Progress. Slow and incremental, but progress nonetheless.
The Boy Scouts of America will accept openly gay youths starting on New Year’s Day, a historic change that has prompted the BSA to ponder a host of potential complications — ranging from policies on tentmates and showers to whether Scouts can march in gay pride parades.
Yet despite their be-prepared approach, BSA leaders are rooting for the change to be a non-event, comparable to another New Year’s Day in 2000 when widespread fears of digital-clock chaos to start the new millennium proved unfounded.
“My hope is there will be the same effect this Jan. 1 as the Y2K scare,” said Brad Haddock, a BSA national executive board member who chairs the policy implementation committee. “It’s business as usual, nothing happens and we move forward.”
Some churches are dropping their sponsorship of Scout units because of the new policy and some families are switching to a new conservative alternative called Trail Life USA. But massive defections haven’t materialized and most major sponsors, including the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches, are maintaining ties.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of fallout,” said Haddock, a lawyer from Wichita, Kan. “If a church said they wouldn’t work with us, we’d have a church right down the street say, ‘We’ll take the troop.'”
The new policy was approved in May, with support from 60 percent of the 1,400 voting members of the BSA’s National Council. The vote followed bitter nationwide debate, and was accompanied by an announcement that the BSA would continue to exclude openly gay adults from leadership positions.
Under the new membership policy, youths can no longer be barred from the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts or coed Venturers program solely on the basis of sexual orientation.
The membership debate was closely followed by local Scouts on both sides; some carried signs and held rallies outside the meeting place. But in subsequent months, the debate has quieted.
Bill Helfand, scoutmaster of Troop 55 in Houston, said membership in his troop has remained steady at about 225 boys.
“We never considered sexual orientation, and I don’t think many troops really did,” Helfand said. “I don’t know whether we had Scouts who are homosexual. I don’t inquire … It’s not a matter of concern.”
Helfand said the membership debate, while closely covered in the media, did not extend into his meetings with leaders and parents, besides occasional discussion of the policy at camp-outs. He says he hasn’t talked to any Scout about his sexual orientation and doesn’t intend to.
“I know that this is something that people felt was a momentous turning point for Scouting,” Helfand said. “Everybody I know has made Scouting available to every boy who wants it, and that’s what we continue to do.”
See here and here for previous blogging. I have to say, this less-than-full change has been less contentious than I thought it would be. That said, it’s also the case that the Sam Houston Area Council is not going along with the change, so the effect is is somewhat limited locally. And there’s still that ban on gay adults affiliating with the BSA, the justification for which eludes me, so there’s still work to be done. But credit where credit is due, this is a step forward and it does matter.
And on a related note:
However, some Texas parents and leaders have decided to switch to Trail Life USA, an alternative which declares itself “a Christian adventure, character, and leadership program for young men.” Among them is Ron Orr, a business consultant from the Fort Worth area who is signing up local units for the group.
So far, he said he has 25 groups “pre-chartered” for a Jan. 1 launch date in the territory covered by the BSA’s Circle Ten and Longhorn councils. That’s modest compared to the 39,000 Scouts served by the Circle Ten council alone.
Orr is part of a family with four generations of Eagle Scouts. His older son recently earned his Eagle rank and his younger son was on the verge of doing likewise. But Orr said he could not stand by after the policy change.
“As Christians, from a scriptural basis, we love all folks, but the scripture is very clear that being homosexual is a sin,” Orr said. “We’ve got to be able to hold a strong line and set a consistent example for our young men.”
Mr. Orr is quite wrong about what scripture says. I’m sure that he has been told that about scripture all his life, and clearly he is now passing that bit of folklore along, but it’s wrong. It’s true that there are a handful of clobber verses, which I’m sure Mr. Orr would point to if challenged on this. It’s also true that there are vastly more verses about wealth, possessions and the poor, including some strict prohibitions against lending money at interest, which folks like Mr. Orr tend to overlook. If you’re going to cite scripture as a rulebook, then it’s on you to follow all of the rules, not just the ones you like. If you’re going to pick and choose, I see no reason to take you seriously about it.