FIRST-PERSON: The sad transformation of the Boy Scouts of America
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) -- The comprehensive scope of the moral revolution America is currently experiencing is likely to surprise many Americans when they realize that the Boy Scouts are now swept up in the revolutionary tide.
Word came Monday (Jan. 29) that the Boy Scouts of America is poised to change its policy preventing the participation of openly homosexual scouts and leaders. According to a spokesman for the Boy Scouts, the group may make the formal decision to end the policy as early as next week.
This announcement comes just six months after the B.S.A. board declared that it would not reconsider the policy. Deron Smith, B.S.A. national spokesman, said last July that a special committee established by the B.S.A. board had unanimously recommended keeping the policy. Smith said that the committee "came to the conclusion that this policy is absolutely the best policy for the Boy Scouts."
Back in July, B.S.A. chief executive Bob Mazzuca told the press: "The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers and at the appropriate time and in the right setting." He also said, "We fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society."
Note carefully the language used by B.S.A. leadership just six months ago. The decision to maintain the policy barring openly homosexual members and leaders was "absolutely the best policy" and was supported by "the vast majority of the parents of the youth we serve." The special committee had been unanimous in their recommendation to keep the policy.
Now, just six months later, the Boy Scouts are ready to announce a complete revocation of that policy. Deron Smith, the very same spokesman for the group, said Jan. 29 that the new policy "would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address the issue." He described the new policy with this rather stark language: "The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under the proposed policy the B.S.A. would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs."
What the B.S.A. is actually floating is a complete revocation of the national policy, but not an immediate reversal of the policy. The national policy prohibiting openly gay leaders and scouts will be rescinded, but no national policy including openly homosexual scouts or leaders will be put in place -- at least not for now. Instead, the B.S.A. will offer what amounts to a local option. Each governing council and troop would come up with its own policy, in consultation with the more than 100,000 sponsoring bodies.
The Boy Scouts have been under mounting pressure. Even when the board announced no change in the policy last July, two prominent board members, Randall Stevenson, CEO of AT&T, and James Turley, CEO of Ernst & Young, openly called for the board to reconsider. Both lead companies considered friendly to gay rights and both were themselves under pressure from gay rights advocates.
In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America had a constitutional right to set its own membership standards. As recently as 2004 the group adopted a policy that stated: "Boy Scouts of America believes that 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."
The new policy announced yesterday is almost sure to please no one and to lead to disaster for the Scouts. Those pressing for a reversal of the national policy are not likely to be satisfied with a local option. They had demanded a national policy mandating the full inclusion of homosexuals throughout Scouting at every level.
On the other side, those who wanted the current policy to remain in place will now have to reconsider any relationship with the Boy Scouts. The scale of potential membership loss to the Boy Scouts of America is staggering. Conservative religious bodies sponsor the vast majority of Boy Scout units. Mormons lead with more than 37,000 units and 400,000 boys involved. United Methodists place second, with 11,000 units nationwide. The Roman Catholic Church sponsors more than 8,000 units. Add Southern Baptists and other evangelical groups to the mix and you can see the scope of the challenge the Boy Scouts will now face.
The Boy Scouts will soon face the same challenge seen in much of the United States military. The conservative segments of the population most opposed to the normalization of homosexuality are also the segments that have historically provided the vast majority of those who volunteer to serve in the military. The Boy Scouts of America is prepared to surrender to massive public pressure and to set itself against the majority of its own members. Remember that just six months ago the B.S.A. chief executive said that the current policy was supported by "the vast majority of the parents of the youth we serve."
Those parents and sponsoring organizations, including thousands of churches, were no match for the political clout of the gay rights movement. This should serve as a sobering indication of the cultural momentum behind the current moral revolution -- the reversal in one generation of a moral consensus that had endured for thousands of years.
The new local option policy cannot stand for long. No organization can endure a moral option on an issue of such consequence for long. Sooner than later, a national policy requiring the full inclusion of homosexuals at every level will be put in place. Those demanding such a policy will continue their demands, while those opposed are likely to retreat from Scouting altogether. You can count on an exodus by churches and many sponsoring bodies. Furthermore, the same pressures now brought against the Boy Scouts at the national level will simply be shifted to local units.
Perhaps the most sobering aspect of this sad development is the fact that speaking of sexuality in moral terms is already so culturally awkward. Less than a decade ago the Boy Scouts of America declared that 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." Now, the group intends to have no policy at all, and never, "under any circumstances," dictate a position on the issue.
This is a carefully calculated effort to avoid public disaster in a time of moral revolution, but it will not work. It looks like what it is -- an evasion rather than a policy.
The Scout Oath reads: "On my honor I will do my best, to do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight." As recently as 2004 the Boy Scouts of America declared homosexual conduct to be "inconsistent" with that oath. Just six months later, all that is to be swept away.
Faithful Christians are left in the excruciatingly difficult position of maintaining fidelity to moral judgments revealed in the Bible while the culture around us races in the opposite direction. While the Boy Scouts use language like "morally straight," the church uses its own language of sin, grace and obedience.
I write as a former Boy Scout, who retains great love and admiration for Scouting and all that it has meant to generations of boys. This new policy will transform the culture of the Boy Scouts. This is exactly what those who demand the policy change are expecting. As the announcement made clear, this is no small alteration or adjustment.
The new policy to be adopted by the Boy Scouts of America represents a revolution in what that esteemed organization understands "morally straight" to mean. We should not let that pass without taking notice of what that revolution will eventually bring about -- nothing less than a reversal of what morality is understood to demand.
R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at his website, AlbertMohler.com. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).