An Overlooked Issue in the Boy Scouts Debate

Boy Scouts LogoThe debate about allowing gay leaders and scouts in the Boy Scouts has under-played a critical issue. I’ve been told that in some troops upwards of half the scouts are from single parent families, the vast majority of those headed by mothers. And these young people are from the neighborhoods in which local churches exist. They often walk to the building for troop meetings.

My colleague, Gil Hanke, General Secretary of United Methodist Men, which relates to Boy Scouts of America on behalf of The United Methodist Church, tells me “in a typical scouting program, 25% are from the sponsoring church, 25% are from other churches, 50% are from un-churched families.”

Scouting offers these boys interaction with a male figure, provides them with opportunities for learning and for skills that they likely would not have otherwise. Scouting is about values education, the development of a sense of personal responsibility and service to others. And, it brings young people inside the church building on a regular basis.

In my experience as a scout, this range of activities, contacts and values are exactly what I needed growing up in a family that was, at best, dysfunctional. As we moved about following oilrig locations in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Wyoming one of the constants in my life was Scouting. Scout troops were always located in a Methodist church in the small, dusty towns where we temporarily settled.

We moved every six months until I was thirteen and chose to go another way. This nomadic existence was simply a way of life for itinerant oilfield workers and their families, and for me, Scouting was part of the glue that held this transient life together.

It was also a window on the world through which I could peer and see a wider field of opportunities and a future beyond the hard labor of the oilfields. I went on camping trips, floated down rivers, worked on merit badges, and even went to the state capitol and met the governor. These activities expanded my life in significant ways.

Without Scouting it would have been a more difficult, less hopeful existence. I interacted with adults in a different way than in my family setting, which was not altogether positive and certainly not constructive.

A place of haven

When I hear local church leaders, especially pastors, say they will drop Scouting for the modest change that is proposed to allow gay men and scouts to participate at the will of the congregation, I’m perplexed. The church should be a place of haven for youth who are struggling with their identities. They should have the opportunity to come to know they are loved by God and by others. They should be provided the support necessary to see new horizons, have meaningful experiences and envision a newer, brighter future. Scouting provided this support for me.

Moreover, given the fact that Mainline denominations are in decline, it’s ironic that congregations would turn away from a program that serves needs of families within walking distance of their buildings; families experiencing hardship; families with young people in need of positive interactions with adults. Scouting is not designed to be a tool for evangelism, but it introduces young persons to values-oriented civic responsibility that is complementary to the teachings of the church, and it invites young people into the church building. Referring to Gil Hanke’s data begs the question: What church would not want to host a meeting each week in which half the folks present do not have a church home?

While attention is focused on churches that might leave Scouting if the ban is lifted, it’s also possible that churches that have not sponsored troops because of the ban might reconsider and make Scouting even more inclusive.

A modest move

There are ways to monitor adult interactions, conduct due diligence when selecting adult leaders and safeguard children. These are issues for all congregations regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of adult leaders. They’re pertinent for Sunday School, youth groups, choirs and other activities involving youth. So it’s difficult to understand why a congregation would consider banishing children in scouting from the building when it’s the mission of the church to reach out to them, especially when it’s so explicit in the teachings of Jesus that we are called to bring the little children to him.

The decision the leaders of Boy Scouts of America are considering is not a radical leap forward. It’s a modest half-step toward inclusion. But it’s one that should be supported and affirmed, for the sake of the children, boys and young men for whom Scouting is a helpful guide to a better adulthood.

31 Responses to “An Overlooked Issue in the Boy Scouts Debate”

  1. linda bales todd February 5, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

    Thank you, Larry, for an insightful article oozing with clear thinking and emphasizing the role of faith and the church. We have such a wonderful opportunity to embrace all boys and girls in faith-based organizations regardless of their sexual orientation or other aspects of their personhood. I appreciate your thoughtfulness on this topic. Blessings.

  2. Becky February 5, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

    A very well worded response to the issue at hand. I have never understood why churches would try to turn anyone away. If “sinners” aren’t allowed, its going to be a very empty building. Who are we to judge anyone unworthy of participation? I appreciate your thoughtfulness on the issue, and hope people will grow in their perspectives on this issue for the sake of the children.

