June 3, 2013

Boy Scouts: a Lament and Prognosis, Part III

The Boy Scout Memorial in Washington, DC. "[The Scout] is flanked by two much larger allegorical figures of a man and a woman representing American Manhood and Womanhood and the ideals of the past which they will pass onto the youth." O tempora! O mores! (Photo Credit: Wikipedia/Ken Thomas)

The Boy Scout Memorial in Washington, DC. “[The Scout] is flanked by two much larger allegorical figures of a man and a woman representing American Manhood and Womanhood and the ideals of the past which they will pass onto the youth.” O tempora! O mores! (Photo Credit: Wikipedia/Ken Thomas)

by Barton Gingerich (@bjgingerich)

So the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) will be facing several negative consequences for their decision to change membership standards, allowing for openly avowed gay youth. Last post, I wondered how the BSA leadership reached such a nadir in moral courage. There are no easy answers, but I think the current Scouting culture and society-at-large can offer at least the hint of an explanation.

First, as actual participants in the Scouting program know, the BSA is a very ecumenical organization. Nonsectarian membership standards (requiring only a belief in God) have been a longtime tradition for BSA because chivalry itself is nonsectarian. The first Boy Scout handbook referenced medieval knights as models of courage, helpfulness, purity, and ability. In short, knights, at least in their imaginative signification, embodied an excellence of life, i.e. virtue. Hearkening back to Middle Age ideals reminded young boys of such characters as the Christian King Richard I or the Muslim Sultan Saladin. To the atheist’s ire, the BSA still believes that true virtue flows from a Higher Power. Nevertheless, pagan and Christian alike have achieved moral, philosophical, artistic, and even heroic goodness. Scouting provided an opportunity for boys to participate in that venerable tradition and to watch the good life carried out by leaders.

Because of this heritage and a nonpartisan political affiliation, the Boy Scout leadership has always striven to assure everyone got along—or, rather, that no one’s sensibilities got offended. To avoid organizational fractiousness (not too hard for an organization based on outdoorsmanship, patriotism, and practical know-how), leaders had to assume a philosophical agnosticism. Scouting’s official principles had to be universally acceptable to everyone who was or might be involved with the program, though varying perspectives were always welcomed to the table. Politeness was not just expected from the boys; leaders (including those on the National Council) had to practice a mannerly irenic spirit. In other words, the habits formed the character of the organization.

This was a relatively easy enough task during the Edwardian period of the Boy Scouts’ founding, as well as for most of the twentieth century in Hometown, America. Any age that recognizes and admires true chivalry would make moral sensibilities easy to acquire and expect from others. But what happens when social mores change? Can civic institutions stand alone against shifts or, if you’re of an older school, decay? Virtuous masculinity does not find a welcome home in a world under the iron boot of moral relativism, feminism, self-realization, and individualism. As this fascinating contrast indicates, the Boy Scouts have tried to evolve with the times; nevertheless, there was always an assumption that the nebulous moral core would remain the same. A few Eagles I talked to ruefully admitted, “It was only a matter of time, I guess. I just didn’t think it would be today.”

The ecumenical setup of the Boy Scouts worked fine as long as the ethical environment in society-at-large remained healthy. Sooner or later, the moral formation of the day (or lack thereof) would bring change to those going into and later leading the program. In this particular case, absolute tolerance and sexual liberation have become the new golden rules. After all, being “nice” and tolerant is all we are taught to do as moral beings. As Bruce Frohnen points out, we live in a society that’s now fearful of permanent things. In fact, ours is a nation that seems to fear civilizations (past or present) that believed and loved the ordered and permanent, a vestige of which resides in the Scout Law, properly understood and applied.

When the Alphabet Mafia finds a handful of disconcerted activists among the ranks, why should the organization suddenly come down hard on a fractious issue? Outside forces (and now forces within the BSA) seek to offer a new, authoritative interpretation of the Scout Oath and Law. Nothing is wrong with identity politics, right? Those supporters of ours—who provide the actual facilities, funds, and manpower for our free organization—are on the wrong side of history. Add some corporate donation money, and you will see C. S. Lewis’s observation in The Abolition of Man played out on the world stage: “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

So should I have been surprised? Even though I’ve kept somewhat abreast of my civilization’s descent into barbarity, I still breathe as one who’s spent half of my life in the Boy Scouts program. Though the organization has not fully folded to the LGBT agenda yet, change is coming. I still clench to the mad hope that the BSA can be recovered in time, even in a hostile culture. But I also realize that this institution isn’t the one guaranteed the One True Hope.

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5 Responses to Boy Scouts: a Lament and Prognosis, Part III

  1. My sister’s son is involved in Scouting and I helped her prepare a response to a local charter’s letter in which they proclaimed that nothing really has changed….and, please, send us money. I borrowed some of your language from a prior column, but thought I would share the letter (in its current form):


    We received your fundraising letter, dated 5/24/13, in which you discuss the Boy Scouts’ recent policy change on sexuality. While we appreciate your attempt to put a positive spin on a disturbing situation, we believe your comments are out of touch with reality.

