The Boy Scouts of America have officially stated that they will allow openly gay boys to be members of their organization. This statement brings joy for some and makes others angry. After 18 years participating in various scouting organizations as both a scout and a leader, I went back to the basics to see if this statement fits with the stated goals of the organization. In my search, I discovered that being part of a faith tradition was one of the six essential needs of young people that the Boy Scouts of America seek to address. The organization explains the need for faith traditions in this way:
Young people need faith. There is abundant evidence that children benefit from the moral compass provided by religious tradition. We acknowledge that faith can become an important part of a child’s identity. Each of the major faiths breeds hope, optimism, compassion, and a belief in a better tomorrow. Scouting encourages each young person to begin a spiritual journey through the practice of his or her faith tradition. One of the key tenets of Scouting is “duty to God.” While Scouting does not define religious belief for its members, it has been adopted by and works with youth programs of all major faiths.
In fact, the Boy Scouts of America have many charters by faith organizations who sponsor scouting through their churches or other places of worship. The Church of Latter Day Saints has the largest number of religiously-affiliated charters, with the Catholic and Baptist churches following closely behind, with the third and fourth largest numbers, respectively. Many of these churches are letting go of their charters because of this recent decision. One pastor said, “We’re a Bible-believing church, and the Boy Scouts have opted to pursue a different moral path.”
As Catholics, we know that many of our parishes are connected to the Boy Scouts of America. The boys and young men who participate learn about their faith as well as the other essentials of scouting. Learning about and practicing faith should not be limited to only kids who identify as straight . Rather, both those who identify as straight or gay can be faithful to their faith tradition. I fail to see the Boy Scouts of America following a different “moral path” than the “Bible-believing” church. Continuing to explore the debate, I moved on to the Overview of Boy Scouts of America at the Boy Scouts of America website. It begins with their mission statement:
The mission of the Boy Scouts of America 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 Scout Law.
Now, how does this pertain to gay or straight boys? Well, it seems that both gay and straight boys can learn to make ethical and moral choices.
What about the Scout Oath and Scout Law? Let’s look at the Boy Scout Oath, one that all scouts make:
On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty to God and my country, to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, and to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.
This is pretty straight forward. Boys will do a job when needed by God or their country, will obey the Scout Law (to come), help others, and keep themselves strong, thinking, and moral. Can both gay and straight boys do these things? Yes. They can do their duties, obey the law, help people, and be strong, thinking, and moral people.
Now, let’s look at the Scout Law:
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
Once again, all these qualities can be adopted by both gay and straight boys.
So, I went back to the six essential needs of young people:
Scouting, with programs for young men and women, helps meet these six essential needs of the young people growing up in our society: Mentoring, Lifelong Learning, Faith Traditions, Serving Others, Healthy Living, Building Character
Scouting offers a place where young people can be mentored. That means that young people will have adults who help guide them to complete tasks and grow to be the best they can. They will have support to learn and grow. That brings us to the next need—lifelong learning. That is something that will help young people to be successful adults. A good mentor can truly instill a love for learning a variety of things that can last a lifetime. Furthermore, the organization Boy Scouts of America meets the needs of young people by serving others. A quick glance at the first few pages of their website lists many of the ways in which scouts have served their communities, locally and far away, directly, and through gifts. Pope Francis has clearly highlighted the need for serving others . Next, scouts learn about healthy living, both mental and physical. These things all build a strong and healthy character.
All children in scouting have this opportunity. They learn to do what is traditionally associated with scouting–tying knots, building fires, earning badges, camping, and completing merit badges by learning about different subjects. They also learn, through mentoring, to be strong persons and leaders, while also learning to collaborate and cooperate in order to fulfill their duties and tasks. In short, scouting prepares young people to be future leaders in all sectors.
What is special about scouting compared to other places with mentoring programs? Growing up is complicated. Children need a place to be supported. Some children find mentors in sports, some in schools, and others in music. Scouting is different because it is not specialized. Scouts can explore many areas; in fact, they are encouraged to experience as many as possible. There is a place for everyone. Scouts are allowed to express themselves and grow in who they are. In fact, each scout is supported in such a way that he can excel with his own personal strengths and overcome weaknesses. Fulfilling the six essential needs makes sure that all boys do their best. Being gay does not exempt children from the six essential needs. Gay or straight, all still have those needs, and those needs must be met somewhere. Scouting could be a safe haven for boys to grow in a supportive place.
In allowing gay members, the Boy Scouts have not changed their mission, oath, or law. They have simply said that these can be carried out by boys who identify as either gay or straight. People who are gay can be faithful and follow the bible and God’s law as moral persons. Engaging in moral conduct and having a homosexual orientation are not mutually exclusive. And that’s why the US Conference of Catholic Bishops submitted this statement to Catholic scouting families: “We should be encouraged that the change in BSA’s youth membership standard is not in conflict with Catholic teaching.” Indeed, it does not refute one part of Catholic teaching, as nothing at the core of the organization has changed. The only difference now is that boys can be free to be themselves, live honestly, and can have a safe place to become the best person that each can be. Let us, as a Church, keep our Boy Scout charters and support our boys in becoming their best—each and every unique child of God.