02/11/2013 01:00 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

The Boy Scouts and 'Interest Convergence'

Though the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) reaffirmed its ban on gay, bisexual or transgender scouts and scout leaders last year, talk was in the air that the BSA's National Executive Board was to make an announcement on whether it was willing to reconsider its previous stance. Recently, however, the board released a statement explaining that because of the controversial nature of the issue and the sharply divided opinion over the present policy, a decision would have to wait until May, in order to provide the board and local Boy Scout chapters more time for deliberation.

According to BSA's official position on homosexuality, "homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed." No one is advocating same-sex sexual conduct between scouts or between scout leaders and scouts, and anyway, the position statement confuses conduct with identity, because the organization also rejects people for membership on the basis of their identity.

Actually, no atheist or agnostic need apply either, given that BSA's "Declaration of Religious Principle" proclaims:

The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. ... The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members.

In fact, some 70 percent of local scout chapters have an affiliation with a religious denomination, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) and the Catholic Church, both of which hold positions opposing the inclusion of gay, bisexual and non-gender-normative members.

So why, after reaffirming the ban just last year, is the National Executive Board even considering a reversal? Quite simply, the board's policies have placed the Boy Scouts of America on the endangered organizations list. Since BSA reaffirmed the ban last year, major corporate donors have either pulled out completely or have severely reduced financial support. Such corporations include the Intel Foundation, UPS, United Way and Merck Company Foundation. Hundreds of thousands of people have signed various petitions asking BSA's National Executive Board to drop its discriminatory policy. In addition, around 65,000 scouts turned in their uniforms in 2012, bringing down the total membership below 2.7 million. Since 2000, the organization has lost approximately 21 percent of its membership.

In 2000 the United States Supreme Court affirmed BSA's right as a private organization to bar anyone, including gay, bisexual and transgender scouts and scout leaders, from membership under the First Amendment's "freedom of association" clause when "the presence of that person affects in a significant way the group's ability to advocate public or private viewpoints." The justices ruled that because BSA opposes homosexuality as part of its "expressive message," allowing gay and bisexual members into the organization would interfere with that message.

Interest Convergence

The late Dr. Derrick Bell of New York University Law School put forward the theory of "interest convergence," which held that white people will support racial justice only when they understand and see that there is something in it for them -- that is, when there is a "convergence" of the interests of white people with racial justice. Bell asserted that when the Supreme Court ended the longstanding policy of "separate but equal" in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, it was because the court wanted to present to the world, and in particular to the Soviet Union, the image of a United States that supported civil and human rights.

Let's take another example. On Feb. 13, 1849, LDS president Brigham Young instituted a policy, allegedly based on "divine revelation," that forbade the ordination of black men of African descent into the LDS priesthood; prohibited black men and women from participating in temple endowment and sealing ceremonies, which the church requires for the highest degree of salvation; and restricted black people from attending or participating in temple marriages. Young attributed this restriction to the sin of Cain, Adam and Eve's eldest son, who killed his brother Abel. Asked what chance there is for the redemption of African Americans, Young stated in 1849, "The Lord had cursed Cain's seed with blackness and prohibited them the Priesthood." But the 12th LDS president, Spencer W. Kimball, who served from 1973 to his death in 1985, reversed the ban in 1978 following another "divine revelation" and referred to it as "the long-promised day." However, we can ask whether it was really "revelation" or interest conversion that was the determining factor in finally granting black people full membership rights in the church, given that this was a time of ongoing and heightened civil rights activities in the United States and an increase in LDS missionary efforts throughout the African continent.

It's possible that the Boy Scouts of America's National Executive Board will likewise be touched with a similar "moral vision" after coming to a fuller recognition of how interest conversion affects the ultimate survival of the Boy Scouts of America.