Monday, June 03, 2013

Boy Scouting: Toward Fewer?

I have been puzzling about sentiments expressed by people that are or have been connected to the Boy Scouts of America as expressed in my 5/24 and 5/31 posts. I have also been considering my own response to the recent vote to allow openly gay but chaste youth to be members of any BSA unit.

After talking to more people and considering various perspectives (including some outlined in this Washington Post article), I am beginning to believe that what has upset current and former Scouters and BSA supporters is the diminution of the BSA brand. As part of its exploration of the recent vote, the WaPo article states:
“To be a ‘Boy Scout’ — even that phrase is a metaphor for all that’s good,” said Jay Mechling, an American studies professor at the University of California at Davis who wrote a history of the Scouts. “It was this steady drip of things. Each time something happened, it kept nibbling at the Boy Scout brand.”
I mentioned a friend in my 4/23 post who opined before the vote that it really didn't matter what the BSA did at this point because the Boy Scout brand had been irreparably damaged through its handling of the controversy.

The more I talk to people, the more I realize that people on both sides of the issue are unhappy that the recent vote took place at all. Those advocating for a more liberalized membership policy toward gays are upset that the BSA didn't drop the policy long ago in the name of fairness and equality. Those that feel that dropping the ban amounts to a basic violation of core principles cannot comprehend how such principles can even be considered something that can be voted on.

Many on both sides have expressed the opinion that the BSA would not find itself in its current mess if only it had acted differently back in the 1990s when the controversy over gays first became a serious issue.

One side imagines that fully accepting sexually active gays would have resulted in expanding rather than contracting membership rates. Never mind the fact that many of the BSA's largest sponsors would have abandoned the organization had that liberalization occurred.

Another side envisions a return to the 'don't ask, don't tell' days of yore when gays were content to keep their sexual preferences secret rather than seeking acceptance. If only the BSA had done "the right thing" back then, we'd still have those blissful 'don't ask, don't tell' days now. As if Boy Scout culture could somehow operate in a time capsule apart from cultural changes.

"If only" thinking can be useful for developing lessons learned. But living in "if only" land is a dead end. It provides no way forward. Unlike the recent Star Trek movies, we do not get to live in an alternate reality. We have only what is, not what could have been.

The question is where to go from here. As mentioned in my 5/31 post, some conservative churches may opt to develop their own Boy Scouting program. For those that are LDS, the choice is fairly clear: follow the church's general leaders or forge your own path in either open or subvert rebellion. Withholding support may be better than open vocal opposition, but this is a difference of degree rather than type. I assume that many involved in liberal churches or secular sponsorships will push for greater change.

While some say that the path they are choosing is a choice for greater inclusion, it is more likely that all of these paths will prove to be more exclusive than past BSA policy. Liberals see the commandments taught by conservative churches as invalid and unacceptable. Traditionalists see the liberal gospel of social justice as opposition to God's commandments. Each side pursuing its understanding of morality will necessarily exclude the other side.

Each person that cares about Boy Scouting will have to figure out where to go from here. It is important to note, however, that the number of those that do care about Boy Scouting is declining rapidly. Each must act quickly if the BSA is to be saved.

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