I wrote in late January about the Boy Scout of America's plan to allow openly homosexual scouts into the program and urged them to follow through on that. Several months and revisions to the plan later, the BSA did just that. 61% of the 1,400 voting members of the national council voted to allow openly homosexual boys into the BSA. Rachel Miller addressed a lot of the thoughts I raised in my earlier post and I figured it was time to more fully and publicly explain and defend my position.
As an Eagle Scout, Scoutmaster, and troop chaplain, I still believe that this is the best course of action for the BSA. I am aware of the logistical complications of this policy shift, but I do not do my theology based upon logistics, though they may inform how I implement them. I certainly do not speak for my troop, but the reasons for my position now are the same as they were back in January: Boy Scouts is about discipling sinners so they look more like Jesus and disqualifying boys from joining or ejecting them on the grounds that they are sinners is not helpful to that cause. That is not to say that lack of repentance is permanently tolerable, but that the mere discovery of someone's sinful state should never be grounds for disqualification from discipleship.
Without a functioning definition of what it means to be homosexual it gets difficult to understand what the discussion is about (the BSA did not define it, so each council/troop/sponsoring organization functionally had a limited amount of discretion). Homosexuality can mean anything from actively practicing homosexuality, to embracing an attraction to the same gender, to acknowledging an attraction to the same gender, to exploring hormonal impulses that lead to very temporary same-sex actions. I am operating from the perspective that all of those qualify as homosexuality to varying degrees of sinfulness. Practicing and embracing homosexuality looks like the willful sinfulness of Romans 1and 2, while merely acknowledging the attraction/orientation looks more like the scars sin left on the world in Romans 8. I do not believe simply being attracted to people of the same gender is always immoral, but rather can be a result of the brokenness of the world; I encourage anyone to read Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill for some great thoughts on that.
Most of the time sexuality will not come up in scouts at all. In all my years as a scout and Scoutmaster I can only remember maybe one time within the context of scouting that one of the scouts had some sort of struggle or incident like that. Usually this is a nonissue in scouts, because the scouts are boys aged 11 to 17. Even allowing homosexual boys to join (and most kids in that age range aren't dealing with that issue) won't change that. So this is very much a minority issue, despite its political charge.
So here a couple of thoughts on what the old policy looked like and how the change is better. Under the old policy, if a scout came to me and told me that he thought he was attracted to other guys but he knew that was wrong, he had to be ejected from scouts. If a scout was struggling with homosexuality or embracing it, he would be forced to keep it secret from others to protect his scouting membership. If a scout had grown up in a very effeminate context and only knew how to relate to other guys as if they were girls, he would have to be ejected from scouts. If a kid who was 12 and thought he was gay came to the troop, we could not allow him to join. In all four cases I would be prevented from counseling the boy, urging him to repent, be able to keep him accountable about his sin and struggles, and model for him what it means to be a man. In all four cases, those boys would desperately need solid and godly male friends their own age, but would be denied the opportunity to be around boys being boys and learning to relate to guys in a healthy way. Instead, they would be shamed because of their sin or excluded because of the effects sin has had upon them. It's mind boggling to think of a group built around discipling sinners that picks and chooses which sins disqualify sinners from joining.
People often tell me at this point that those boys can get all that from other groups and do not need it from the BSA. That's true; there's nothing inherent to the Boy Scouts that makes their discipleship superior. However, the BSA has three aims and exists to fulfill them:
Growth in moral strength and character
Development in physical, mental, and emotional fitness.
The way that primary aim, growth in character, is fulfilled is in the entire context of scouts. Men modeling masculinity to boys, learning leadership and civic responsibilities, and the celebration and enjoyment of the outdoors, all within the context of being with other boys.