    If, as you say, “the topic of sexuality has no place in our program,” then why are we even discussing it? Obviously, according to some, it does.

    In fact, there are profound implications of the National Council’s implementation of the new policy of “non-discrimination” based on “sexual orientation or preference.” Let’s not stick our heads in the sand: this clearly represents a radical departure from the foundational moral tenets that have guided Scouting for many years.

    In contrast to what you assert in your letter, it’s clear that BSA leadership has not been responsive to membership. Of the more than 200,000 leaders, parents and youth members who were surveyed, 61 percent supported the current policy, while only 34 percent opposed it. The National Council voted the opposite of these numbers. And, as you should know, it’s now only a matter of time before the prohibition on Scout leaders who engage in alternative sexual behavior is lifted.

    In an editorial for CNN, outspoken Boy Scouts supporter John Stemberger—himself an Eagle Scout—said he will be forced to pull his sons out of the organization following the May 23 announcement, noting that the policy change will ultimately lead to “myriad bad consequences.”

    “First, the new BSA policy is logically incoherent and morally and ethically inconsistent. The BSA had never discriminated against homosexuals,” he writes.

    “The BSA membership application did not ask about sexual orientation, and there has never been a witch hunt in the BSA to find or remove its gay members.”

    Brian Brown, of the National Organization of Marriage, said that the BSA’s decision to accept openly gay Boy Scouts risks “sexualizing the organization.”

    “All of this is happening not because of a true grassroots demand of gay youth to be part of the organization but by an orchestrated political effort by gay activists who want to punish any group or organization that does not embrace homosexuality.”

    During the National Council session of 1,400 delegates, the BSA’s legal counsel was reportedly unable to answer what this policy means for transsexuals. What about cross-dressing Scouts? Or those with pornographic addictions? Or girls? These are only some of the issues that will inevitably arise under the rubric of protected “orientation or preference.” (If you think this is far-fetched just imagine what Scout leaders of a generation ago would have said about approval of open homosexuality).

    How can any rational person believe throwing hormone-laden, sexually-attracted young teens in a tent together would not set the stage for serious consequences? This is little different than having normal, heterosexual teenage boys and girls go camping together.

    Around 70 percent of Scout units are church hosted, prompting about 12 denominations—collectively representing nearly 25 million church members—to urge against the new policy. These voices have effectively been kicked to the curb.

    In recent years the BSA has served as a sterling example to young people that commitment to principle, as opposed to caving to contemporary cultural winds, is the most desirable course if one is to remain “morally straight.” Now the organization has cowardly sunk into political correctness because of the blackmailing of corporate sponsors by a small number of very rabid activists. What kind of message does this send to our young men? It’s certainly not the message Scouting was built on.

    It is ironic that your letter asks for money since it is fear of the loss of corporate sponsorships that has undergirded much of this controversy. One would think that, now that corporate sponsors have (supposedly) been satisfied, money would not be a problem.

    In closing, we would like to say that we appreciate your commitment to Scouting and your efforts to make it better, but you are making a huge mistake by trying to gloss over this matter. In light of this we strongly urge you to consider forming an alternative organization that adheres to the unchanging, bedrock principles that have made Scouting great. Unless that happens, or this new policy is rescinded, we have no alternative but to pull our son and our financial support from the BSA. This is not a decision we made, it’s a decision the BSA, most regrettably, has made for us.


  2. jfedako says:

    Regarding, “Nonsectarian membership standards (requiring only a belief in God) have been a longtime tradition for BSA because chivalry itself is nonsectarian.”

    As a fellow Christian, don’t you find it a slight bit heretical to capitalize the word “god” when you are also referring to more than just the God of the Bible?

    Especially when considering that the Boy Scouts award a “In the Name of ‘Allah’ God Emblem” with this as the stated purpose: “Helps youth fulfill the first part of the Scout Promise: ‘On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God.'”

    Does any reference to god satisfy the need for God in your view?

    Something to consider.

    • skotiad says:

      Yeah, “something to consider.” Amazing how that phrase always pops up in a post criticizing Christians for not turning Diversity and Inclusiveness into gods. If they were honest, religious lefties would stop capitalizing god and start capping the abstractions that really matter to them, since these abstractions rank much higher than god in their ideology.

      A “something to consider” by any other name is still a religious lefty with an ax to grind. For that reason, it is difficult to give serious consideration to “something to consider.” Liberal condescension – “If you just THINK, you will eventually embrace my ideology” – is not the way to change conservatives’ minds.

    • “…MORE than JUST the God of the Bible?” From a Christian perspective, what more is there?

      • jfedako says:

        You’d have to ask the Boy Scouts organization and its supporters (as well as those, like Bart, who perpetuate the belief that the gods of Scouting are equal to the one true God). To claim the Scouts are godly when they allow any god is troublesome.

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