Tuesday, January 29, 2013

BSA Membership Policy

Anyone who listens to or watches the news probably heard yesterday that the BSA is reconsidering it's policy on whether or not to allow homosexuals into the organization. This is the official media statement regarding the proposed change (it can be found by following this link):
“For more than 100 years, Scouting’s focus has been on working together to deliver the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. Scouting has always been in an ongoing dialogue with the Scouting family to determine what is in the best interest of the organization and the young people we serve.

“Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.

“The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.” 
I feel compelled here to give my personal opinions about the topic. I realize there are some pretty strong feelings about this issue on both sides. But I see it as important enough to weigh in. I also realize that the National Executive Board has not yet voted on this--that will be next week. So it's possible that nothing will come of it, although most people seem to expect a change in policy. I thought about waiting to post this until after a change was made but, on the million-to-one chance that something I say may influence the decision, I decided not to wait.

I also need to make clear that these are my personal views. I do not speak for the LDS church. As far as I know, the church has not made an official statement on this potential change and will not until and unless a change is made. All that follows are my personal opinions.

To be blunt, I think changing this policy would be a bad idea.

The statement above that "there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation" is either disingenuous or naive, maybe both. Let's look at this realistically. Removing the national restriction and having "no policy" would by default make a policy of "homosexuals are allowed in Scouting." Giving chartered organizations the ability to determine membership really isn't a change. They have that ability now. Chartered organizations currently have the right to choose who is going to serve as adult leadership, and who can or can not join the unit. (For example, a Venturing crew could be created to serve just young women. They could choose to not allow young men.) Removing the national policy changes only one thing--it leaves the chartered organization by itself on this issue, with no support from the national organization.

I see this as opening a big can of worms. I can see the possibility of a lot of unintended consequences from a policy like this. Let me outline a few of them.

It is possible that chartered organizations will withdraw their support from the BSA. The largest and most numerous chartered organizations are churches. Even with the ability to determine membership for themselves, it is possible that churches will not want to deal with the distraction and simply back out.

I have no idea what the LDS church will do should a change be made, nor do I want to speculate. I'll follow my church leaders whichever way things go. But I'm sure there are those who will not.

Let's suppose for a moment that a change in policy is made and that the LDS church continues to sponsor Scouting. I can easily imagine many local leaders who will simply not comply. We have many leaders who don't like to use Scouting now, even though it aligns perfectly with our ideals and goals. Will local church members be more or less likely to support Scouting if the BSA basically comes out and says it's okay for homosexuals to be involved?

As a Chartered Organization Representative, much of my job is trying to persuade our church members to support Scouting and use the program as it is designed. That job becomes a lot harder if this policy is changed. And that doesn't count the Friends of Scouting (FOS) campaign.

We have a really hard time convincing people that they should give during the FOS campaign. Since the money doesn't go directly to our boys but rather to the council, a lot of people don't want anything to do with it. They will be even less likely to want to give to an organization that permits (some will see it as promoting) homosexual individuals to be involved.

Let's suppose for a moment that a change is made and the LDS church continues to sponsor Scouting. Let's also suppose that members attitudes don't change drastically for the worse and we are able to maintain functioning Scouting units. The church could still determine its own membership, so there wouldn't be a problem, right? Wrong. It is still going to be a distraction. Let me give a couple of possible examples.

Should a change be made, there will almost certainly be some modifications to the Youth Protection training that all leaders are expected to take. There will probably be other literature or media provided with the intent on helping troops deal with the issue of homosexuality in their unit, should the need arise. The simple presence of this media could become a distraction. It will (if only occasionally) bring the issue right up front for almost everyone involved at some point. We don't need that. Our focus should be elsewhere.

I can almost guarantee that, if this change is made, there will be troops formed who are very openly and vocally in favor of allowing homosexual members. I can see a real possibility of "gay-only" troops. Now, just imagine one of these troops marching in the local parade, dressed in their scout uniforms and rainbow-colored neckerchiefs. Would that not draw a link between the BSA and the gay-rights movement in the eyes of the public? Is that something we want to deal with?

Suppose, also, that one of these gay-friendly or gay-only troops shows up at your council summer camp. They would have every right to be there and shouldn't be turned away. But I could see it becoming a distraction for the others. Imagine how many 12 year old boys would be talking about the gay scoutmaster over in Troop 123 (my apologies to anyone in an actual troop 123). Suddenly, a scoutmaster in another troop is forced to address with his boys an issue of sexuality that should be the domain of the parents within the home. Do we want to put our leaders in that situation? Again, it's too much of a distraction.

One of the biggest reasons I see this possible change as a bad idea is that it is a foot in the door. I can almost guarantee that gay-right's advocates will not be content with it. They'll say it's a step in the right direction. It will only be a step, not the destination. It also opens the door to others who want to challenge the BSA's values. Atheists are the next ones who will rise up. After that, who knows?

I know that not everyone sees homosexuality as a moral issue. I do. I believe that homosexual activity is a sin. I am reminded of a poem that President Thomas S. Monson frequently uses in his talks:
Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.
(Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Man,” l. 21)
In the end, I do not believe that a policy allowing homosexuals into scouting can stand. It will not work. Baden-Powell himself said:
"Our objective in the Scouting movement is to give such help as we can in bringing about God's Kingdom on earth by including among youth the spirit and the daily practice in their lives of unselfish goodwill and cooperation." (find the quote here)
You cannot help bring about God's Kingdom on earth by embracing sin. It will not work. Jesus said so himself:
"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." (Mathew 6:24)
Rather than embracing (or even enduring) sin, we should continue to love our fellow-man. We should be friendly, courteous, and kind, but we should never lower our standard. Scouting has always been about taking an earthly, worldly boy and turning him into a man of noble character by encouraging him to embrace a high standard of living, as outlined in the Scout Oath and Law. We embrace and accept all who wish to join our movement, but require they conform their lives to meet our standard. That's the purpose of the movement. We never have, and never should, lower our standard just to increase membership. If we do, the meaning is lost and the movement will fail.