While other organizations, like AWANA and church youth groups, can still accomplish godly discipleship (Though who are we kidding: would any parent who is opposed to homosexual boys joining the BSA be ok with them in these other organizations? No, which is why so many people are talking about leaving scouts) the BSA does something unique with the context in which discipleship and growth in character happens. The BSA exists to cultivate growth in moral character in the scouts, which, in a Christian context set by the troop's sponsoring organization, means discipleship.
This new policy allowing homosexual scouts reaffirms the BSA's stance forbidding sexual conduct of any kind by scouts. If a 17 year-old scout sleeps with his girlfriend, the troop has grounds to kick him out. The same holds true for homosexual scouts. What this means is that troops, chaplains, and sponsoring organizations can still call practicing homosexuality sinful and discipline a scout who does practice it in the same way that they can condemn heterosexual sin. This is is the understanding of the policy by the BSA Religious Relationships Task Force.
Here is where people usually tell me that the BSA's vote is an endorsement of homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle choice. Balderdash. I, and the vast majority of the alumni from my troop, supported the policy shift and certainly do not think that practicing homosexuality is a legitimate lifestyle. Not only is it extraordinarily difficulty to figure where everyone in the 61% of the BSA who voted to change the policy stands on homosexual lifestyles, but the policy itself does not address it. The policy only forbids troops from discriminating membership based on sexual orientation. That is not a blaring endorsement of homosexuality or an edict censoring Christians from calling homosexuality sinful. It does not prevent troops from acting when a scouts starts practicing homosexuality, but in fact forbids the practicing of any kind of sexuality. Besides, the intent and motivations of the people who voted does not change what the actual policy is.
Many people have pointed out that the Scout Oath requires scouts to keep themselves morally straight, and that by not excluding scouts if they are homosexual the BSA is saying that being homosexual is consistent with being morally straight. This is a horrible understanding of what the policy did: by prohibiting sexual activity by boys, the BSA is actually addressing whether or not practicing homosexuality is morally straight and the answer is no. Besides, being morally straight means following the Scout Law, which does not cover sexuality. It does, however, cover cheerfulness.
In fact, by banning gay Scoutmasters, I believe the BSA is making a moral statement. My roommate works for the BSA, and his understanding of this element of the policy was that it was not crafted simply to be pragmatic, but from a moral position, which I think is accurate. Growth in character is not an instantaneous action, but progressive in nature. That means that I was able to coach and disciple the scout who littered horribly last night (the Scout Law requires scouts to be clean) rather than immediately kicking him out of scouts. In the same way, the new policy gives troops and Scoutmasters the flexibility to work with scouts throughout their entire scouting career to wrestle with and repent from homosexuality. But Scoutmasters function as moral models to the boys. The BSA cannot forbid adults from sexual activity, and so it disallows homosexual men, whom it cannot forbid from having homosexual relationships, from modeling masculinity and character to boys. What appears to be an inconsistency in the BSA policy is actually a moral statement about the acceptability of practicing homosexuality.
So what happens when I get a scout who thinks he is gay, approves of the homosexual lifestyle, but is not practicing it? The BSA does not allow me to kick him out, because he is not engaging in sexual conduct of any kind, so that's not an option. Am I stuck, unable to address his sinful state?
No, absolutely not. The BSA policy prohibits discriminating against homosexuals from becoming members, not speaking to their sin. I can totally do that with this scout. But what if he does not repent? Repentance in this case might look odd, since he is not actually practicing sin, but I would continue to do what the Bible did when it talked about sexuality. Condemn practicing homosexuality, but the rest of the time urge him to turn towards Christ and understand masculinity and affection not primarily in a sexual way, but in a way that honors God and shows love to our neighbors. I hardly think this would be a problem, since homosexuality has never come as a chapel topic since I've been involved in the BSA, but what it looks like to be a godly man certainly has.
To recap: the new policy shift gives BSA leaders much more flexibility in addressing scouts who struggle with sin and better allows for discipleship to occur. The new policy does not prevent troops who think practicing homosexuality is sinful from saying they believe that is sinful and disciplining scouts who engage in sexual actions.