At our troop's first meeting following the BSA's recent vote to change its rules regarding youth membership (see my 5/24/13 post), the ranking youth stood and conducted the opening. There was a prayer. The boys recited the Scout Oath and Law. A few items of business were discussed. Then I began teaching the classroom portion of the swimming merit badge.
We had a lot of discussion, engaged in some activities, did some assignments, and had some fun. I wrapped up my part. The ranking youth closed the meeting. There was a prayer. Then we all went home. Clearly, from the perspective of the young men in attendance, nothing had changed.
Bestselling author Jason Wright puts it this way in this article:
"The controversy surrounding this new policy isn't likely to be fueled by the young men learning to tie knots, fold flags and be good citizens. If negativity and distrust catches fire and spreads, it will come from adult leaders and parents who perhaps lose sight that it's not about press conferences, boycotts and bullying. It's about the boys."It seems to me that the BSA's policy change cannot help but invite challenges to its membership policy for adult leaders. (See Boston Globe article.) Only time will tell where this ends up leading. But that night at our troop meeting, none of that seemed to matter. There were only boys learning scouting skills as usual.
A friend that is a well seasoned Scouter is fond of saying that there is a difference between Scouting and the business of Scouting. Scouting is made up of the unchangeable principles, values, and virtues that form the basis of the program. Of necessity Scouting has a business arm that administers the movement's organizational and commercial elements.
Most of the youth and adults involved in the BSA program care mainly (and swear to uphold) Scouting principles rather than the business of Scouting. In fact, some feel, as does former Scouter Terry Howerton (in this Forbes article) that "the corporation that administers Scouting in America lost its moral compass a long time ago."
Howerton believes that excluding gays in the first place was immoral, while others feel that the recent BSA decision to allow openly gay (but chaste) youth members demonstrates the moral bankruptcy of the business arm of Scouting (see previously referenced Boston Globe article).
Howerton apparently would have preferred to let some of the BSA's largest sponsors quit the organization in 2000, essentially ensuring the demise of the BSA, rather than allow the policy of excluding gays to continue. Like minded people have concluded that the recent decision to permit openly gay youth members demonstrates that the longstanding ban on such members was not based on a firm moral footing, as had long been claimed.
Leaders of some conservative churches are advocating withdrawal from the BSA in the face of the new policy. Some believe that being openly gay is unacceptable, even if the person remains chaste. At any rate, being forced to accept such individuals into Scouting units sponsored by their churches is a bridge too far.
At least one activist is considering forming an alternative Scouting organization for churches in this boat. It could end up being the male counterpart to the American Heritage Girls, an organization that was formed as an alternative to the increasingly liberal Girl Scouts of America.
It seems ironic that some that have suggested that gays should form their own Scouting organization could end up forming their own sectarian Scouting organization instead. That may not be a bad thing. A monopoly on U.S. Scouting may not be the best thing for the movement. More choice may be better.
No, the controversy regarding the BSA and gays will not be going away anytime soon. The path forward is not clear. Still, week after week in Scouting units across the country, adult volunteers will continue to help youth learn and live Scouting principles.
Even if the business of Scouting dies or makes decisions incompatible with Scouting principles, the Scouting movement will continue because of the timeless values upon which it is built.
Update 6/3/13: See in-depth relatively balanced Washington Post article on this topic