February 19, 2013

Stand Up for Scouting on Firm Ground (Part 1)

Boy Scouts AND Anglicanism. Get excited, traditionalists.

Boy Scouts AND Anglicanism. Get excited, traditionalists.

by Barton Gingerich (@BJGingerich)

It seems the news cycle is nearing its nadir on the Boy Scouts until the national meeting in May which will determine whether or not the organization will accept openly homosexual members. The controversy provided an opportunity for groups to show their true colors on issues of morality and liberty. For example, Southern Baptists and the Assemblies of God voiced strong criticism against the new changes. The Roman Catholic Church—third largest religious supporter of the BSA—also hoped the policy would remain the same in its official announcement (though there has been some controversy about misinformation that the Catholic Church would support the policy change). However, the bureaucratic leadership of the second largest supporter, the United Methodist Church, voiced acquiescence to the loose membership standards. Although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is by far the largest Boy Scout supporters, the official Mormon leadership has remained silent on the issue, though many suspect that the LDS would oppose the changes.

Media elites and professional commentators took the opportunity to vilify the backwards/backwoods ethics of the century-old institution. After all, the corporate sponsors that have threatened to pull funding until the sexuality standards have changed would be satisfied with the “local determination” option (which pleased neither the traditional party nor the gay lobbying groups). Of course, as many comments have illustrated, these same critics failed to ask for the opinion of Scouting parents or even researched the current structure, policy, and ethos of the BSA. Nevertheless, their concerns for tolerance deserve an informed answer from defenders of the current membership policy.

The main concern from parents is the most insulting to the LGBT activist groups: pedophilia. Richard Land concluded with this point in his incisive opinion piece. Land summarizes the point well: “Why would you put adult leaders and mentors in places of authority and leadership of a boys’ organization when they have defined themselves as “homosexual,” meaning they are sexually attracted to males? It would be the equivalent of allowing heterosexual men to be scout masters for Girl Scout troops. As one wise youth minister once observed, ‘Sexual attraction happens.’”

On the other hand, pedophilia is not the same as homosexuality, though for most traditionalists, pedophilia between men and boys is a homosexual practice. In truth, someone who is attracted to men could participate in the Scouting program as long as he would not “make a big deal” of it (thus upsetting activists on the charge of “closeting”). Catholic parents I have talked to often mention that, several decades ago, the seminaries became rife with homosexuality. After those priests entered parish ministry, they soon began abusing boys as well. Perversion led to further perversion. I tend to think it was the habit of secrecy and coverage from accountability that aggravated the problem rather than the seminaries, but try telling a parent that.

As a friend of mine contended, Christians misconstruing homosexuality with pedophilia worsens the relationship that LGBT folks already have with the Church. For Christian defenders of Scouting, continued use of the pedophilia charge may hurt rather than help the situation. Men—no matter their self-professed orientation—are at least perceived as more aggressive and predatory. Perhaps this is sexism, but parents want to make sure their children are safe. LGBT activists will see such fearful sentiments as a civil rights issue. Parents now are afraid of gay leaders like 1960s parents might have been scandalized by a Scoutmaster of a different skin color. That comparison draws ire from religious thinkers especially since many faiths see homosexual activity as a choice rather than a non-volitional genetic condition. Perpetuating myths harms rather than helps in a debate. Right now, the pedophilia charge remains murky.

Currently, pedophiles are already in the Scouts. There has been quite a scandal already regarding molestation in the BSA. Sadly, predators have already targeted youth programs as hunting grounds. Although the organization has strict rules for adult leaders to provide child protection, wicked men still find ways to manipulate youth and avoid getting caught.

Many wonder how an openly gay Scoutmaster could be a threat when predators seek to hide their proclivities. Data could be gathered on this matter—for instance, Scouts Canada lifted its ban in 1998 (this was shortly after the institution opened membership to girls). Canada Family Action has raised quite a furor over Scouts Canada’s child protection policies. As of yet, the Scouts have not released their secret sex abuse files, so no one can compare statistics before and after the membership standards change. Although the trends for molestation cannot yet be confirmed, membership numbers certainly can. Since 1998, the Canadian membership has dropped from about 300,000 to 100,000.

In short, well-meaning traditional Scouting supporters cannot decisively oppose the membership changes on the basis of pederasty—the facts remain hidden behind a curtain, and the BSA is already struggling to keep its house in order. Some wonder why LGBT enthusiasts do not join another scouting organization like the Baden-Powell Service Association or Camp Fire. While they certainly lack the prestige of the BSA, such organizations should make rabble-rousers happy. This classical liberal logic is insufficient. Though private institutions can set up membership requirements as they so please, that does not mean that those standards are right. If the BSA is somehow spreading evil and injustice, private donors and Scout leadership should put a stop to it. However, I am convinced that the case for the current Scouting standards are defensible on other firmer grounds. We will look at that issue in my next post.