Tonawanda News — The Boy Scouts of America convened its national meeting this week, in part to ponder its relevance in the 21st century, specifically its attitude on inclusion.
Gay Scouts is something of an oxymoron, discounting and ignoring the needs of a minority, and an organization such as this one likely must display extra vigilance when it comes to certain adults preying upon, and not leading, its membership. But a challenge is something a Scout is taught to embrace.
There are Scout troops throughout Kenmore and the Tonawandas. Troop 539, sponsored by Kenmore Presbyterian Church, has a long history; one of America’s oldest, it was organized the month after the Titanic sank. I’ve met many local Scoutmasters, worked with Eagle Scouts, spoken at their banquets and ceremonies. Good people, fulfilling community service in ways unlike any those of any other group, and I am pleased they and I are associated.
Easing the ban on gay Scouts is a coming out of the closet for the Scouting movement. From what I understand, it was motivated, at least in part, by protests from gay groups; from straight Scouts and Scout leaders leaving in solidarity, out of principle; and a crimp in the donation pipeline from several large and serious underwriters. The anticipated change of policy, though, is more like kicking the can down the road.
Something of a home-rule policy is anticipated, with individual troops deciding who is welcome under the tent and who isn’t, presumably with the counsel of the sponsoring agency, and that’s often a church wrestling with a similar issue. Although the Scouting movement is non-denominational, the influence of religion is a strong one. Scouts can be found at American Legion halls, schools and municipal governments, but it’s typically a church, even a mosque, which sponsors the core unit of Scouting.
Personally, I can accept Scouting without gay Scouts — it’s their organization, to be run by their rules, and if they choose to fade into irrelevance, so be it. I prefer their acceptance of the world in which they reside and working to improve it, and that means including the young and gay, and leaders who are gay.
It is my understanding, though, that troops will choose their own policy, deciding whether to remain exclusionary or to offer the advantages of Scouting to all, something like the wrenching decisions affecting many of those churches with which they align themselves.
So, some will stay the course, others will determine their policies according to external and local factors. A noble, if small and grossly overdue, step.
There is no talk, though, of opening up the joys and advantages of Scouting to the irreligious. Scouts pledge to uphold their “duty to God,” and proclaim pursuit of 12 virtues in their oath (“A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, friendly, courteous ...”), the last being “reverent.” The non-reverent, meaning atheist or agnostic or otherwise not dead solid strong in their relationship with God, are as unwelcome as the gay.
“The Boy Scouts of America does not define what constitutes belief in God or the practice of religion. Membership in a religious organization is not required.” That’s straight off the Scouting website. It nonetheless demands a thoughtful connection between the prospective Scout, or Scout leader, and God.
And if that connection does not exist? Find another organization, kid.
Among the honored groups in America that do not require evidence of an applicant’s bond with God are the United States Army, nearly every sports organization and the voting registries. The non-believer is welcome there, but not at the Boy Scouts of America.
We live in changing times, fortunately, and ours has seen a diminishing relationship between faith and morality. Prevailing issues of trust, capability and honor are linked less and less to religion, the way race and perceived disability count less than other characteristics of a person’s character. We can go a lifetime not caring of, or even knowing, a neighbor’s religious preference, but we know if he or she is a good neighbor.
The Boy Scouts of America, a noble enterprise with a mission and method unlike that of any other group, now wrangles with a topic most organizations resolved 10 or more years ago, and I wish it well. Its next challenge will be, I hope, to incorporate another valuable pool of talent, thus far not included, which can find the life lessons of Scouting useful.Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident whose column appears Fridays in the Tonawanda News. Contact him at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.