Yesterday morning in Houston, Texas, the Southern Baptist Convention agreed on a resolution to condemn the recent decision by Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to accept gay scouts in its ranks.
The BSA recently gave in to ongoing nationwide pressure—from sponsors, gay-rights organizations, and even President Obama—to end a century-old policy barring gay membership. (It has maintained its policy, however, against gay leaders.)
While the Southern Baptist Convention resolution expressed disappointment in and opposition to the new Scout policy, the denomination is decentralized; the convention cannot directly command local churches and families to boycott scouting, though it offered support for those that choose to do so.
The BSA's new stance was approved by the non-profit organization's National Council on May 23, and drew much criticism from traditionalists. Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, called it “the beginning of the end” for the Scouts, saying that the decision would end up “sexualizing the organization.”
In the past, the fact that major church organizations back the BSA has ensured the exclusion of gay youth. More than 70 percent of all Boy Scout troops are chartered by faith-based organizations, and the Mormon Church alone sponsors 25 percent of them. But there’s been a lot of shifting of late: In April -- a month before the National Council voted on the proposal -- the Mormon Church announced its support for the Scouts, saying the proposed policy was "a thoughtful, good-faith effort" to address a complex situation. "We appreciate the positive things contained in this current proposal," the news release read, "that will help build and strengthen the moral character and leadership skills of youth as we work together in the future." Edward P. Martin, the U.S. Catholic Church’s top liaison to the BSA wrote in a May 29 letter that the new policy “is not in conflict with Catholic teaching,” and encouraged his “fellow Catholic Scouters” to continue supporting scouting programs.
I was involved in scouting for 11 years, starting as a Cub Scout, and ultimately earned my Eagle Scout award in 2009. During that time, the question of accepting gay scouts never arose in my troop, but our mindset was always one of welcoming anybody who was interested in joining. The only time we had to ask a scout to leave the troop was in response to his bullying (no, he wasn’t gay).
Scouting exists to promote essential skills and virtue in all young men. If a scout is misbehaving or posing a distraction to the rest of the troop for any reason at all, he should be dealt with as his leaders see fit. But by denying gay youth membership, scouting had been forsaking the opportunity to be a positive influence in those boys’ lives and the chance to build them into ethical, upright individuals.
Like they say, life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it. Now it’s time for the Boy Scouts of America to run with this new opportunity and prove to groups like the Southern Baptist Convention that it can move in a positive direction, even after such a break with tradition. And Southern Baptists would do well to remember that every boy who walks into a given troop meeting on Wednesday night is a sinner, just as every parishioner who attends church on Sunday is. The question should be how we help each other deal with our human vulnerabilities, not how we shun and exclude those who sin.
Ultimately, scouting should be for any boy who wishes to become a man who is “physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”* And with the new policy, the Boy Scouts are potentially in a position to do more good by casting a wider net and therefore enriching the lives of even more American boys than before.
*the closing of the Scout Oath