I hate to be pessimistic, but I can see no good from this potential change. My hope is that when the vote is taken next week, the National Board will reaffirm the BSA's present membership policy.

**** Edit ****

I want to add something here, just to make sure I am not misunderstood. That is, we need to make a distinction between same-sex attraction and homosexual behavior. This is the stand the church takes in Handbook 2, section 21.4.6. When I talk about keeping homosexuals out of scouting, I am referring specifically to those who openly practice homosexual behavior. I make this distinction because those who describe themselves as "openly gay" seem to indicate that they either do participate in homosexual behavior or intend to do so because they have feelings of same-sex attraction. There are those who suffer from same-sex attraction who do not participate in any homosexual behavior. As stated in the church handbook, those individuals should not be excluded from anything. However, if I were a bishop, I would certainly be very careful about which callings I would want to give that individual, as much for his/her own safety and protection as those they serve.

Monday, January 28, 2013

"I cannot manage the past..."

At Wood Badge this year I'll be teaching the session on Values, Mission, and Vision. In that session, a quote from Margaret Thatcher is used:
"I cannot manage the past. There are other people in my government who manage the present. It is my unique responsibility as the leader to shine a spotlight on the future and marshal the support of countrymen to create that future."
I always liked it as a statement about the importance of vision in leadership, but I don't think I really applied all of it to my Scouting responsibilities. Let me paraphrase it for an adult leader in Scouting:
"I cannot manage the past. There are other people in my troop/team/crew (i.e. - the youth leaders) who should be managing the present. It is my unique responsibility as the adult leader to shine a spotlight on the future and marshal the support of troop/team/crew members and other adult leaders to create that future. 
In other words, the boys should be managing the present, planning and leading the meetings and activities. The adult leaders are there to teach and inspire--to show what is possible and then help the boys make it happen.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fixing Entitlement Culture

I just watched a video on Glenn Beck's The Blaze TV about fixing entitlement culture. The first part of the video is a mother describing how she gave her kids more responsibility at home and the difference it made in them. A lot of what she said reminded me of Scouting and what Scouting promotes for our youth--if it is done right.

You can find the video here:

Monday, January 14, 2013

Leaving a Legacy

One of the lessons taught at Wood Badge is about Leaving a Legacy. It uses the movie Mr. Holland's Opus to make the point. In that movie, Mr. Holland, the high school music teacher is honored at his retirement with a surprise concert featuring music he wrote, performed by many of his former students. One of those students makes the comment that they were his masterpiece; that his real legacy was in the lives of the people he touched.

I've been thinking about that this morning and what my legacy will be. 

When I went to Wood Badge, the vision that motivated me, and the ticket I worked to help me realize that vision, was aimed at having a real, functioning, thriving Venturing crew that would persist after I had gone.
I didn't feel like I got there by the time I was called to something else. I know I made progress, but I also know there are things I could have done better. I frequently think of things that I wish I had done. At the same time, however, I honestly felt like I was doing everything I could at the time.

At church yesterday I heard something that made me feel like everything I have worked for has already been erased.

The young men's president announced (in a combined Aaronic priesthood meeting) that they were going to take all the young men on an overnight activity to the bishop's cabin. It sounds like a great activity. And I am thrilled that they will be going out and doing something.

I just have a couple problems with it. First, it seems to have been planned entirely by the adults, with no youth involvement. When it was announced by the adults yesterday, it was the first time the youth had heard about it. I suspect that the adults will do everything at the activity, too. I guarantee that the bishop isn't going to wait around for the youth to start cooking dinner. He's the kind of person who won't sit by when there's work to be done. What that means, though, is that the youth will have absolutely no responsibility here. All that will be expected of them is to show up and play.

The second problem I have is that this "camp" is replacing the district sponsored winter camp. They will be going to the cabin just one week after the camp. I know the YM president had the information about winter camp. I was there when he got it. But he didn't even give the youth the option to go to the winter camp. He didn't even mention it. In fact, when he announced the cabin trip he made the comment that "it's better than camping in the snow."

Now, I wouldn't have a problem taking the Venturers to the cabin at the same time the Scouts were going to the winter camp, but to replace the scout's camp with this tells me that Scouting simply isn't important to the adult leaders. There are other things that tell me that, as well. And I'm sure the youth see it, too. 

In this one two-minute experience (combined with the knowledge of other things) I could see, in my mind's eye, a giant eraser wiping out everything I worked for for four years. As if nothing I have done matters in the least. It was devastating.

Now, maybe I'm being a little dramatic. Maybe it won't be as bad as I imagine. I'm sure there is a plan behind this trip that I don't know about. Maybe it's exactly what the boys need. But I still worry.
Of course, one thing about Leaving a Legacy is that our real legacy isn't always what we had imagined in the beginning. Right now, there are two young men serving the Lord as missionaries in Brazil. I am clinging to the hope that something I did will live on in them and in their service. I cling to the hope that for them, at least, my efforts were not wasted.