Fr. John's Letter Archives

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Why did the Boy Scouts Change their Policy?

06-02-2013Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

It seems we can mostly credit the Mormons for the change to the Boy Scouts Policy since they charter the most troops and have the most members on the Advisory Board that voted on this policy change. I'm sure they were helped by some liberal Protestant groups and middle-class suburban Catholics who also charter troops and for some reason like many in middle class white America have some sort of burning need to let everyone know how "gay-friendly" they are. The policy change throws a bomb into the middle of the Boy Scout Organization. Which shows that those who voted to change the policy did so not in the best interests of Scouting nor of the scouts themselves but to let the rest of us know how 'tolerant' they are.

As a result of this policy change many parents will withdraw their sons from scouting or not have them join at all and many troops will collapse. This will in turn greatly affect the boys who love being a part of scouting. Which will just reinforce teenager's suspicion that adults who claim, "it's all about the kids" are a bunch of liars who can't be trusted and only act in their own self-interest.

Why did the Boy Scouts USA Executive leadership feel it was so urgent to make this policy change? It was less than a year ago that they reaffirmed their long-standing policy that same-sex behavior was incompatible with the Scouting Oath and over the last 20yrs they fought many lawsuits that accused them of discrimination even up to the Supreme Court who upheld the BSA policy in 2000. So why insist on a change now? Well in a word: money. Over the last few years Boys Scouts USA has lost major corporate sponsors after several news outlets (at the insistence of same-sex proponents) published the names of the corporate sponsors and accused them of supporting an 'anti-same-sex' organization. Many corporate sponsors withdrew their support of BSA out of fear of being labeled as 'anti-gay' and thus lose business. Hence the Boy Scouts USA lost lots of money.

But how is this money used anyway? I have sponsored troops for many years and know that most local troops are self-supporting through their own contributions and not from Boy Scouts headquarters funding. That's why you see the Boy Scouts holding fundraisers. The scoutmasters are all volunteers and the facilities they use are mostly rent-free. So the millions of dollars in donations from sponsors go mostly to the headquarters of Boy Scouts of America to pay for corporate offices and executive salaries. The loss of sponsorship threatened to hit corporate executives hard in their paychecks. (The Great Salt Lake Council pays its Scout Executive over $200,000. Maybe that's why the Mormon leadership supported the policy change?) They obviously feared the loss of their six-figure salaries so they were willing to throw the organization and the scouts under the bus. Maybe some corporate sponsors will return but I doubt that the new policy goes far enough to reassure those donors who were scared off. Which means another policy change will be forthcoming at some point. The strategy at work here is two steps forward, one step back. The BSA Executive Board floated the idea of changing the policy for both scout membership and scout leaders but pulled back on the change for leaders. That is only a temporary pull back until people get used to the new policy and are more amenable to a complete policy change.

The actual policy change in some ways does not affect Catholic troops and in other ways swings a wrecking ball at them. We don't discriminate or refuse admission to a boy who is struggling with his sexuality; believe it or not many young people do have challenges around this issue. But our scout leaders also don't ask what a boy's sexual preferences are nor is sexuality a focus in scouting. Catholic scouting helps boys develop the character they need to live as honorable citizens with a Catholic lifestyle. The policy change inserts the issue of sexuality into an organization that has never had sexuality as its focus. And it makes the assumption that sexual inclinations are fixed in teens. However any young person who struggles with their sexuality deserves our love and support and our willingness to walk with them through a challenging time in their growth to maturity. Yet the new BSA policy puts some young men in a sexuality box, stamped with a label that will only stunt a young man's sexual and emotional development.

Beyond that, the policy change sets us up for all sorts of civil rights lawsuits and accusations of cultivating a discriminatory environment since we don't affirm same-sex behavior as a good. But most of all the new policy places a target on our backs so that we will be labeled as "homophobic, gay-haters, anti-gay bigots". I for one will not wear that label, on my honor.

Love, Fr. John B

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