Gods, Gays, and Scouts
What is morality in any given time or place? It is what the majority then and there happen to like, and immorality is what they dislike.
— Alfred North Whitehead, Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead
It was a teachable moment-the young children holding up signs in Irving Texas outside the meeting place of the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America. It was also a surprise moment.
On Wednesday February 6, 2012 the Executive Board decided to defer until May a decision on whether or not gay boys had the proper moral qualifications to become members of the BSA. It was a surprise because the week before the meeting took place there had been much speculation that the organization’s ban on the presence of gays in the organization was about to come to an end.
Since their beginning the BSA have refused to admit boys who are gay and boys who do not believe in God. (With respect to believing in God, there is some flexibility. A significant percentage of Boy Scout troops in the United States are sponsored by religious organizations ranging from Mormons to Romans to Islam, and many religions in between. Those denominations would agree on nothing theological but since they believe in some kind of a God (or in the case of Muslims, Allah) it’s good enough for the scouts. )
If the National Executive Board of the organization had voted to end the ban on gay boys becoming members of the organization, it would have been following the lead of the Girl Scouts of America which in 1991 issued a statement saying: “As a private organization, Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. respects the values and beliefs of each of its members and does not intrude into personal matters. Therefore, there are no membership policies on sexual preference.”
At the February 2013 BSA board meeting the ban was not lifted. The board deferred the decision until its May meeting. The delay was occasioned by the same kind of pressure to which congress is subject when it tries to decide what to do about guns. The debate about guns leads to discussions about constitutional issues. The debate about gays leads to discussions about moral issues.
The prospect that the BSA would abandon their historical stance opposing membership for gays was especially timely because on December 26, 2012 the Los Angeles Times released about 1,200 unpublished files that the BSA kept on employees and volunteers forced to leave the organization because of suspected sexual abuse. The paper also reported that an additional 3200 files dealing with the same issues had not been released publicly. The report pointed out that the organization had been slow to act on the accusations and that its “inaction or delayed response to allegations at times allowed alleged molesters to continue sexually abusing children. (In that respect the report was reminiscent of the late January news that Jose Gomez, the Los Angeles Archbishop, had barred his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, from performing public duties in the Los Angeles archdiocese. The ban was imposed because of the way Cardinal Mahony handled clergy pedophile cases by priests under his supervision. He kept some of the priestly perpetrators from harm’s way by sending them out of California so they would not be subject to criminal prosecution for their acts of pedophilia. Although barred from public duties in Los Angeles Cardinal Mahony will go to Rome to join fellow Cardinals in selecting a new pope. ) The prospect of the change in the BSA’s position with respect to gay boys was a teachable moment as well.
Demonstrations were held in Irving, Texas, where the board meeting was held. The teaching moment proved to be the opportunity to teach children to hate. Pictures of the demonstrations outside the meeting site showed children dressed in their uniforms holding up signs with messages such as “keep scouts morally straight,” “stand strong” and “Save our boys from homosexual acts.” Some of the boys holding these signs appeared to be less than 10 years of age. These youngsters may well have been unaware of exactly what it was they were protesting but they were being taught the message of hate, not the kind of teaching moment one would expect from the scouts. The message of hate was reinforced by The Family Research Council and 41 other groups that ran an ad in USA Today urging the Boy Scouts to “stay true to their timeless values and not surrender to financial or political pressures by corporate elites on the issue of homosexuality.” Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary did not want to be left out of the hate campaign. He said admitting gays to the BSA would be “disastrous” for the organization.
The mission statement of the Boy Scouts is to “prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law. The oath says the scout will, among other things, do his best to do his duty “to God” and to keep himself “morally straight. God would probably be as surprised as anyone to learn that in the eyes of the BSA, some of the boys He created are unworthy of service in an organization the rules of which require its members to believe in Him.