The BSA "may" vote to admit openly gay youth this week, even as they affirm the ban on gay adults. They are "halfway there," but the thinking deserves serious attention.
The national organization of the BSA is dominated by powerful blocks of charter organizations that come from religious organizations which condemn homosexuality as a matter of creed. That is their right in a country which believes in freedom of religion. However, a significant minority of the national BSA pie chart is also made up of liberal religious units and civic organizations which uphold not only the equality of homosexuality in scouting, and often the morality of it as well.
It would seem that the BSA national board can either let the majority rule the morality question, thereby forgoing religious freedoms for the minority in their midst, or they can assert the priority of religious freedom and allow the question to be solved at the local level by individual charter units.
Scouts has decided to do neither. Instead, they will vote this week on a seemingly bizarre position with no amendment process nor any empowered and relevant debate. The decision will be to allow (or not) openly gay youth to be scouts. Openly gay adults will still be barred from membership or participation in the BSA - at least for now.
Clearly, the position is absurd. An 18 year old gay eagle scout will suddenly be banned from volunteering in his own unit as an adult. "Here's your Eagle. Congratulations. Now get out."
Similarly, the venturing program goes to age 21, and their gay scouts would be allowed to register for years after the other branches of scouting would have thrown them out. It is messy to be sure. So why do it this way?
First, the national board clearly has no intention of letting local units get in front of them and empower themselves to preach their own messages. This need for central control is contrary to the entire ethos of scouting. Scouting touts that the boys and the unit run an "inverted pyramid" at the grassroots level. So much for that.
It is also clearly contrary to the statement of Religious Principles of the BSA as I have often argued already. The national organization should be ashamed on these grounds alone.
But the real issue here is also money. The voting blocks of anti-inclusion units simply don't care - or worse may actually be happy - when liberal groups boycott scouting. There is a growing feeling that they do not want scouting's pluralist past to be its future. They want a homogeneous social fabric, even if it is smaller than it was, to avoid their children ever being exposed to things like - well - gays... but also liberal Jews, Episcopalians, or other similarly minded people. They want them out of scouting. And they are willing to shoulder the financial burden of the slimmed and purified movement that they are creating.
So why change anything at all? If they want to continue to alienate the rest of us, why not really antagonize us and reassert the policy at the youth level as they did last summer?
In fact, they may do that this week. The inclusion proposal seems to be slipping in the anecdotal polls. Yet perhaps there is hope that they have a reason to update the youth policy. The main reasoning follows:
By changing the youth policy to be inclusive, they are willing to forgive the perceived sins of the gay child, in hope that their message will buy time for the gay youth to reform themselves before turning 18. Some seem to feel that the gay child should be kept in the fold as an act of kindness, love and hope that it is only a phase - and what better than scouting to provide the moral context to help them grow out of it?
For the rest of us, it is small comfort to see "progress" expressed in this way. Yet, we should still hold our noses and vote yes on the compromise. Why? Because there is no second step unless the first step is made. Let's get the youth policy right. And then we will keep hammering at the adult policy from within as we move forward.
One brave council that I know of has made the following statement. I wish that my council and others would follow suit:
Patriot's Path Council Membership Policy Statement