Where Logic Meets Love

Should the Boy Scout Policy Change Be Considered Progress?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

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Should the Boy Scout Policy Change Be Considered Progress? | Faith Permeating Life

Last week the Boy Scouts of America voted to end their ban on gay Boy Scouts, a ban that has been in place for decades and that was even upheld by the Supreme Court 13 years ago. Boys will no longer be excluded from troops or denied earned Eagle Scout awards because of their orientation (or at least they shouldn't be under new Scouting policy).

The organization did not vote on whether to change its ban on gay scout leaders, so that policy remains in place for now. I think it's important to remember that they didn't vote on this -- although the choice not to vote on it says something in itself, it's still different than if they'd voted on both and had different outcomes for scouts and leaders.

In the progressive circles in which I tend to run (and read), there has been a definitive split in people's reactions to this news.

On the one hand, I'm hearing things similar to what Amy at Unchained Faith said: "Either you're ok with gay people or you’re not; let's not have this wishy-washy crapola passing as 'progress.'...this is not a step of progress."

Then there's people like Kimberly, a gay woman who writes at Coming Out Christian, celebrating this news: "Alleluia and praise be! The Boy Scouts of America have agreed to allow openly gay boys as members!!...I am so grateful for this step you have taken. Though I wish you could have gone one step further to welcome gay leaders, I do understand where you’re coming from."

On Facebook, a friend posted that many conservative groups are pulling support from the Boy Scouts of America as a result of the decision to allow gay scouts, and encouraged her friends to consider donating to BSA to show them that they'd made the right decision. One person commented that BSA wouldn't get a penny from them until everyone was welcome, as scouts and as leaders.

Can you guess where I stand on this?

On both sides of this argument, everyone agrees that gay (and lesbian, bisexual, and transgender) individuals should be allowed to be Boy Scout leaders. So we'll start from there. Just like in the contentious issue of abortion, the question (at least within these progressive circles) is not one of right or wrong, it's about the most effective approach to get BSA to allow gay leaders.

So as I see it, the two basic arguments are as follows:

Argument 1: Even though we wish BSA had gone further with their inclusiveness, we are happy for the step that's been taken. We need to celebrate and show support for BSA so they'll see that they did the right thing in allowing gay scouts, and will therefore be more open in the future to voting on and allowing gay leaders as well.

Argument 2: If we celebrate this change in policy and congratulate BSA on what they've done, they'll think they've managed to placate their critics and that they don't have to do anything further. The split policy of half-acceptance will remain in place, and gay leaders will be out in the cold. We need to show them that we won't be happy until everyone is welcome, and then they'll be more willing to vote on and allow gay leaders.

I find a few problematic assumptions with argument 2. One is that BSA made the change solely or mostly to silence the critics who were insisting BSA change its policy, pulling their financial support, returning their Eagle awards, etc. I think this ignores the fact that there were vocal critics on both sides -- those unhappy with the current policy, and those threatening to pull support if the policy was changed -- and that the vote was 61% to 39%, so there was division within the organization about the right path as well. And it was a vote -- it was not a single head person caving to public pressure or saving public face with the media.

Even if this were the case, that BSA was making decisions primarily based on public opinion, reacting negatively or not at all doesn't make sense for working toward the inclusion of gay leaders. There has already been a strong negative reaction from those who think BSA should not have allowed gay scouts. If people who are unhappy there wasn't a vote to change policy on leaders also withdraw or withhold support of BSA, then the larger picture from the organization's perspective is going to be: Allow gay scouts = Drop in support from all sides. I just can't see how this would somehow create a strong incentive for the organization to also allow gay leaders.

But mostly, I reject the argument that progress isn't progress unless it's perfect progress. Looking back through history, it's clear that positive change for any group has always been made one step at a time. The gaining of some rights is not made meaningless by the rights still lacking, and it hasn't stopped people from fighting for further progress.

This policy change is not perfect, and it's not complete. But it will have a real, positive impact on thousands of children who were once told they were not worthy of being a Boy Scout, and are now told that they are. It is a change that has meaning for those who completed their Eagle Scout projects and were denied the awards they'd earned because of their sexual orientation.

Acknowledging progress does not mean you've stopped fighting. Celebrating the new inclusive policy on scouts does not mean I'm giving up on leaders, hanging up my hat, and saying, "Good enough." It only means that I'm happy to acknowledge a milestone reached on the road of progress.


  1. I have a good friend who is gay and an Eagle Scout. I strongly support this change. Most Boy Scouts are far more accepting of gay scouts than many of their parents.

    I hate that scouting has become so politicized. No matter how much the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts try to stay politically neutral, somebody is going to be angry. Most often this is conservatives who are trying to shelter their children from the evil world.

    But the saddest scouting story isn't about gay Boy Scouts, but about one family I know. All the boys are into scouting, the older two are Eagle Scouts. The girls BEGGED their parents to be in Girl Scouts, but the parents won't let them because of some nebulous connection between some national Girl Scout leaders and Planned Parenthood (both organizations deny any affiliation) that got whipped up into a frenzy on the internet.