  3. Jim Richards February 5, 2013 at 6:54 pm #

    Larry, this was a very poignant letter and I appreciate what you are saying about the outreach to kids outside the church but you are forgetting about something. What about the morally pure part? What about the fact that our Bible specifically speaks to homosexuality as sinful behavior? What about the fact that the United Methodist Church itself speaks out against it? Well meaning men like yourself have forgotten what Jesus said about being “salt and light.” In your desire for inclusiveness and “tolerance” you leave out the part about standing for truth. A think young men need to be told the truth.

    • Gene Hill February 5, 2013 at 11:27 pm #

      Don’t know which Bible you’re reading. In biblical times there was no word for homosexual. Most of the “clobber” passages people refer to are not talking about loving relationships but about gang rape or pagan temple practices. The UMC is wrong because Christ had only one instance where homosexuality could have been involved–when the Roman Centurion asked Jesus to come to his sick “servant”–which was incorrectly translated. The word was pais which in that culture meant male partner. Jesus used the event to teach his disciples they needed the faith of the gentile Roman!

    • Gene February 6, 2013 at 10:12 am #

      Jim, if only morally pure people were allowed to lead, we wouldn’t have ANY leaders. Gayness is only one of dozens of sins that the church addresses, and most of the others are worse. None of us are sin-free. Get to really know a few gay people, and usually you’ll find they are caring, peace-loving, generous, intelligent people. Just because their sins are different than yours doesn’t make them any worse or better than you. Hate the sin, but love the sinner.

    • Lanny J Garner February 6, 2013 at 11:19 am #

      Amen, Jim. To endorse homosexuality or any other sin in the name of inclusion sends a very confusing message. God loves those caught up in any sin, but Jesus dies on the cross to deliver us from sin’s hold. God bless.

    • Georgine Ent February 6, 2013 at 11:27 am #

      Jim, morally straight is the correct wording in the Boy Scout oath. In my opinion, (as a Scout leader for about 30 years), it means not sexual orientation but being honest in all your dealings with others. And, while we United Methodists do not allow gay pastors we are encouraged to be in ministry to all people. As far as I know, gays and lesbians are still people. The scouts have very good policies in hand to keep young people from being molested and so does the church. We can allow these young people into our churches, our scout troops and our hearts without putting our children at risk.

    • Mike February 6, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

      But our Bible also speaks to divorce and any number of other things as sinful behavior. If one accepts that homosexuality is a sin and thus disqualifies a person from inclusion in the BSA, shouldn’t one kick out every divorced/remarried Boy Scout leader, and, for that matter, any Scout or leader who commits any sin? My Bible tells me that ALL have sinned. So let’s be careful about applying the “the Bible says it’s sinful” litmus test, lest that pesky beam interfere with our desire to address the speck.

    • Elle February 6, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

      Jim, look up the definition of “moral”. Wait, I’ll do it for you.

      Moral (adj)1. Of or concerned with the judgment of the goodness or badness of human action and character: moral scrutiny; a moral quandary.
      2. Teaching or exhibiting goodness or correctness of character and behavior: a moral lesson.
      3. Conforming to standards of what is right or just in behavior; virtuous: a moral life.
      4. Arising from conscience or the sense of right and wrong: a moral obligation.
      5. Having psychological rather than physical or tangible effects: a moral victory; moral support.
      6. Based on strong likelihood or firm conviction, rather than on the actual evidence: a moral certainty.

      Synonyms: ethical – ethic – virtuous

      I short, sexual preference is not part of the formula. Being ethical is. Knowing right from wrong. The ‘straight” in the scout oath does not refer to sexual orientation, but rather to ethical and legal actions.

      Get over yourself.

  4. Scott February 5, 2013 at 9:25 pm #

    Larry you forgot one thing they want to allow gay leaders . I’am the methodist faith and I’m a scoutmaster at my church with a large troop and pack. As Christian we have water down the word of god know we want to allow anything we think feels right I believe there allow in churches to here the word of god but not as leaders of are faith base program. I feel strong if the methodist supports this in anyway I will leave the methodist church.

    • David Safely February 6, 2013 at 10:46 am #

      Thank you I agree 100%

  5. Jim Winkler February 6, 2013 at 7:47 am #

    Thanks, Larry, for an excellent post. In recent decades, Methodists have vowed to leave the church because it belatedly placed women in leadership and championed the civil rights movements. In each case, there were United Methodists who insisted the Bible would have it no other way. Let’s hope the Boy Scouts go forward with the proposed policy change.

