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The Boy Scouts & The Gay Question

Daniel Mattson - published on 02/04/13

A Catholic Eagle Scout with same-sex-attraction argues for the Boy Scouts' original vision

“It speaks to every heart its message of duty and honor:  ‘Be Prepared’ to stand up faithfully for Right and Truth, however the winds may blow.”  These were the words with which Sir Winston Churchill described the enduring message of the Boy Scouts in an essay honoring Sir Baden-Powell, the founder of the organization. These words are needed now more than ever before, as the national leaders of the Boy Scouts meet this week in Dallas to discuss their longstanding policy banning openly gay men and boys from participating in the organization. The winds of political pressure will be blowing fiercely in Texas this week at their national convention from all corners: a petition of a million plus signatures has been dropped off at the national headquarters advocating the change; corporate funding has been threatened to end if the ban stays in place; and the honorary President of the Boy Scouts of America, President Obama, has weighed in on the subject as well.  As a Catholic Eagle Scout who lives with same sex attraction and is committed to Catholic moral teaching, I have great interest in what they decide, and believe that upholding what is right and true means refusing admittance to any boy or man who chooses to live a life of active homosexuality, which I believe is opposed to the very principles of scouting, and is in direct conflict with the final promise of the Scout Oath of living a moral life.

I will soon attend my nephew’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor.  He is the third generation of Scouts in my family, and the fifth member of my family to achieve scouting’s highest and most elusive rank.  Though my father never achieved the rank of Eagle, all four of his sons achieved the rank through his help and urging.  Scouting was invaluable to him.  As a boy without a father, growing up in the years following World War II, the men in his troop invested in his life, modeling for him what it meant to be a man who focused on the principles contained in scouting, summed up in “the Daily Good Turn” – the scouting version of the Golden Rule.  More than this, they became father figures for a boy longing for a dad of his own.  For my brothers and me, scouting opened the door to wild adventures in the great outdoors, and the camaraderie of the brotherhood of boys and men.  It was a place where we were pushed out of our comfort zone, always urged to go the extra mile.   We met admirable men at our merit badge appointments, learning how to interact with others by engaging with them, and learning to answer their questions respectfully and intelligently.  We learned how to speak publicly, how to lead a group of fellow boys, all skills which served us later in our careers.  And perhaps most of all, we were urged to live lives in keeping with the call of the Scout Law and Oath to help others, with respect and dignity.

Despite the desire of many in the public to view the Boy Scouts of America with pride of ownership, and as much a part of the American public sphere as baseball and apple pie, the organization is not a public entity.  It is in essence a religious institution focused on instilling Christian ideals of virtue and character in its members.  As Sir Baden-Powell famously once said, “Scouting is nothing less than applied Christianity."  First among the duties of the Boy Scout is the duty to God.  Though scouting is open to members of all faiths, the principles espoused are Christian and the prime duty of each scout is to live a life in keeping with the Scout Law.

As a Catholic, I have come to view the twelve points of the Scout Law as another version of the Ten Commandments.  “A Scout is Obedient” relates to the command to honor our father and mother.  “A Scout is Reverent” links to the first commandment, and so on.  The Daily Good Turn is Christ’s call to “love others as yourself.”

It is on this last point I think where the Boy Scouts of America’s position on homosexuality intersects Catholic thinking on the subject, and why I believe all Catholics and Christians of good conscience should make sure that their voice is as loudly and as forcefully felt as the winds of political pressure that are currently attempting to topple scouting’s core commitment to the principles of Right and Truth. Within a Christian anthropology of man, seen through my lens as a Catholic, loving others as myself demands that my love be in accordance with how I would love myself, if I fully understood my nature as being made in the image of God, and by extension, knowing what is truly beneficial for me.  That is the measure of loving another as myself and the gauge upon which this is measured comes to me through divine revelation and the teachings of the Church, in conjunction with the dictates of the natural moral law.  As a man who lives with same sex attraction, and who has come to embrace the teachings of the Catholic Church on sexuality as liberating, I now realize that I would not truly be loving another man if I chose to be in a relationship with him.  It is contrary to his good, and mine, and as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, active homosexuality can never be approved.

The resistance of homosexuality within the Boy Scouts of America is usually portrayed through the lens of political ideology.  It is pilloried as an act of bigotry, prejudice and homophobia and the ultimate sign of backwards thinking.  As an organization with Christian roots, the BSA is concerned with building boys into men, made in the image and likeness of God.  It is concerned with self-sacrificial love and the Christian ideal in dying to oneself, in the name of love. Within Christian thinking, this is why homosexuality is forbidden – not as a denial of one’s perceived deepest longings, but as a call to the truth of our deepest nobility. In the context of the Scout Oath and Law, it is linked with the virtue of cleanliness in mind and spirit, and in reverence to God and our bodies, and finally, in obedience to the moral dictates of Christ.  Ultimately, the prohibition against homosexuality both within the Catholic Church and within the BSA is the diagonal opposite of hate – it is love of the highest order.

This battle, then, is the battle in which the leadership of the BSA must test its mettle.  I hope that they live up to the standards of one of the most important tenets of the Scout Law.  As my original Scout Handbook explained to me thirty years ago, “A Scout is Brave” means that he “can face danger even if he is afraid.  He has the courage to stand for what he thinks is right even if others laugh at or threaten him.” In spite of political pressure, or fear of lawsuits, or fear of loss of corporate funding, or the disapproval of the President, how will the leadership of the BSA respond? 

The final decision apparently has been delayed until May, while this week will feature discussions about the topic.  There is still time for people who care about the heart and soul of the Boy Scouts to have their voices heard.  I know the five Eagle Scouts in my family will make our voices heard at the national level.  Parishes and other churches who host scout troops must become proactive and counter those who would change the core Christian values of scouting and its founder.  We must not be moved by sentimentality, played out in the media highlighting those scouts who may threaten to rescind their Eagle rank if the ban stays in effect, or the scout who was asked to leave after forming a gay straight alliance at school, or the scoutmaster who is openly gay already.  Let your voice be heard if you are a scout like me who is justifiably concerned about the future of scouting if the national leadership gives into the political pressures being exerted on them.

The leaders on the national level must not be moved by fear of what will happen or what might be.  I hope they will stand their ground.  Perhaps if they do, the organization will lose the esteem it once had, or lose membership, or lose funding, but this would not be bad in my mind. It reminds me of what Pope Benedict predicts will happen to the Catholic Church in its future:  it will become smaller, have less prosperity, less respect and influence in the public sphere, and yet will be more true to its roots, and thus more beneficial to those in its ranks.  This would not be a bad future for the Boy Scouts of America. In my estimation, it would be far better for the BSA to bravely stand up for what is Right and True, and suffer as a result than to prosper, losing its soul in the process.  Sir Baden-Powell’s memory will be desecrated if the Boy Scouts of America becomes just another victim in the long line of venerable institutions who cower under the political will of the homosexual lobby. My message to the leadership and to other scouts like me: Let us be brave. Make your voice heard.

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