Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Will LDS Scout Units Soon Be Able to Have Gay Scoutmasters?

In very interesting news, the Boy Scouts of America has announced that it is considering dropping its long held policy against the admission of homosexuals to its ranks (see AP article). The policy change could come as early as next week when the BSA's national board meets on February 6.

I can think of only three possible reasons that the BSA would venture to make a pre-meeting announcement of the potential policy change: 1) they are certain that the policy will change and they want to get people used to the idea, 2) to pressure some of the undecided board members to scrap the controversial policy, or 3) some of both 1 and 2. At any rate, it seems that maintaining the current policy after announcing that it might be changed would produce a much worse result than just keeping mum on the topic.

To be clear, the new policy would not automatically allow homosexuals admission to any BSA unit. Rather, membership acceptance criteria would be determined at the unit level (except for those the BSA considers potential child abuse risks). This would allow parents to place their sons in BSA units that fit the parents' ideals.

While the change will certainly please many homosexual rights advocates, it is unlikely that these advocates will see the change as sufficient, given that the BSA will not prohibit units from excluding homosexuals. Rather, sponsoring institutions will be permitted to establish BSA membership policies "consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs." If the BSA is seen as bowing to the pressures of secular society, you can be certain that the policy change will only invite more pressure to adopt more secularist values in the future.

An interesting question is how the various religious groups that sponsor the bulk of BSA membership will respond to the policy change.

The LDS Church, which is the largest sponsor of BSA units (47%) and membership (23%), has said that it is aware of the potential policy change, but that "it would be inappropriate for the church to comment" on the matter until it is formally notified that the BSA has changed the policy.

The article omits any mention of United Methodist Church, the second largest institutional sponsor of the BSA (14% of units and 20% of members). But a statement from the General Commission on United Methodist Men comes across as very supportive of the policy change.

The BSA's third largest institutional sponsor, the Catholic Church (which sponsors 11% of units and 15% of members) also refused to comment on the matter for now. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops merely said that it hopes that the BSA "will continue to work under the Judeo-Christian principles upon which they were founded." That could either mean that it opposes or welcomes the change, depending on what is meant by the broad term, "Judeo-Christian principles."

Other religious groups not mentioned in the article include the Presbyterians (BSA's #5 sponsor behind the PTA), and Lutherans (BSA's #6 sponsor). But the article makes it clear that at least some Baptists (BSA's #8 sponsor with 5% of units and 6% of members) are definitely unhappy with the proposed change. Some Southern Baptist leaders have said that they might encourage congregations to consider switching from the BSA to other youth groups if the change is adopted.

Presumably the BSA has sounded out the feelings of sponsoring organizations regarding the proposed policy change. At least some of the statements made by religious groups seem to bear this out. If so, it would seem that the largest sponsors are comfortable with the change and that the BSA is willing to risk the loss of some smaller sponsors.

Some LDS Church members have opined that the church designed its Duty to God program to replace scouting when BSA becomes too secular. As discussed in this LDS Scouter blog post, however, church leaders have repeatedly affirmed the church's intention to continue to strongly sponsor scouting.

I can't help but wonder if the LDS Church is not only prepared to accept the BSA's proposed policy change, but is advocating for it. In light of the church's recent affirmations that it is completely acceptable for church members to have same-sex attraction (see church's website) as long as they are chaste, and LDS apostle Elder Dallin H. Oaks' recent general conference statement that it is wrong to ostracize those dealing with same-sex attraction, it seems that the church is now interested in including homosexuals in all of its programs, including scouting.

After all, how does a bishop say to a worthy young man with same-sex attraction that it is acceptable for him to join his peers in an Aaronic Priesthood quorum on Sunday, but not to join them in scouting—"the activity arm of the Aaronic Priesthood"—during the week? Is a faithful LDS husband and father that happens also to be gay to be excluded from ever serving as a cubmaster, a scouting advancement chair, or a Varsity coach?

I discussed this matter with a friend at a meeting last night. My friend saw my point on the inappropriateness of excluding youth dealing with same-sex attraction. But he could not imagine that the LDS Church would countenance self identified gay men serving as scouting leaders. While this will seem bigoted according to secular principles, in my friend's mind, same-sex attraction is a disability of sorts. He opined that same-sex attraction ought to prevent men from serving as scouting leaders just as some other men are unable to serve in such positions due to physical or mental impairment.

It seems certain that the BSA will soon be announcing the policy change. It will be interesting to see how the BSA's major religious sponsors respond. Being Mormon, I am particularly interested to see how the LDS Church responds to the policy change.

Unlike some, I can definitely see the potential for a lot of good to come out of the BSA's policy change. However, I can also see the potential for secularists to see the change as a green light for them to pressure the BSA to make greater concessions that I doubt would be welcomed by the BSA's largest religious sponsors.


MainTour said...

It looks like the BSA is actually adapting the most recent change in LDS Church policy towards gays.

The big reason for the change is the money. Donations from all major corporations is drying up very fast on both a national and regional level.

The BSA gets more money from large corporate donations then from any of the churches you mentioned.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Re MainTour:
You are of course correct on the matter of corporate donations. I wanted to mention that in my post, but I had already waxed too long winded.

But corporate donations aren't everything. They exist only because BSA has members. Where would the BSA get its membership if all of its religious sponsors pulled out?

The matter of BSA membership is a larger matter that warrants its own post. Secular media like to make it look like the long decline in BSA membership is primarily due to its unpopular moral stances. Perhaps this could be said to be true in an indirect manner.

I think, however, that data show that declining BSA membership has more to do technology advancement and the expansion of activities vying for the discretionary time of youth. Boy Scouts used to provide a platform for social connection and advancement before the evolution of electronic social media and other activity opportunities.