On Thursday local chapters voted on a policy resolution to admit openly gay youth into the ranks of the Boy Scouts of America.
This has been an ongoing debate -- one that reached the Supreme Court, which decided to uphold the right of the Boy Scouts, because it is a private organization, to discriminate against admitting gay scouts as well as gay and lesbian scout and den leaders. The new policy would still preclude gay adults from serving in positions of leadership, but the resolution would mark a major victory for gay rights supporters throughout the nation. The issue is, defining the victory.
During the first few months of my new pulpit in Sacramento, Calif., in the mid-1990s, I attended a meeting in which senior statesmen of the congregation were gathered. I was charged with working with community groups to host an interfaith Scout Sabbath worship service. Many of these leaders proudly wore the Eagle badge and shared great memories of what Scouting meant to them in a completely interfaith experience.
Our scouting Sabbath became a big event in the city, and we created a community-wide college scholarship fund for excellence in religious programming. Just as that program took off, my own movement of Reform Judaism took the lead in opposing the Boy Scouts when they declared they would not accept gay scouts or gay and lesbian adult leaders. Needless to say, it created a real problem in our congregation, and eventually we had to pull away and relinquish Scouting Sabbath -- much to the disappointment of the older generation in our temple.
This is one of many stories of disappointment and hurt on all sides of the Boy Scout issue, as a result of a policy of discrimination that has tarnished the integrity of this organization for young and old alike. In order to understand the position of the Scouting organization and why they came out to be so forcefully anti-gay, one must understand the power of the religious community in the national organization.
Today, there are basically 25 faith traditions represented as Chartered Organizations in Scouting. The top religious denominations based upon the Boy Scout's of America's own statistics are the Church of the Latter Day Saints -- with by far the largest percentage of scouts and scouting chapters. The next groups are the United Methodists and then the Catholics. There are other very conservative religious denominations of Christianity, as well as Jewish and Islamic chapters of Boy Scouts throughout America.
Many of these religions contain theological teachings that do not accept homosexual behavior as equally sacred as heterosexual expressions of sexual activity. At best, these conservative interpretations of their doctrines put forth a viewpoint that says something like, "accept the sinner but reject the sin." In the case of the Boy Scouts, not even that kind of wiggle room is possible to find a place for Boy Scouts and Gay and Lesbian adult leaders in their ranks.
So now the national leadership has finally recognized that the gravity has shifted away from them, which means that society has started to see their policy as out of touch and disconnected with the basic tenets of common decency in America. The vote was to be taken by the 1,400 national governing council members to determine if this policy prohibiting gay scouts will be lifted.
Scouting has played a vital role for America's youth. It has a long and distinguished reputation and deserves to be a bedrock organization in the life of the nation.
Why is it that the Girl Scouts of America do not seem to have a problem with sexuality issues and do not get involved in discriminating against anyone on the basis of sexual orientation? It was about time the leadership of the Boy Scouts overcame their fears, open their hearts and let all kids who want to be scouts join their ranks.
There is so much good that can be done by bringing people in and showing them that the values of scouting apply to all who follow the rules of scouting, which makes our country a better place. The truth is that in these times we need every mechanism we have to build a strong and unified fabric in this country.
To maintain this policy of discrimination against gay youth and adults will only divide America against itself.