THE BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA (BSA) isn’t just about basket weaving and old-fashioned uniforms. It encourages young men to take charge — of themselves and others. And it builds character, the sort that comes from cooperating with, competing against and rendering service to those around you. For these reasons and more, the BSA is an important thread in America’s national fabric, and it is a good thing that the organization boasts more than 100,000 troops across the country, in which more than a million adult leaders serve more than 2.7 million boys.
After last Thursday, that membership should rise. A large majority of the BSA’s National Council approved a resolution that would allow openly gay boys to join the organization. Since the policy change still bars openly gay adults from serving as leaders or volunteers, it is only a waystation to the broader reform that is inevitable. But less discrimination is still good news, and you’d think that it would encourage more boys to participate.
Instead, though, the BSA’s membership may very well fall — perhaps significantly. Religious groups sponsor about 70 percent of troops, and some of their leaders seem ready to rip this priceless civic institution apart. For the good of the country’s young men, they should resist the urge.
Though it has a mixed history on gay and lesbian equality, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a major scouting sponsor, immediately embraced the policy change. “As in the past, the Church will work with BSA to harmonize what Scouting has to offer with the varying needs of our young men,” Mormon leaders said in a press release. Because the church’s organization is highly centralized, that means a very large number of troops will remain active.
Not all big religious sponsors have been as encouraging. Catholic clergy have said mixed things about whether their parishes would continue sponsoring troops. The National Catholic Committee on Scouting, which serves as an advisory group for the BSA on Catholic matters, said that “we hope to maintain that relationship,” and that that the group will “study” the new policy’s effects before it phases in at the end of this year.
Some Southern Baptist leaders have been more negative. “Frankly, I can’t imagine a Southern Baptist pastor who would continue to allow his church to sponsor a Boy Scout troop under these new rules,” Richard Land, the Southern Baptist Convention’s chief ethicist, told the Baptist Press. “I predict there will be a mass exodus of Southern Baptists.” Even before the vote, discussions of alternative youth groups to the Boy Scouts popped up in the press, Christian and otherwise.
It’s difficult to imagine another group that could do as much good for as many boys as have the Scouts over many decades. We have no doubt that even Scouts and parents of Scouts who disagree with the group’s step forward will still be able to find a morally enriching experience within the Boy Scouts of America. Before they withdraw, they should try.
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