One year ago, I had been contacted by colleagues that a board meeting would be held in the following week to change membership policy at BSA with no discussion among, input from or consent of thousands of Chartering Organizations. The meeting agenda had been (apparently) leaked to the press (since board meeting agendas are not usually subject to press release), and the “always hungry for a juicy story to fan the flames of vitriol and gossip” media had articles appearing on 1/28/2013.
The BSA acknowledged the situation and issued a statement which, one year later, can still be found online (http://www.scouting.org/membershippolicy.aspx):
Boy Scouts of America
Monday, Jan. 28, 2013
Attributable to: Deron Smith, Director of Public Relations
“For more than 100 years, Scouting’s focus has been on working together to deliver the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. Scouting has always been in an ongoing dialogue with the Scouting family to determine what is in the best interest of the organization and the young people we serve.
“Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.
“The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.”(1) [emphasis added]
Of course, the meeting’s agenda, now disclosed, brought many activists and scouters to Texas to camp at National’s front door, in view of TV cameras to deliver speeches, parade notable people from earlier press coverage and to drop off letters of concern, etc. In retrospect, I feel it was the beginning of a year of pain and division among BSA – regardless of which side of the issue you supported more vocally.
I also recognize that for many people, this was an exciting time — the possibility to end perceived (or real) injustices that had existed since the Dale verdict (or, arguably, longer). For them, scouting was never about adhering to one set of religious principles over any other set — religion (or non-faith) is a personal choice reserved for each individual and no one group’s beliefs should be forced on any individual.
For others, this wasn’t even about the membership policy itself — but the fact that National, after enduring firestorms of bad publicity multiple times would decide to host a meeting with a secretive (perceived) agenda to decide (unilaterally) such a big issue. Worse still, that their plan may have been to simply adopt the change with the following announcement — “The change has been made, learn to deal with it whether you like it or not”
While my unit was decidedly conservative in it’s views, the families were in shock that this could happen so swiftly and suddenly. If a change of this magnitude could happen with no notice, what else could change with no consideration of the family’s (or Charter Org) feelings and opinions. There was clearly a perception that “outsiders” had gotten to the board and that their opinion carried the only weight in the room (volunteers, parents and CO’s were of insignificance).
Phone calls, emails and letters were called for among social media groups on both sides of the issue — and a group of scouters representing major religious affiliations within scouting’s CO population who were also meeting in Texas on that fateful Monday had a chance to advise the board that change of that nature and magnitude should not be done in a relative vacuum.
Ultimately, on February 6, the 70 member executive Board announced that it needed “more time for a deliberate review” of the issues, perspectives and consequences of changing membership policies.
Aftermath, in hindsight
For some, this was a terrible set back — having hoped that in a three day meeting, the policy would have been changed by the board – quickly and decisively. For others, this was a call to arms with roughly 100+ days until the vote on May 23rd, 2013.
Regardless of which side a scouter may have supported, BSA would never be the same (for better or worse). Further, like the reverberation of a strongly struck bell, the echos and the ongoing changes continue to ring out a year later – possibly foretelling more changes yet to come.
I think scouting should be preoccupied with scoutcraft, woodcraft, camping and hiking, not sexuality or who tents with whom. Further, adults arguing over such matters tend to be inelegant — raising tempers and emotions instead of simply agreeing to “tolerantly” disagree (“tolerance” = “the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with” NOT social conformity which is coerced adoption of behavior that is the same as the behavior of most other people in a society, group, etc.”)
Perhaps the membership issues should never have become an issue all those many years ago, and perhaps those families (like my own) should have known better than to assume we could be truly welcome within BSA — courtesy, kindness, duty to God are all really just cliches or platitudes within BSA at this point — just words reserved for people who adopt to the social norm within BSA and agree to stop rocking the boat.
Perhaps faith aligned outdoor adventure clubs would have been a better choice for people who take their faith development seriously:
- Catholic Troops of St. George,
- National Conference of Synagogue Youth
- Pioneer Clubs,
- TBE Youth Programs,
- Royal Rangers,
- B’nai B’rith Youth Organization,
- Christian Service Brigade,
- Calvinist Cadet Corps,
- Royal Ambassadors,
- Trail Life USA,
- Federation of North American Explorers,
- Pathfinders USA, et.al.
Even secular organizations such as…
…where the absence of faith issues would have been clearer and less deceptive than BSA’s approach to religious life (i.e. you must practice faith to be a member, but you can never share your beliefs unless it is unoffensive to everyone around you). The resulting mish-mash ends up being a pantheistic philosophy of religion where scouts pray to the “East Wind” during OA ceremonies and even during interfaith (no-faith) chapels at camporees and summer camp facilities.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 – “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.
BSA has found that it is time to move on from where it has been. Will you follow their trail blaze, or select another route? Either way, this Eagle scout wishes you the very best as you set out to continue your journey.
(1) – In August, 2013, this statement was issued in a FAQ package from BSA – “Will local units be able to deny membership to youth based on same-sex attraction? No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of same-sex attraction alone. [therefore, charter organizations whose mission, principles, or religious beliefs are inconsistent with this policy must either surrender their charter or adhere to the new policy … in contradiction to the statement offered in January 2013.] reference — http://www.scouting.org/filestore/training/membership/pdf/Unit_Implementation_FAQ.pdf