Frustration and anger over the recent decision by the Boy Scouts of America allowing the participation of homosexual boys generated national attention that is out of proportion to the reality of the issue. It even prompted some sponsors and leaders to sever ties with the organization.
Scouting has been an important organization in my 50-plus years of living. I participated as a boy and earned my Eagle Scout award. I’ve spent more than three decades as a volunteer leader in several capacities. Most of that time I worked with 11, 12 and 13-year-old boys—the largest age group actively participating as scouts.
In a world where sex permeates much of society, it is not a primary focus for boys involved in scouting. Boys of that age tend to be more focused on games, refreshments and activities than on sex.
As a scout leader I spent lots of time working with boys on understanding citizenship and duty to God. We emphasized service. We talked about the importance of tolerance toward boys who might be overweight, handicapped, or have other physical or cultural differences.
We focused on activities that would help the boys learn important life skills. The only time we ever discussed sex was as it relates to the promise boys make in the Scout Oath that they will be “morally straight.”
An important line in the newly adopted resolution states: “…any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of scouting age is contrary to the virtues of scouting.” This is not a new policy. It has been always been among scouting’s core values.
As the largest single sponsor of Boy Scout troops, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been criticized for supporting the resolution allowing gay members. An article in the Washington Post by Michael Otterson, did a great job of explaining why a conservative Christian organization like the LDS Church would adopt such a position.
“For the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this was never about whether the BSA or local scout leaders should try to discern or categorize ill-defined and emerging sexual awareness of pre-pubescent boys and early pubescent young men who make up 90 percent of scouting. Sexual orientation has not previously been—and is not now—a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint scout troops. Rather, it has always been about teaching moral behavior to all boys, and instilling the core values that are part of responsible adulthood.”
The article also quoted LDS Church Presiding Bishop Gary Stevenson. Prior to the vote on admitting gay scouts, he delivered a speech to an assembly of Scout leaders.
“Boy Scouts of today face issues not faced by generations before them: declining morals, technology, addictive behavior and declining academic performance to name a few. I believe that the key to solving these issues lies in family and duty to God. If boys truly understood what their duty to God entails and lived it, they would grow safely into manhood. …Duty to God is where the power lies. Duty to God is what changes lives.
“…Some may not see the sacred gate-keeping role scouting plays. They may see only fundraising and not a foundation. Others may brand scouting activities as merely outdoor recreation, but it can and must be shown that BSA is not a camping club; it is a character university centered on duty to God. I quote again from Robert Baden-Powell: ‘The whole of [scouting] is based on religion, that is, on the realization and service of God.’
“… Scouting must never overlook this core principle. We still need duty to God. We always will. When the societal and political winds come, and they surely will, scouting cannot unhinge itself from this foundational principle.”
A few years ago I participated in Woodbadge, an intensive training program for volunteer scout leaders. During the week-long course, the motto that was emphasized several times each day was “it is all about the boy.”
I regret that because of this policy some sponsors and leaders feel they can no longer be part of the scouting organization. As a result, thousands of boys who could benefit from the principles of scouting will not have the chance to participate.
One has to wonder what program these men and boys will embrace that can duplicate the benefits provided by the scouting program. Since 1910 more than 110 million boys learned the values of scouting. It is doubtful any other organization will ever be as successful in helping boys develop into men of high moral character.