Last month, while the nation put aside its petty arguments for a brief moment as it reflected in fear and grief over evil, the Boy Scouts of America released proposed changes to the membership in their organization. The proposal preserved the ban against openly gay adult leaders, yet removed any restrictions concerning the sexual orientation of youth members. This is a change from the blanket restrictions on youth and adult leaders alike. As a result, many people in the largely conservative organization are considering the proposal an acquiescence to the gay lifestyle, and are failing to see the fine print in the proposed resolution of the Boy Scouts of America.
With this change, the Boy Scouts allow youth of any sexual orientation into their organization, yet clarify that, as an organization built on youth leadership, young men guide themselves in their moral development, with the assistance of the organization. Because their main intention is to teach, however, they cannot take sides in the culture wars. This is to the chagrin of all those on both sides of the gay rights issue who sought to push around the organization. For them, it would be enough that the Boy Scouts of America, as a cardinal establishment of American life for the past century, either endorse the wider movement for gay marriage and gay lifestyles, or to preserve traditional sexual values.
Instead, the Boy Scouts of America took a step back, making sure not to lose the forest for the trees. What must be first involved in any debate over an active gay sexual lifestyle is an examination of a general sexual lifestyle. This is one thing for adult members, who may be married. However, for youth in the Boy Scouts, necessarily unmarried, an active sexual lifestyle isn’t even part of the equation:
“AND WHEREAS, Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting;”
This provides insight to those both in favor of and in opposition to an active gay sexual lifestyle. The conversation that should be had about gay and lesbian youths in the Boy Scouts, especially for those who have religious beliefs on the issue, does not even concern homosexual acts. Does a youth’s mere statement that he is “gay” constitute an immoral act? Yet, for an organization built on pedagogy, this may still be a problem, since the current policy dissuades even such an utterance.
So then what is sexual orientation for youth in the Boy Scouts? If a young man of fifteen tells a person he’s a Major League Baseball MVP, that person would reply that he has longer to go on his journey, and may discover he is to become a businessman, or a lawyer, or work in any number of other professions. Similarly, if a Boy Scout were to claim he is gay, as many of our youths do today, the response should not be one of alienation or affirmation, but one of expectation for their future sexual growth in holistically, healthy moral lifestyles And for those wanting to bring children to a better understanding of the sexual complementariness of men and women, this is the only true option that allows freedom. So the resolution says:
“WHEREAS, youth are still developing, learning about themselves and who they are, developing their sense of right and wrong, and understanding their duty to God to live a moral life”
And, to the dismay of advocates who are looking to use the Boy Scouts of America to preserve or reinforce the active gay sexual lifestyle, they are denied the opportunity. The active gay sexual lifestyle does not exist in the Boy Scouts of America, even as they refuse to bar members due to sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is reconsidered, rather, as a developing and changing aspect of the human being. Youths who call themselves gay or lesbian are not defined, for the rest of their lives, as gays or lesbians, but have opportunity to grow in their moral characters. If the gay lifestyle is defined by living it in full—an active sex life as a gay man or a lesbian woman—then the Boy Scouts, even in allowing members of any sexual orientation to join their organization, are not endorsing the gay lifestyle in America. Nor are they giving a notion that they want to campaign openly against it. In fact, the Boy Scouts of America reminds us that we don’t completely understand the mystery surrounding someone living in flux concerning sexual orientation. At the same time, by preserving their policy on adult leadership they still emphasize the complementary sexual image of man and woman.
The issue is poorly treated in the American political dichotomy that fiercely argues between a liberalization of marriage and a preservation of traditional values, an arena where the focus is placed on campaigning, not understanding. If we are so busy “defending moral values,” we need to not be afraid at stepping back and seeing if such “values” do engage true morals. In the Boy Scouts, the treatment of immoral acts has been taken entirely off of the table; instead what is recognized is an aspect of a young man’s development that must be guided, not banned.
Within the mad political rush we forget very simple things about young men growing up in America and in the Boy Scouts: they aren’t tools for our campaign, and, though we should be mindful of their development to a certain extent, we must let them strengthen themselves within the moral challenges of their generation. They must develop their own cultures in a world where culture itself, reduced by a vicious culture war, has ceased to exist as a viable and understandable force.
For all of my life, even as a Boy Scout and Eagle Scout, I grew up hearing from my parents’ generation that “they had it easier” and that “we have it harder” when it comes to temptation and moral growth. The difference between our generations is one of globalization, where things like Facebook cause us to realize that we live in a world where we are surrounded by people we disagree with. However, Boy Scouts isn’t meant to be sheltered from such globalization, but should be a place where young men can learn to be leaders and culture builders despite moral challenges. I, as a Senior Patrol Leader, a youth leadership position, led a group of wayward, varied, and sometimes annoying young men to advance in learning. Now I, as a friend and a potential father, find myself called daily to lead others of even wider differences, not the least of which is that of sexual orientation. For a Boy Scout to develop into a steady moral man, and to flourish as an Eagle Scout, he should be given such an opportunity to learn. To bar him from membership would contradict such pedagogy.
So the Boy Scouts should make us look foolish. For when we encounter a youth who says he is gay, we should not react by banning him. We also shouldn’t react by crowning him king of the next generation. Rather, we should address him as we have addressed every generation as they have encountered their challenges: “Continue to grow, learn, and discover the true, good, and beautiful.”