One day two years ago, my 11-year-old nephew asked me, "Uncle Kurt, where you ever in Scouts?" I replied, "I'm an Eagle Scout like your Dad." His eyes lit up and replied, "Really?" I replied, "Yes, and I'm proud of it."
But as he becomes more involved, I can't be involved anymore. The singular reason: I am gay.
For those not familiar with Boy Scouts, the Scout law is a set of traits taught to inspire the best in each Scout. In the Scout Handbook, a Scout is loyal: "A Scout is true to his family, friends, Scout leaders, school, and nation." However, a Scout is also obedient: "A Scout follows the rules of his family, school, and troop. He obeys the laws of his community and country. If he thinks these rules and laws are unfair, he tries to have them changed in an orderly manner rather than disobeying them."
How can I be true to my nephew and also obedient to the law prohibiting me from participating? How can my nephew be loyal to his gay uncle if he is also obedient to the exclusionary Scouting rule?
Some would call this ironic but, my answer to those questions comes from my faith as a Lutheran. Lutheranism began because Martin Luther wanted to change the systemic problems in the Roman Catholic church from within, rather than separate from it. The benefits of staying together as one outweighed separating. More recently, in 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) continued one of Lutheranism's founding principles by allowing partnered gay clergy to serve openly but not require any congregation to call a pastor they didn't want to call. This change was not easy and incurred significant debate.
Ultimately, the rules needed to be changed, because the policies were unfair. Qualified leaders, the future talent of the church, were being driven away based solely on sexual orientation or gender identity. It is important to note that before 2009, the ELCA had a policy of allowing openly gay members in churches, but they could not serve as a rostered leader unless they were celibate. This policy created a second-class status for gays and encouraged disloyalty within church leadership for those who were partnered. The church learned they had to be open and affirming to all, without exceptions, to truly be loyal to one another. In effect the church had to be obedient and change the unfair policy to allow for congregations to make up their own minds at the local level. Consequently, over the past three years, the ELCA has attracted members who would have never considered joining the Lutheran church.
As they meet this week, I urge the Boy Scouts of America board members to evolve their understanding on what it means to be loyal yet obedient. Not only should gay Scouts be allowed, but also Scoutmasters, parents and families of all configurations. If a policy of "local option" is chosen, I will watch with anticipation as the Boy Scouts of America will undoubtedly grow as an organization. We will be greater by staying together and help instill the values of Scouting to the next generation. My nephew is waiting.