by David Colarusso - April 7th, 2013
As a boy I considered becoming a priest. A large part of the appeal was the example set by my pastor, Father Dan. A Jesuit and former English teacher whose homilies referenced Calvin and Hobbs, Father Dan was an intelligent and compassionate man who made you believe you could be better than you were. I came to know Father Dan outside of mass through scouting. Although my troop met across town at a Methodist church, Father Dan helped several of us earn our Ad Altare Dei, an award presented by the Catholic Church to scouts for study of their Catholic faith. I would later receive my Eagle on the same spot where I first received communion.
The Ad Altare Dei is one of many such awards earned by scouts, and I remember thinking at the time how inclusive the Scouts were. If I had been Jewish I could have studied and received the Ner Tamid, Hindu the Dharma, Islamic the Name of God, Baha’i the Unity of Mankind, Buddhist the Sangha, or Baptist the God and Church. In total, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) recognizes awards from a little over three dozen faiths and faith affiliations (such as the Protestant and Independent Christian Churches). Many of these faiths disagree over the nature of God, not to mention, the details of how best to live a moral life. Yet, their members proudly proclaim themselves scouts, alongside those they might otherwise condemn. Why, because they believe in something bigger, scouting’s mission to provide youth with the tools to realize their potential.
In a little over forty days, the BSA will convene its National Annual Meeting in Grapevine Texas, and delegates from across the nation will vote on whether or not to remove a national ban on homosexual members. Thanks to the BSA’s organizational structure, if you are involved in scouting, there is a good chance you know a delegate. You may have attended a local meeting on the subject or received a survey.
The vote will be close, and I suspect few minds are opened to change. However, I’d like to make a case for opposing the ban, a case that holds regardless of your views on homosexuality, a case based on the final point of the Scout Law. Since the BSA’s reaffirmation of the ban in July 2012, I’ve been talking with fellow Eagle Scouts, adult leaders, past scouts… Both sides see it as a struggle for the soul of scouting, and in the middle sit nearly three million youth members.
Proponents of the ban raise questions about youth safety and moral instruction, but in the shadow of the Supreme Court arguments for and against Gay Marriage, it seems clear the evidence fails to support the fear that exposure to homosexuality is a threat to children’s well-being, and those who fear homosexuals are more likely to abuse youth ignore the evidence. The true question seems to be one of morality. If you believe homosexuality is immoral, it is unlikely I can change your mind. However, opposing homosexual behavior and opposing the ban are not mutually exclusive.
On March 25th, two of the BSA’s faith-based chartering organizations, the United Church of Christ & Unitarian Universalists, endorsed the mission of Scouts for Equality, a group working to end the ban. In so doing, they reminded me that no one religion dictates the morals of the BSA. As a scout, I have taken an oath to God and country, a country in which the freedom to worship is among our most precious rights. A scout is reverent, but scouting is not a monolith. We welcome members from communities who disagree on the most fundamental questions of conscience–whether or not there is one or many gods, whether Christ was the Messiah, a prophet, or a man. These disagreements are larger than sexual orientation. If we can overcome them, surely we can avoid the use of scouting as a pawn in the culture wars.
I have often observed that aside from my family and the Church, scouting is most responsible for the man I am today. Because of scouting, words like duty and honor mean something to me. Because of scouting, a four-eyed 90lb kid with braces learned that perseverance pays off and helping other people is not something to compartmentalize. It is something to live. For those worried about the moral education of America’s youth, remember, a vote to end the ban is a vote to expand the reach and influence of scouting.
A scout is brave. So be honest, is someone’s sexual orientation more important than the nature of God, the role of good works, the divinity of Christ? If not, then why this line, why this ban? We live in a pluralistic society, and scouting is an important part of that society. We need not agree on all things. However, we can no longer ignore this issue. The era of Don’t Ask Don’t tell has passed. There are faiths that embrace homosexual members and perform homosexual weddings. The current printing of the Scout Handbook compels scouts to be honest in their dealing with others, honest about who they are and what they believe. Removal of the ban allows gay scouts to live up to that obligation, and it secures for them the opportunities only scouting can provide.
A scout is reverent, not only to God as known through his faith, but to the faith of others. If we take seriously the proposition that scouting is dedicated to the betterment of all youth regardless of creed, the ban must not stand. We must be brave.
Society At Large