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Rev. Emily C. Heath Headshot

An Undesirable Role Model Prays for the Boy Scouts

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Today it was reported that the Boy Scouts of America are considering a change to their long-held policy which bans gay boys from serving as Scouts, and which bans LGBT adults from serving as Scout leaders. As the Scouts have faced increased public pressure after denying an openly gay Scout his Eagle Scout award and forcing a lesbian mother to stop working with her son's Cub Scout pack, it has become increasingly clear that the Scouts are not keeping pace with current attitudes about LGBT people.

My own experience of local Scouting organizations has been very positive. The church I pastor is a charter organization for two Boy Scout units, a Boy Scout Troop and a Cub Scout pack. The parents are great, the kids are enthusiastic, and the leaders are hard working. And I know a lot of them disagree with the current national stance of the Boy Scouts of America.

Every year, though, that policy hits home for me in a particular way. There are forms that each adult leader must fill out in order to be an official volunteer. As the pastor of my church, the chartering organization, I have to sign off on each one attesting to their moral fitness to serve as Scout leaders or badge counselors.

But the funny thing is that while the Boy Scouts trust that I have the moral fitness to determine the moral fitness of others, they do not trust that I have the moral fitness to be a Scout leader myself. The reason, simply, is because I am gay. And, as the Boy Scouts argued to the Supreme Court in 2000, "homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts".

Does anyone else see the irony here?

My LGBT friends give me a hard time for being willing to work with the Boy Scouts. And, I get why. But, I also believe that for the boys and the young men of my area, this program has changed lives in positive ways. I do not wish to stand between the young people I know who love Scouting and the opportunities that Scouting offers to them. Nor do I wish to not be a part of the effort to change the Scouts from the inside. So each year I sign that paper and feel the bittersweetness of it all.

Part of the Boy Scouts resistance to leadership from gays and lesbians comes from the old, long dis-proven, idea that LGBT people will sexually abuse children. Despite all the scientific research to the contrary, despite the fact that most same-sex pedophiles identify as straight, and despite the fact that if that's the real fear then lesbians shouldn't even be a part of the discussion, the Scouts have refused to evolve.

Meanwhile, conservative religious movements and political groups have turned the Scouts into a political football, and celebrated them as their idea of a moral organization. But I don't believe a moral organization would turn gay parents away from volunteering with their kids. And I don't believe a moral organization would teach young people to work hard and then not treat them the same as everyone else. And I don't believe a moral organization would make kids feel like they were second-class citizens. A lot of other people don't either. But that hasn't been enough to persuade the Boy Scouts. At least not yet.

And so, young men like Ryan Andersen, a Scout in California whose record is impressive enough that any Troop should be proud to claim him, finishes every requirement to be an Eagle Scout and then ends up being denied because he is gay. And young men like Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout with two lesbian moms, is forced to demonstrate the leadership skills he learned in Scouting by calling out his beloved organization over their policies. And in troops and packs across the country, boys and young men have to choose between hiding who they are in order to participate, or coming out and getting booted out.

The sad thing is that, at their core, I believe the Boy Scouts are better than this. I believe that because I have seen Scouting at a local level, and it is a positive movement. Which means that when it comes to the real moral issues of our day, questions of respecting everyone, ending bullying, promoting service to others, and building up community, the national leadership of the Boy Scouts could be drawing upon their core values to help lead the way. Instead, they have stopped fighting for young people and have instead been fighting for an old, outdated, and dangerous policy.

And in the end the Boy Scouts will either change, or they will become a hopelessly out-of-touch anachronism. The decline in national membership (42 percent over the past 40 years by some figures) might be a harbinger of what is to come. When you lose sight of the mission, when you lose sight of the fact that you exist in order to strengthen the lives of all the kids that you serve, you lose your legacy, no matter how storied it might be. The Scouts don't have much time to either do the right thing and claim that legacy, or to lose it forever.

In the meantime, this pastor who in the world of Scouting "does not provide a desirable role model" will just keep doing the paperwork and praying for change.