The organization known for inculcating values in young boys and teaching them survival skills is facing the biggest challenge in its 103-year existence: ideological uniformity. Climbing Mount Everest and winter camp outs appear tame in the context of a culture at war with those who still subscribe to moral absolutes. The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) just happen to be the biggest target.
The BSA, which originated in Burnside, Kentucky, made an abrupt about-face last week on its policy which prohibited open homosexuality. Alarmed parents protested at the national headquarters. A firestorm of phone calls jammed switchboards. As a result, the proposed change has been delayed until May when some 1400 council members will have a vote in the matter. Last July, Deron Smith, BSA national spokesman affirmed their longstanding policy when he said they “came to the conclusion that this policy [prohibiting open homosexuality] is absolutely the best policy for the Boy Scouts.”
So what’s changed in seven months? Corporate pressure to be sure. UPS, Merck and Intel pulled their financial support late last year. Gay advocacy groups have targeted corporate sponsors and waged legal challenges only to have the nation’s highest court uphold the Scout’s right to determine their own policies regarding the behavior of its membership. But flagging enrollment coupled with changing cultural mores has thrown confusion into the proverbial camp. How does an organization centered on strong moral convictions survive when it is no longer socially acceptable to apply moral values to its membership?
The Scout Oath says “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” It’s the morally straight part that has militant moral relativists in contortions. The Scout Law is also steeped in virtue: “A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, Reverent.” It should come as no surprise that with such values, 70 percent of Scout troops are sponsored by churches—the natural conduit for teaching virtue and transcendent values.
A recent letter to a supporter by Louisville-based Lincoln Heritage Council CEO Barry Oxley makes clear the BSA’s moral mission: “For over 100 years, the Boy Scouts of America has not wavered from teaching young people solid traditional values and helping them develop the moral strength and character to make positive choices in their lives.” Seems pretty clear, but in the Age of Ideological Uniformity, it is a crime to cling to a view that offends Gatekeepers of the Debate.
Arguments for morality are regularly marginalized and labeled as bigoted or homophobic. These verbal bombs cloaked in tolerance have all but exploded the idea that there are moral absolutes governing, in this case, human sexuality. Yet this is more than just a battle of semantics. It is a war over common sense with very real implications. Is anybody asking how open homosexuality complements the Scout Oath and Law? Is the change going to help young boys develop into healthier young men? Does it further their moral training? Nothing short of a lingual magician could pull an affirmative answer out of the proverbial hat.
At the same time, there is a very real human side to those struggling with homosexuality. Most of us know or work with someone who might be involved in a homosexual relationship. They deserve our respect and compassion and when they are demeaned or ridiculed, our defense. However, militant gay activists are seeking all out approval and promotion, dissent not allowed. That’s why the nation’s largest gay rights group complained that the policy would be left up to local councils to decide. Coercing an entire organization to change core values to accommodate a sexual behavior is quite frankly, intolerant.
A few brave souls have taken the unpopular position to resist the pressure of political correctness. Attorneys for the Scouts in the landmark Supreme Court case in 2000 successfully argued, “A society in which each and every organization must be equally diverse is a society which has destroyed diversity.” The Scouts are one of the few public entities that oppose open homosexuality because it is incompatible with their mission and values. In this sense, they appear to be a minority. Question is, will anybody defend their right to hold to the values they believe are best for their organizational mission and the boys they are trying to serve?
Richard Nelson is the executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, a non-profit public policy organization. He resides in Cadiz with his wife and children.