Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Scout Leaders Becoming Disillusioned

I have discussed with a variety of people the topic of my recent post about the BSA's proposal to drop its ban on homosexual members for youth only, while maintaining the ban for adult leaders. I am concerned about an attitude of disillusionment that seems to be quite common among long time scouting volunteers with whom I have interacted.

These people have often given untold hours of service year after year—the kind of service you can't buy at any price. They have served willingly, doing everything from the lowliest grunt work to planning and executing major events. Frankly, if the entire network of scouting professionals shut down tomorrow, these volunteers would keep the program functioning.

As a friend of mine is fond of noting, there is a difference between scouting and the business of scouting. These people are scouting; the embodiment of its values and principles. The program would die without them, regardless of how many people work in the business arm of scouting.

But they are feeling worn down. Many seem resigned to the decline of the organization that they have loved and served for so long. They are especially disheartened by the BSA's willingness to back down on what it has long claimed was a vital tenet of the program. This seems like betrayal of core scouting values (like loyalty and bravery) that these volunteers thought could never be compromised.

These people do not see altering the membership policy as cosmetic surgery that will remove a blemish. They see it as a heart transplant that will change the very nature of the program, turning it into something unrecognizable to them.

I was at a large scout camping event over the weekend, where I rubbed shoulders with a goodly number of adult volunteers. Many are wondering whether they are doing any good. They have been willing to fight the good fight and have been willing to weather persecution. But what they see as betrayal from within has really taken the wind out of their sails.

One friend has served in many different BSA training programs and has run various events. I was surprised when he wondered out loud whether it was time to hang it all up. He and his wife have provided invaluable service for many years. Their sons have volunteered along with them and have spent summers working on scout camp staffs. Still, my friend wonders whether it's time to apply himself to some other effort that will have greater integrity.

Ouch. Boy Scouts are supposed to be models of integrity. But it looks to these volunteers as if the BSA has lost its claim to that virtue. This sentiment is strong enough to cause at least some dedicated volunteers to question whether they should scale back their service or even end their association with the BSA.

When I wrote my first post on this topic in January, I took a somewhat favorable view of completely dropping the BSA's current policy against gay members. My thinking is colored by the fact that I have a dear friend that has struggled with same-sex attraction his whole life, but that also was a tremendous BSA volunteer for years. He is still willing to help with challenging support tasks when asked. Why should he be excluded from scouting? We need more people with his qualities.

I now admit that there were many factors I did not consider when I wrote my first post. The BSA cannot operate without a strong corps of dedicated adult volunteers that are willing to work hard at their own expense. Diminishing or completely losing the support of these people would seriously harm the program and its ability to serve youth.

Perhaps, as I suggested in my previous post on this matter, the damage has already been done. If so, it may not matter much how the vote on the proposal turns out next month. At any rate, I hope that voting members of the national council seriously consider the impact the vote will have on the spectrum of volunteers that are the backbone for the organization.

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