  6. Jay Clark February 6, 2013 at 8:16 am #

    Great post Larry! Blessings!

  7. Chuck February 6, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    Thank you Larry! Very insightful and compassionately presented. As you point out, as the Mainline churches are in decline, why would any church turn away from a program that serves the needs of so many families? This could be a huge step forward for the Methodist to be an example of love and inclusiveness. Thanks again for your very wise words and showing us how we can be better examples of God’s love in action.

  8. David Safely February 6, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    My earlier response was to Scott. As a scout, I have long appreciated the Scouting Organizations stand against inclusion of Homosexual Leaders. I am still 100% behind the belief, men of that sexual persuasion should never be allowed to lead. It sends a message that it is an “acceptable” behavior. I can thank scouting for extinguishing some negative behaviors. We don’t need to start promoting them.

    Yes, I do believe in forgiveness, for we all fall short or there was never a need for Christ or the Cross. However, watering down the standard is not something Christ “EVER” did. He “forgave” then Admonished the woman caught in Adultery to “SIN” no more. Churches should not “exclude” the scouts, as it DOES send the WRONG message from a Biblical pretense. Forgiveness is imperative, but do it within the church. Boys need a SAFE place! I was assaulted by a Homosexual, when I was 16. I was not raped, because I believe my prayer to the Lord, as the event was unfolding, prompted him to send an angel to dissuade the man, from doing so. This man was a “soldier” Someone “I” should have been able to trust. We owe to our children that same TRUST, needs to be maintained. This is something the Scouting program, should NEVER waiver. In closure, I went with this soldier to a McDonalds, near where I had left my car. I shared the gospel with this soldier and told him I forgave him. I believe God wanted someone to give that “LOST” soldier a measure of GOD”S grace, to help him become free of that sin.

    Churches are places of sanctuary for healing, but they are also places where SAFETY is even more important, or you will loose someone possibly FOREVER. I was a fortunate one.

  9. Doug February 6, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    Not sure I understand your point that it’s a “modest” change. A homosexual worldview is much different and predatory than what I read in your article. If you don’t think there is a recruitment issue, you haven’t been around and been friends with the homosexual community. My sister has been lesbian for the last 35 years and would actively recruit girls on her ball teams and was good at it. When you only make up a small portion of society (regardless of what the homosexual community wants you to think, it’s 3-6% of the population) and you think everyone is out to get you, the ability to use a platform of scouts is a scary thought.
    Secondly, if having unchurched people come to your building is such a great way to reach them, why don’t you host the Rotary, Lions, Bridge Club, Toastmasters, Cheerleading Team, band boosters, basketball boosters, Car Salesmans club, Swingers club and any other group of people not normally associated with church. Your building just sets there. It’s a hollow point you make and makes me sad. Gay men, don’t need to be given free reign in the fertile ground of young boys lives!

  10. Bonnie Loudner February 6, 2013 at 11:34 am #

    I am so happy to read this editorial! It says what I wish I had written myself….I so am in agreement with everything he said. What always bothers me though is that churches that house Boy Scouts really miss a great opportunity by not getting involved with the boys personally. They patronize by allowing youth to bring in the flags on scout Sunday and feel real good about themselves. Even then as a pastor, I know that when it is announced the Sunday before, you can expect attendance to drop on scout Sunday. We, including myself should drop into scout meetings and even better, volunteer to mentor a young man or girl and find ways to share our faith and our lives with these kids. Yeh! …. Blessings to this bold writer!

  11. John Leek February 6, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    Thank you for your testimony to the value of scouting.

    It is a stabilizing influence in so many boys’ lives and provides excellent role models of real men, typically married, for soon to be young men.

    I don’t see the connection you seem to make between the current and past work that Scouting has done so well and the need to change it. Your hypothetical possibilities have not come to pass in other organizations that have chosen a more “modern” sexual ethic.

    This will not benefit American Scouting, if success is counted in clarity of purpose and number of boys reached, or our United Methodist Church.

  12. Inman Moore February 6, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

    Larry, thank you very much for your insightful article. It is refreshing for us to remember who we are and what we are called to do and that is to live in love for all humankind. I certainly hope churches will continue to sponsor Boy Scout troops, and i also hope the Boy Scouts will move with the tenor of the times and allow local decisions to prevail. Frankly, it is high time, we recognize that modern scientific knowledge reveals clearly that gays are like they are for the very same reason that many of us are straight. That is just who we are. May God bless us all as we continue to love one another.

