My wife and I had a quick discussion once about whether our boys should participate in the Boys Scouts of America program.
Although we didn’t quite come to any conclusions, the topic has got me thinking more and more about what it means to be a Boy Scout (especially in Utah) and how I feel about the whole thing.
My oldest boy is turning 6 at the end of the Month and all of his friends are active church-goers (notice I didn’t call them Mormons), so his social development will soon depend highly on his involvement in such enterprises.
For example, on the Sundays he doesn’t go to church, he’s basically stuck with me (which is not a bad thing for him, yet) since none of his friends aren’t available to go, say, bowling instead. I love our Sundays together (we usually go ice skating) but I know, as he grows up, he might feel more inclined to attend church in order to be more involved in his social circle.
The Cub/Boys Scouts program in Utah is generally considered an extension of the LDS child’s role in the church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has a verifiable stronghold on the Boy Scouts of America through the highest numbers of membership and very aggressive fund raising.
They are the largest single sponsor of units (over 30,000) nation wide.
At face value, there is nothing really wrong with that; the Church obviously feels that the Scouting program is in line with good moral, psychological, and physical development goals for the youth of the Church.
It would be fine if it ended there, but there’s clear evidence over the years that the Church’s influence over the program (followed by other religions) has changed Scouting to mean something a little different.
In essence, it has prevented the Boys Scouts of America to progress its core values along with the rest of the world.
It is a known fact that the BSA does not allow gays and avowed atheists membership into its program and in many cases has called for the expulsion of leaders and revocation of membership due to this discrimination, which has led to many court cases all the way to the Supreme Court, most of which fall in favor of the scouts on the basis of freedom of association in the Constitution.
To make matters worse, the LDS Church has stated in the past that it will withdraw from the Scouting program if forced to accept openly gay Scout leaders.
Unlike its foreign counterparts, like Canada and most of Europe, the BSA has stood strongly against changing its policies against homosexuals and atheists to, I’m sure, the heartbreak and anguish of many of its prominent leaders and members.
In countries where homosexuality is legal, other scouting programs have sprung to allow homosexuals to take leadership roles and have been equally associated into the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WSOM).
However, efforts by other groups to start such organizations in the US have been consistently squashed by the BSA’s granted injunction barring the use of the terms “Boy Scout”, “Scout”, “Scouting”, etc.
According to their bylaws, “no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God.”
Since all members must recognize an obligation to God, that’s equivalent to saying that no NON-member can grow into the best kind of citizen.
That’s as ludicrous and unfounded as saying one can’t be good without religion.
Now, I don’t want to make this into a bigger issue than what it really is. They are a private organization to which no one is required to join, so they’re free to stipulate whatever standards they choose.
The Boy Scouts do plenty of good by their involvement in community services, fund raising, and educating our youth to be responsible and self-reliant citizens (and most importantly, keeping them busy and out of trouble).
But I hope the Boy Scouts of America can move forward and away from its religious-based dependence and adopt more universal and ethical standards of membership.
What if the BSA didn’t allow physically handicapped individuals into their program?
What about blacks or Hispanics?
The Equal Opportunity Policy of The Scout Association in the United Kingdom is an example of the direction towards which this side of the lake should be aiming:
“To enable young people to grow into independent adults the Scout Method encourages young people to question what they have been taught. Scouts and Venture Scouts who question God’s existence, their own spirituality or the structures and beliefs of any or all religions are simply searching for spiritual understanding. This notion of a search for enlightenment is compatible with belief in most of the world’s faiths. It is unacceptable to refuse Membership, or question a young person’s suitability to continue to participate fully in a Section, if they express doubts about the meaning of the Promise.”
It’s time we recognize we’re passing our prejudices and insecurities to our children and encourage our LDS Scouts to become Boy Scouts of America.