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Boy Scouts in Transition?

Well, no, I don’t mean transition in the transgender sense, though I suppose that might be the next big issue. First, let me set the scene. On Saturday we were at our friends’ house because their daughter was in town with her one-year-old. They had a number of other family members over too, all people we enjoy being with. We started talking to one of them, a man who is very active in the Boy Scouts, and he said that earlier they had no fewer than four Eagle Scouts there. So I’m impressed, having gotten nowhere near that far way back when I was a scout. And I took advantage of the situation to raise one of my favorite hot-button issues. What, I asked, did he think of the Boy Scouts’ decision to let gays be scout leaders?

The question led to an interesting discussion. He started out by saying he had mixed feelings about it. As we continued, I got the feeling that he realized that times are changing, but still didn’t like the idea very much. My own views on the subject are not mixed: I think it is high time for our society to transcend the issue of sexual orientation and stop judging people by who they love or make love with. Even so, I have come to realize that people who see the matter differently are just as sincere as I, and may be trying just as hard to weigh the issue fairly. So I was glad for a chance to discuss the subject in a calm and mutually respectful manner.

I admitted that I favor the new position taken by the Boy Scouts, and added that a number of years ago I had been on some committee supporting the United Way, but ultimately told them I would cease contributing money to them as long as they supported the Boy Scouts, because of that organization’s discrimination against gays. Then the scout leader I was talking with told me something I had not thought of: he said that there are other people who will no longer contribute because they are allowing gays in the organization. How can I be surprised? If I can vote my conscience with my pocketbook, so can they.

Saying this reminds me of one time when I voted against the Boy Scouts with an actual vote. Our church had been sponsoring a troop, but the pastor decided he could not sign a pledge to uphold the policy of refusing to allow gays to be leaders. So he brought the issue up at a meeting of our administrative council. Just to get a motion on the table to discuss, I proposed that we stop sponsoring a troop altogether. I did not expect it to pass, but it did. When the news spread around the church, what hit the fan was not exactly holy water. Quite a few members, especially the ones who were scout leaders themselves, felt that something momentous had been done behind their backs. They demanded another meeting and made sure their supporters showed up. After some pretty emotional debate, the original vote was overturned. But by then it was a moot point, because our charter had already been assigned elsewhere. Before the fallout subsided, several prominent members had left the church.

The vote to allow gays in the Boy Scouts will continue to have fallout, too. Practice does not change overnight just because official policy changes. I am eager to see where it goes from here. I do not want the Boy Scouts to disappear. I think scouting has been a very positive experience for many boys, and I think that in many ways it has achieved its goals of building character and instilling values. But I do not want those values to include discrimination and intolerance.

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