Predictably, the histrionics started within minutes of the membership policy changes being announced.
I’ve already tangled with a “Christian” in a comments section; he immediately decided that I was gay, and I was very glad of the access to “young flesh” granted me in a Scout uniform. Initially I was not going to reply, but then I pointed out that he must be without sin and should cast the first stone. There was no response on his behalf to the use of teachings that he allegedly follows.
But there’s also been some thoughtful commentary, too. A former Scout pointed out that membership has been in decline since about 2000. By the BSA’s own admission, “Peak Scouting” came during a few brief years in the late 1990s. This person sadly decided that Scouting has become irrelevant, and changing the membership guidelines isn’t going to increase membership or reverse the trend.
I would disagree. In 2013, I had a unique opportunity to spend a week at Scout Camp with a touring troop of English scouts. (First Fritwell, UK). We spent a lot of fellowship time with their scouts and leaders. During that time, we had a lot of discussion comparing and contrasting the two programs.
The Scout Association in England, which is the “parent company” of the scouting movement worldwide, is completely non-discriminatory. Scouts UK is co-ed, open to all religions and creeds (even atheists), and LGBT-friendly and welcoming. According to the English Scoutmaster, the program is ‘booming’ in England right now, and they’ve had a shortage of qualified adult leaders as a result.
I can give you first-hand anecdotes about our neighbors to the north…Scouts Canada also went co-ed in 1998. At the time, I was regularly travelling to Nova Scotia to camp with our longtime friends of the First Milton Troop. Their Scoutmaster had some trepidation about the program changes, but nevertheless he carried on. Much like the Scout Association, Scouts Canada found that by becoming more open and accommodating, their membership has also gone up.
Looking at the United States, we’re one of the very few countries left that has a separate Boy Scout and Girl Scout program. Since both use the signs, seals, and hallmarks of the Scout Association, both technically operate under the umbrella of the World Scouting Organization. Both organizations remain restricted by gender, but this is the GSA’s only restriction. They don’t make any qualms about LGBT or religion, and their program is strong and vibrant in many communities. As we all know, the Boy Scouts is perhaps the last bastion of exclusionary policy among non-religious youth organizations in the US.
Until earlier this week, that is.
I have always been extremely pleased that Boston Minuteman Council was one of the first four councils nationally that told National Headquarters what we thought about their membership mandates. (Circa 2001). I suppose they could have swooped in and pulled the plug at any time, but for a decade and a half, we’ve been left to our own devices here in the Greater Boston area.
As a result, when the youth policy changed across the country last year, we expected that it would have no impact on our program, since we were already there. But then something curious happened. All that negativity and hate, and the negative stereotypes seemed to evaporate overnight. At our end-of-year District meeting (May), it was reported that all areas of the program had seen an increase in membership. It turns out that my council was the only one nationally to see a membership increase; EVERYBODY else remained flat or lost scouts. Sometimes it pays to be ahead of the curve.
There’s sure to be painful changes as we head down this road. A local Scouter has already replied to our Executive that he can no longer participate in the program, now that we welcome “blatant homosexuals” in our midst.
To him, and to all who would oppose Scouting’s “Great Leap Forward”, I would ask you to open up your handbooks and re-read those fabled words penned by Lord Baden-Powell more than a century ago:
A SCOUT'S HONOUR IS TO BE TRUSTED. If a scout says "On my honour it is so," that means it is so, just as if he had taken a most solemn oath. Similarly, if a scout officer says to a scout, "I trust you on your honour to do this," the Scout is bound to carry out the order to the very best of his ability, and to let nothing interfere with his doing so. If a scout were to break his honour by telling a lie, or by not carrying out an order exactly when trusted on his honour to do so, he would cease to be a scout, and must hand over his scout badge and never be allowed to wear it again.
A SCOUT IS LOYAL to the King, and to his officers, and to his country, and to his employers. He must stick to them through thick and thin against anyone who is their enemy, or who even talks badly of them.
A SCOUT'S DUTY IS TO BE USEFUL AND TO HELP OTHERS. And he is to do his duty before anything else, even though he gives up his own pleasure, or comfort, or safety to do it. When in difficulty to know which of two things to do, he must ask himself, "Which is my duty?" that is, "Which is best for other people?"---and do that one. He must Be Prepared at any time to save life, or to help injured persons. And he must do a good turn to somebody every day.
A SCOUT IS A FRIEND TO ALL, AND A BROTHER TO EVERY OTHER SCOUT, NO MATTER TO WHAT SOCIAL CLASS THE OTHER BELONGS. If a scout meets another scout, even though a stranger to him, he must speak to him, and help him in any way that he can, either to carry out the duty he is then doing, or by giving him food, or, as far as possible, anything that he may be in want of. A scout must never be a SNOB. A snob is one who looks down upon another because he is poorer, or who is poor and resents another because he is rich. A scout accepts the other man as he finds him, and makes the best of him -- "Kim," the boy scout, was called by the Indians "Little friend of all the world," and that is the name which every scout should earn for himself.
A SCOUT IS COURTEOUS: That is, he is polite to all—but especially to women and children and old people and invalids, cripples, etc. And he must not take any reward for being helpful or courteous.
A SCOUT IS A FRIEND TO ANIMALS. He should save them as far as possible from pain, and should not kill any animal unnecessarily, even if it is only a fly---for it is one of God's creatures.
A SCOUT OBEYS ORDERS of his patrol-leader, or scout master without question. Even if he gets an order he does not like, he must do as soldiers and sailors do, he must carry it out all the same because it is his duty; and after he has done it he can come and state any reasons against it: but he must carry out the order at once. That is discipline.
A SCOUT SMILES AND WHISTLES under all circumstances. When he gets an order he should obey it cheerily and readily, not in a slow, hang-dog sort of way. Scouts never grouse at hardships, nor whine at each other, nor swear when put out. When you just miss a train, or some one treads on your favourite corn---not that a scout ought to have such things as corns--- or under any annoying circumstances, you should force yourself to smile at once, and then whistle a tune, and you will be all right. A scout goes about with a smile on and whistling. It cheers him and cheers other people, especially in time of danger, for he keeps it up then all the same. The punishment for swearing or bad language is for each offence a mug of cold water to be poured down the offender's sleeve by the other scouts.
A SCOUT IS THRIFTY, that is, he saves every penny he can, and puts it in the bank, so that he may have money to keep himself when out of work, and thus not make himself a burden to others; or that he may have money to give away to others when they need it.
A SCOUT IS CLEAN IN THOUGHT, WORD AND DEED. Decent Scouts look down upon silly youths who talk dirt, and they do not let themselves give way to temptation, either to talk it or to do anything dirty. A Scout is pure, and clean-minded, and manly. (Added in 1911)
If after reading all that, you still find it in your heart to hate, discriminate, and exclude….then you’d be doing the entire Scouting movement a favour by hanging up your uniform for good.