I am proud to be an Eagle Scout. I am equally proud to be an openly gay man. In fact, I attribute my many years in Scouting -- first as a Webelos, then as a Boy Scout, and finally as a camp counselor -- as helping me to come out, and to be honest with the world about who I am.
The first principle of the Scout Law is to be trustworthy. That means telling the truth -- even if it might be uncomfortable or inconvenient -- and living with integrity. By contrast, the closet, or hiding one's sexual orientation, is the opposite of living a life of trustworthiness.
Recently the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) set off a firestorm of controversy when they suggested that they might revoke their national ban on openly gay Scouts and leaders. Under the proposed change, local troop sponsors would be able to decide whether or not to enforce such a ban in light of their own mission and values.
Right-wing Christians have been particularly vocal in terms of objecting to this change in policy. For example, in the name of preserving traditional moral values, a number of organizations took out an ad in USA Today and urged their supporters to flood the BSA's national office with calls and emails and to object to any change in policy. Gay people, according to these organizations, should not be allowed into Scouting.
As a former Boy Scout, I believe that the religious right is wrong on at least two counts.
First, this debate is not about whether or not gay people should be allowed into Scouting. Why? Because there have always been -- and there will always be -- gay people in Scouting. I was a gay Scout, my husband was a gay Scout (albeit on the other side of the country), and many of my friends from my Scouting days have since come out as gay. Indeed, it has long been rumored that Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, was himself a gay man.
Second, this debate is not about sexual morality or preserving traditional values. Rather, it is about the larger ethical question of whether gay people -- who, as we have seen, are already involved with Scouting -- should be allowed to live in a trustworthy manner and to be open and honest about who God has created us to be.
What does it mean to be "morally straight," as the Scout Oath teaches us? As a theologian and a seminary professor, I believe that being "morally straight" is much more than just a matter of sexuality. Rather, it is about living one's life truthfully and mirroring the ways in which God has been trustworthy to us.
For Christians, God is trustworthy because God has come out of the divine closet. That is, God comes out of the closet in the incarnation by fully revealing Godself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, if we are to take God's coming out seriously, then we too must come out of our own closets.
Indeed, as I have argued in my book From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ, the closet can be understood as sin, and coming out can be understood as grace. Sadly, many people who deny their God-given sexualities -- as in the case of self-hating religious leaders who are deeply closeted -- often end up harming the very people who have been entrusted to their care.
Looking back on my time with the Boy Scouts, I am grateful that they taught me many things, from tying square knots to overturning a capsized canoe to using an old-fashioned magnetic compass to performing skits in front of a campfire. Most importantly, however, I am grateful that the BSA taught me the virtue of trustworthiness.
I hope that the national leadership of the BSA will be true to the Scout Law and the Scout Oath when they vote on the national ban in May. Boy Scouts of all backgrounds and orientations should be taught to live in a trustworthy manner and to honor who God has created them to be.
And for many of us, that means living openly, honestly, and proudly as gay people.
Follow Rev. Patrick S. Cheng, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/patrickscheng