  13. Don Van Zandt February 7, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    I am an Eagle Scout (1973 in Tulsa OK) as is my twin brother and my 20 year old son. As Christians we should be thinking dislike the sin, love the sinner. The issue here is the example set for the young people in the program. A Scoutmaster is not unlike a Youth minister in their interaction with kids. A Scout is reverent and although a specific faith is not referenced, belief in God is a principle interwoven throughout Scouting. I’ve served as a Scoutmaster, Assistant, Charter Organization Representative, etc. as an adult. The issue here is analogous to an alcoholic. We don’t hate alcoholics, but we don’t want to place them in leadership roles in working with kids if they are actively drinking. If, in fact homosexuality is a sin, then people who are actively homosexual are sinners. But then again, we all are everyday. The difference is that we don’t discuss our sins and openly advocate that there is nothing wrong with repeating them. So, it all comes down to the question, “Is homosexuality a sin?”. An openly adulterous Scoutmaster would most likely be removed by the Troop Committee as a negative influence on children. THIS IS NOT ABOUT “judging the adult”, it is all about whether or not we wish to validate their behaviors as acceptable and expose children to them.

  14. Herbert Rogers February 7, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    Rev. Hollon calls (this) a “modest change”. I was a 15 year member of Croswell United Methodist Church Scouts in Sumter, South Carolina (troop 342).
    We were not necessarily Angels…but throughout the 50′s, 60′s & 70′s we attended Church and/or Sunday School; that instilled in us a Fear of God and possibly even a degree of Holiness in our daily choices. The BoyScout Motto was actually lived!
    A homosexual conversation/acceptance would have NEVER even been thought-of..much less discussed; (those types) would have been avoided at all costs.
    Simply put..Irving, Texas has already lost this Battle, and needs to start-over with a real Baden-Powell type of Charter. New name? Why not…
    Both Episcopal & Presbyterians have been very successful in starting totally new churches over (this matter).

  15. Mark Dierking February 7, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    Thank you for this thoughtful article. As an Eagle Scout and Vigil Member I hope to become active again in an organization that was so important to me in my youth, but I haven’t had the “passion” for it because of its national policies.

  16. sandy harlan February 8, 2013 at 5:38 am #

    Well said, Larry.

  17. Fred Ayers February 9, 2013 at 1:19 am #

    “…modest change that is proposed to allow gay men and scouts to participate at the will of the congregation…”

    Modest change? The Supreme Court ruling in “Boy Scouts of America v. Dale” (in 2000) hinged on the recognition that opposition to homosexuality is a core value and part of BSA’s “expressive message” and that allowing homosexuals as adult leaders would interfere with that message. If BSA moves to local option, it will completely undermine the argument that this is a core value and a part of BSA’s “expressive message.”

    When the Boy Scouts of Canada made this very change in 1998, they lost 57% of their membership in the five years that followed. And the churches in Canada that hosted Scout troops were more liberal than the churches that host Scout troops in the US. So it is reasonable to assume that the loss of sponsorship and membership would be even greater here.

    So in reality, this “modest change” you are talking about would cause a massive defection in sponsorship and membership and make Scouting less available to the unchurched and single parent families you claim to be so concerned about.

  18. revbillpyatt February 11, 2013 at 9:26 am #

    Change is met with resistance. No surprise. As a Eagle Scout (1970) and UMC pastor for 35 years, I encourage BSA to drop the the “gay” ban and for UMC congregations to use this opportunity to reconnect to BSA to strengthen their outreach to families. The core issue is not sexual orientation of leaders, but a willingness to recruit, train and supervise leaders. It is unfair and incorrect to label all gays as potential child sexual abusers, just as it would be to label all Catholic priest as potential child sexual abusers. The core issue is how we reach out to our neighbors in Christian witness.

  19. peteryan February 11, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    Frankly this gay business is becoming a sickening thing, as an old scout, I am grateful to the moral and ethical teaching from the organization. Allowing gay scout leaders in to influence our youth is unacceptable, being a pastor, its not a biblical teaching we need to convey to our children or anyone else. We can be a witness without sidestepping God’s commands or trying to justify ones choice lifestyle. There is a time when one has to say “NO”.

