Scouting took a huge blow in numbers,both membership and finances, until that decision was rescinded and the “Scouting is Outing” campaign put the program back into the woods where it works. I am praying that a similar…change of heart, will happen on this stance. Sadly, someone may take that campaign slogan and reuse it for this issue.

There will be those who leave Scouting because they cannot, in good conscience, support the organization any more. There will be those who join specifically due to this “more inclusive” move on the part of Scouting. There will be those who disagree with the policy and will work diligently to change it back.

Bottom line for me: it’s a very sad day for an organization of which I have been a proud member for decades. What am I going to do? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m currently leaning toward “work to change it back” position while simultaneously checking out whether there might be a GSUSA/AHG kind of alternative. 

Are Scouting’s values truly timeless? Time will tell.

 

I’ll close with this from a fellow Eagle Scout:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1P_ulzAedns

*1–Sexual abuse is about power. Thinking it’s about sex is like thinking alcoholism is about thirst. I spent almost 20 years as a mental health therapist, nearly 7 years of which were focused on helping boys who had been physically and sexually abused. So, yeah, not only do I have an opinion, it’s educated.
*2–I say this in light of the fact that I have seen the “guilty until proven innocent” manifestation of this policy, which, like most policies of large organizations, is really built on this question: “Can we afford to be wrong?” In our society, where the lawsuit is the most popular indoor sport, no you can’t. Sadly, many outstanding leaders have been “thrown under the bus”. It’s one hell of a choice to make: who is worth more–the youth who might potentially be harmed, or the adult, unjustly accused, whose reputation is completely and permanently ruined, not only in the Scouting community but in the larger community?  I’m not talking about those who have been convicted of crimes in a court of law by a jury of their peers. I’m talking about leaders who have been thrown out of the organization on mere suspicion. All it takes is one accusation. Actual evidence isn’t required. Happens all too frequently. The BSA is a private organization and they have the right to enforce their rules & policies as they see fit. And protecting youth IS top priority. I’ve seen and dealt with the ramifications of both sides of that question. The system stinks; no doubt about that. But so far, it’s done a pretty good job of protecting youth from predatory adults. And until I can come up with a better way of doing things that protects the kids AND innocent adults, I’m just gonna have to vote for the kids. /rant

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