    What these girls have learned is that Christianity is about always saying no. This sheltering will inevitably backfire, yet the parents are too caught in their own little world to realize it.

    1. People often compare Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, but they really are quite different organizations, most notably for the Boy Scouts' emphasis on faith in God where the Girl Scouts are not faith-affiliated. Growing up in Seattle, I was in Camp Fire, which is also a non-faith-affiliated youth organization that's now open to both boys and girls. There are several different organizations like this, so I think each person has to figure out what is most important to them about joining an organization -- the structure, the prestige, the values, the rules, etc.

      I'm more comfortable arguing for larger, prestigious organizations to be as inclusive as possible than for individual families to participate in organizations they're not comfortable with, though of course that doesn't help the particular girls you mentioned who are so drawn to Girl Scouts. My guess is that, even absent the supposed Planned Parenthood conflict, parents who are that restrictive about "anti-Christian influences" might take issue with Girl Scouts' inclusiveness of atheists and agnostics, whom Boy Scouts do not welcome. It is a shame when Christians are so fearful of people and ideas different from them that they would restrict more and more, rather than trusting that their Truth holds up to scrutiny.

  2. Though I still have some reasoning/intellectual issues with the legalization of gay marriage, I just don't think Christ would have excluded gay boys were he the leader of the group. So I'm okay with this decision.

    I guess for some Christians, the reaction might be fear of other ideas, but I know that when I encounter some idea or belief that seems to fly in the face of everything I know and hold dear, especially when I find myself understanding and even appreciating that position, it's really an issue of integrity. I say to myself, "Well, that makes sense, but not in the Christian view of things, and being Christian is very important to me, so how am I supposed to integrate these things?" It's more about me feeling that if I subscribe to a certain idea that is not part of what is most important to me, I'm not an upstanding person. That may be illogical, but it is the emotional reaction provoked in me. So I suspect that may be the case for others as well.

    As far as the Planned Parenthood thing goes, a quick search of the Internet shows Nancy Pelosi talking about the partnership between them and a Girl Scout executive discussing some sort of link, to what extent I am unsure. There is the possibility that Pelosi was mistaken and that something the executive said got taken out of context. The GSA web site denies affiliation. Even so, I don't know that the whole GS/PP link is simply made up, but I would need to do more research on it. To err on the side of caution, I did not buy Girl Scout cookies this year.

    1. I say to myself, "Well, that makes sense, but not in the Christian view of things, and being Christian is very important to me, so how am I supposed to integrate these things?" It's more about me feeling that if I subscribe to a certain idea that is not part of what is most important to me, I'm not an upstanding person.
      I can understand that feeling. The Catholic school where we live is going through discussions right now about making a change that, while it would technically still be congruent with Catholic teaching, could cause some people to say, "How can you do this when you're a Catholic university?" So while I understand students' frustration that this change that seems so logical and right to them is not being made yet, I try to help them understand that this is also very much an issue of identity and integrity and I understand why administrators are proceeding cautiously.

  3. I can definitely see your point, and I wholeheartedly agree that 'progress, not perfection' is the most productive way to look at these issues. That said, I've stayed out of the BSA decision publicly, because although I am *deeply* grateful that gay scouts won't face heart-rending choices about staying closeted or leaving the organization, it's personally affecting that I would still be unwelcome if I wanted to get involved in my nephew's troop. I can't get enthusiastic about this decision because of that.

    However, I've only got tenuous connections to BSA - for people who are more directly involved, I can see how they might welcome this incremental change wholeheartedly. (As a girl scout from way back, I've always just been a bit bemused at BSA's overall conservatism.) It's a poor parallel, but I was definitely happy when my city began its domestic partner registry. It's a far cry from marriage (around 95% of the benefits of marriage are still unavailable, it's only valid in our city, and as a policy, it's nowhere near satisfying my desire for equal treatment under the law). But it's something, and it's more than we had before.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, alice. I hope my post didn't imply that it would be wrong to feel hurt or disappointed that LGBT leaders are still banned from the BSA; I still very much hope they will change their policy on that. I just wanted to say that being hurt by the ban still in place doesn't invalidate the progress that has been made for those scouts who can now be included, and I think you got that. Your analogy about the domestic partner registry is exactly what I was trying to say -- it's still not right, and it's not a good end point, but that doesn't mean you can't be happy about it or that it's not a step in the right direction.

    2. Jessica, I definitely didn't think your post was implying that there's only one 'right' way to feel about it - absolutely the opposite! I wanted to share my POV because it's one that I haven't seen all that often in the discussions about this. (Most people I know who are unhappy are focusing on the more abstract fact that the decision isn't complete, rather than the personal ramifications of what the ban on adults *means.*)

      Nuanced reactions to news like this feel like they're few and far between these days, which make me appreciate spaces like this one all the more! While I like Facebook and Twitter, shorter posts tend to result in rather absolutist statements.

    3. I understand, and thanks again for sharing your perspective. I agree that it can be hard to find nuanced responses to current events, which is why I try to create a space for that here :)

  4. "But mostly, I reject the argument that progress isn't progress unless it's perfect progress." Well said.


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