The Boy Scouts of America's 1,400-member National Council voted yesterday (61-38%) to drop the BSA's ban on openly gay youth members. (See actual text of resolution, Benjamin Wood article, David Crary and Nomaan Merchant article.)
The policy change officially begins on January 1, 2014, but most consider it immediately effective. Under the new policy, sponsoring organizations are required to accept openly gay but chaste youth into their BSA units. Gay adults are still prohibited; although, this operates on more of a 'don't ask, don't tell' arrangement. Technically, adulterers and fornicators are also excluded from BSA membership.
In a USA Today op-ed Wayne Perry, current president of the BSA strongly backed the new policy, calling it "the right decision for Boy Scouts." He also emphasized that the new policy "reaffirms our core belief in doing one's duty to God," condemns any kind of sexual activity (heterosexual or homosexual) by Scouting youth, and "prohibits the use of the organization to promote or advance any social or political positions or agendas."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the largest sponsor of BSA units and members, issued a statement approving of the new BSA membership policy for youth. Quoting from the church's Handbook 2, the statement notes that the new policy more closely aligns with the church's policy that "young men … who agree to abide by Church standards" are "welcomed warmly and encouraged to participate." In a comment that may seem surprising to some, the statement further asserts that "Sexual orientation has not previously been—and is not now—a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops."
The church's website notes that "A letter signed by the First Presidency of the Church is being sent to all Latter-day Saint congregation leaders throughout the United States. The letter will include the reaffirmation of Church policies and standards referenced in today's public statement." I suppose that those that attend LDS Sacrament meetings in the U.S. can expect to hear this statement read from the pulpit on a Sunday in the near future.
But rank-and-file members of organizations don't necessarily easily accept everything that comes from the organization's head office. "I withheld my fairly generous annual donation to Friends of Scouting this year," one LDS businessman recently told me. "I decided to wait to see what the BSA does with this proposed policy change. I have nothing against gays, but I don't want to give to an organization that backs down on its principles."
He's not the only one. I have heard this same thing from more people than I can count. Many of them have probably been giving only a few bucks each year, but lots of people times a few bucks adds up to a lot of money. BSA councils in conservative regions may find themselves struggling for donations.
A Scouting buddy that has been an extremely dedicated volunteer feels demoralized. "It seems like evil wins over and over again," he glumly stated. "What I see going forward with the BSA is more steeply declining rates of involvement."
Again, he's not the only one. I have looked into the faces of many longtime Scouters in recent weeks. Their enthusiasm is way down. They are still doing their jobs, but with far less energy and zeal than in the past. Some have gone into the mode of just filling the spot for now, looking forward to the time that they will be replaced. I surprisingly heard from some serious Scouters sayings like, "Maybe it's time to hang it all up."
What I see in these (former) donors and despondent Scouters is a sense that their side is losing the culture wars. Some longtime LDS Scouters are very disappointed in the Church's handling of this issue. They're not sure what to make of reassurances from church headquarters on the matter
Some think (actually, some have been thinking for two decades) that it's only a matter of time before the LDS Church drops the BSA program and institutes its own program. In anticipation of this imaginary moment they fail to magnify their present callings.
Statements from the BSA and the LDS Church read as if the matter of gays having membership in the BSA has been resolved for the long term. But it's difficult to see how that can be. Many gay activists have made it clear that, having gotten part of what they wanted from the BSA, they are ready to double down to get full involvement for gay adult leaders. They have made it clear that they will not stop pressuring the BSA.
Many have opined that the moment a young man with same-sex attraction that has been an outstanding scout turns 18 and wishes to register with the BSA as an adult leader, there will be fireworks that will give activists a powerful human interest story to bolster their campaign to drop the ban on homosexual adult leaders.
When traditionalists admonish gays to start their own youth programs instead of trying to change the BSA, they have a comeback that strongly resonates with people. They note that this smacks of the whole "separate but equal" clause that applied to segregation of blacks and whites for decades. It was legal, but it was not moral.
On the one hand, the BSA president's op-ed says, "The BSA makes no connection between sexual abuse and homosexuality." Other official BSA statements have supported the idea that having gay leaders would not lead to more abuse problems.
On the other hand, 70% of BSA units and members are sponsored by religious institutions. Many of these churches view homosexual activity as sin. It is one thing to experience same-sex attraction. Everyone experiences all kinds of temptations. All people give into temptation on a fairly regular basis. But embracing or seeking to normalize what churches teach that God has proclaimed as sin is another matter altogether.
BSA leadership may feel like kowtowing to political correctness, but it is difficult to see how conservative churches could accept sexually active homosexuals as Scouting leaders. BSA officials have said that this would simply be a bridge too far.
Yesterday's action by the BSA will not put this controversy to rest. If anything, it will simply fan the flames. The BSA may wish to step back from this front of the culture wars, but it can't. A twist on an old proverb goes, "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you."
If activists cannot get the BSA to change according to their desires, they will be satisfied to destroy the organization. Demoralizing devoted volunteers may be just the ticket to that destination.