  20. ROGER CUNNINGHAM February 12, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    I also grew up in the Methodist Church and Scouting. My parents were active in the church. Whenever Scouts were too loud for the church ladies and complained, my mother would ask, “were they in the church? Well, that is where they belong!” So, my image of the Methodist Church is this big mother that puts her arms around all of her children! While I don’t know that I was exposed to any ‘out’ males in Scouting, I wonder how safe it was that we would all climb into the back of a leaders pick-up truck and drive 5 miles over back country roads to the swimming hole. He was wonderful! And, also the town drunk! I loved Scouting, only made Star, Order of the Arrow, but would not exchange those experiences for anything. Scouting needs to get off it and embrace all boys!

  21. A R v W Drenth February 12, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    Isn’t there a certain amount of self-delusion going on here? Do you think NONE of the Scout leaders are gay now? It is more a question like – is ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ the best policy? I assume the events now emerging in the Roman Catholic church sensitise you to this issue, but are we to expect a flood of revelations like the instance from David Safely above? Or is he the exception which proves the general rule?

  22. Dennis Ebersole February 12, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

    Rev. Hollon, thanks for this thoughtful call to grace. But for all your commendable love for the sinner, there seems not to be enough hate for the sin.

    A better, more Godly compromise would be to permit Scouts who struggle with same-sex attraction while continuing to maintain the principled BSA position that homosexuality is incompatible with the Scout Oath and Law. Same sex attraction is neither a sin nor a moral failure. A gender-confused boy trying to understand his emotions has not violated the Scout Oath and Law. It is the conscious rejection of the male identity, the willing commitment to a homosexual lifestyle, and entry into homosexual relationships and behaviors that are sin, and that violate the Scout Oath and Law.

    I agree that BSA has a lot to offer a boy who may be struggling with same-sex attraction or gender conflict. In fact, the lack of a positive relationship with a father is widely considered by psychologists to be a significant factor in the emergence of homosexuality in boys. Adult Scout Leaders offer positive male role models for boys who might not have a father in their lives. But dropping the BSA’s principled opposition to homosexuality and its call to virtuous manhood does these boys no favors.

    Christian men have a duty to God to guide young boys and men to responsible, Godly manhood, and at the very least a duty not to encourage or celebrate sinful vice. The Boy Scouts can find grace without abandoning their moral compass.

  23. Dennis Ebersole February 12, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

    Many commenters find a double standard in the BSA policy for excluding boys for homosexuality but not for other violations of the Scout Oath and Law.

    But this is an apples to oranges comparison, which does not stand up under close scrutiny.

    The “avowed homosexual” isn’t a person who is trying to live a life of sexual integrity and fails through his human imperfections. He is a person who has succumbed to temptation, and having fallen repeatedly and habitually, has resigned himself to a life of unrepentant sexual sin. Rather than falling short of the standard, he has rejected the standard.

    Using a comparison with the parable of the prodigal son, it is the sinful son while he is still living a life of sin in the faraway city. Not the son who later “comes to himself,” leaves his life of sin, and returns to his father to seek forgiveness.

    When Jesus offered grace to the prostitute, He combined His mercy and forgiveness with the admonition to “go and leave your life of sin.”

    While BSA practices tolerance for other violations of the Scout Oath and Law, such as Leaders who drink excessively, smoke, have extramarital affairs, or boys who engage in premarital sex, struggle with addictions, have a problem with truth-telling, or obsessively overeat, NO ONE is advocating rewriting or reinterpreting the Scout Oath and Law to make those things acceptable. Those Scouts or Scout Leaders who fall to those temptations typically understand and admit their moral shortfalls, repent, and try to get themselves back on the Scouting Trail. Those who don’t should be and often are asked to leave the BSA.

  24. Gary Henderson February 22, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    I hate to see the Boy Scouts abandon their long-held beliefs and succomb to the political correctness of this world. Because I believe that unrepentent homosexual behavior is a sin I would have to stop supporting Boy Scouts as I have almost entirely stopped supporting the UMC (even though I grudginly go with my wife every Sunday to a UMC Church after I go, with much joy, to my Bible-Believing and Teaching Church at 8:00 am). We should be free to support or not support what we choose to and what meshes with our world views. Those of you who support the possible change in the Boy Scouts that is okay by me and I am not going to pass any judgment on you just give me the same courtesy and not pass judgment on me because I stand firm in my beliefs.

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