Jewish Journal


February 18, 2013

Boy Scouts and gays: end the ban—and the boycott



“While we must practice tolerance and respect for others and their beliefs, including their right to explain and advocate their positions, we are not required to respect and tolerate wrong behavior.” – Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Mormon Apostle


It’s impossible to be a Mormon blogger, especially one who has taken a public position opposing gay marriage, and not weigh in on the Boy Scouts of America’s upcoming decision on whether to lift its ban on “open or avowed” gays, who are currently not allowed to become Scouts or fill leadership positions. The LDS Church has not yet taken a position on the repeal of the ban, though as the largest sponsor of Scouting troops, its voice will undoubtedly be heard at BSA’s highest levels. I would like to share my thoughts on this complex issue, which have evolved over the past few years.

Unfortunately, I find myself in the unenviable position of having to choose between the repeal-the-ban position of people like the activists at Human Rights Campaign, a radical gay rights organization that has been persecuting BSA for years, and the keep-gays-out folks at the Southern Baptist Convention, a leading anti-Mormon religious group. In the interest of full disclosure, I was a Scout for a brief period of time in a small troop. I earned a few merit badges, went on several campouts and jamborees, and generally enjoyed the experience. 

First of all, I’m very glad that the Supreme Court has affirmed the right of BSA, as a private organization, to exclude certain groups of people (atheists, agnostics, gays) from its ranks. Whether or not one agrees with the policies themselves, it’s an important principle. By way of analogy, Human Rights Campaign should not have to appoint a known opponent of gay marriage to a leadership position. In effect, this means that devout Mormons, Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, etc., need not apply. This freedom to exclude carries over into the religious freedom arena, which is an area of increasing concern to people of faith around the country. After all, if private organizations can have the final say on who joins and leads them, then churches can as well.

That said, I’m having a tough time understanding the reason for the bans, which I’ll deal with separately. First of all, telling gay kids that they can’t go camping, earn merit badges, or learn the principles of the Scout Oath and Law with their straight peers seems rather benighted and mean-spirited to me. The president of our senior class was gay, and we would have counted it an honor to have him as a member of our troop. Of course, if there is any inappropriate behavior by Scouts, gay or straight, that violates the Scout Oath to be morally straight (e.g., drinking, taking illegal drugs, sexual misconduct), then their leaders can and should mete out appropriate discipline. However, Scouting’s ban on gay kids only references sexual orientation, not inappropriate conduct, so I oppose it. There is no good reason why gays who uphold the Scout Oath and Law can’t be Scouts.

Given the new safeguards in place for Scouting volunteers, the arguments against gay leaders are also less than convincing. Let’s take the most obvious objection first: adult men who are attracted to males shouldn’t be leading a group of young men. Yes, there are gay men who abuse kids, although most gay men do not. There are also straight men who abuse kids, although most do not. BSA now thoroughly vets its leaders and has instituted new common-sense rules, including one prohibiting a leader from being alone with a Scout. No system is foolproof, and there will always be perverts who seek positions in Scouting and in schools in order to prey on the vulnerable. However, in my experience being gay doesn’t make a youth leader more likely to engage in this behavior.      

I have played soccer since age seven, and one of my favorite coaches was Pat. Every good player in middle school wanted to be on Pat’s regional select team, and she coached us to the gold medal in the Mid-Michigan Olympics. We all understood that the quiet woman who watched silently from the sidelines during our games was more than a friend to Pat, but none of us cared. Pat never discussed her personal life with us, and we never asked. We were there to learn how to score off a corner kick, not to discuss lifestyle choices, and Pat was a superb coach.

Ditto for Mr. K., a transplanted Scotsman whom my father sought out to conduct a summer clinic on passing for some of his best soccer players. I do recall hearing a few locker room jokes about the coach’s limp wrist, but they weren’t any nastier than the jokes we told about our other coaches. Once again, Mr. K. was a wonderful coach who helped me improve my passing speed. We all knew that he “played for the other team,” so to speak, but he was there to teach us a specific skill, and he did it very well. Truth be told, I do recall that a few more dads than usual showed up for Mr. K’s first practice, then left us alone after they saw that he was a serious coach. Come to think of it, one sure way to increase fathers’ involvement in their sons’ troop might be to appoint an openly gay Scoutmaster.

I am opposed to Scouting’s ban on gay leaders because it only specifies orientation, not behavior. I don’t believe that sexual orientation itself should disqualify someone from teaching kids to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, etc. In addition, the ban underestimates the influence of other role models besides Scoutmasters (e.g., parents, teachers, church leaders, coaches) in a Scout’s life.   

In the end, the best course of action would be for the BSA to lift the ban on gay Scouts and leaders while allowing local units, primarily in the interest of religious freedom, to retain the right to exclude people whose behavior fails to meet their standards.

The Boy Scouts is the youth program for LDS boys, so one certainly shouldn’t expect the church to appoint a Scoutmaster who has a same-sex partner, lives with his girlfriend, or has another lifestyle that is at odds with the church’s moral teaching. However, this kind of exclusion would be based on behavior, not sexual orientation per se. 

At the same time, I’d like to see Human Rights Campaign head Chad Griffin and his radical gay activist colleagues put a halt to the sickening boycott of the Boy Scouts that has gone on for many years. Mr. Griffin & Co. don’t have another youth character-building program to put in its place, mind you: they just want to destroy an organization that has produced tens of thousands of leaders worldwide. When your most significant contribution to society is organizing vulgar gay pride parades around the country (which included NAMBLA members – pedophiles -- in their early years), you lose the moral high ground in this debate. I certainly don’t oppose the Scouting ban because I agree with the radical gay activist agenda. I just feel that it discriminates against a group of people for no good reason.      

How can I reconcile my opposition to the BSA ban on gays with my opposition to gay marriage? I view them as two unrelated institutions. For me, marriage between a man and a woman is a divinely-sanctioned relationship that will exist in eternity. I support traditional marriage because I believe that God is married. I do not believe that God is a Boy Scout.

Let us pray for BSA to lift the ban on sexual orientation and for gay rights activists to find another target for their unquenchable wrath.

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