Stuck in crosshairs as Scout policy debated
According to Miriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary’s Eleventh Edition, the word “vilify” means “to lower in estimation or importance … to utter slanderous and abusive statements against.”
No wonder the six-letter word isn’t one of 12 that make up the Boy Scout Law, which states that a Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
For more than a century, the Boy Scout movement has established a solid reputation of producing the next generation of leaders.
Hammerin’ Hank Aaron was an Eagle Scout and said that the experience was the greatest positive influence in his life. A young Steven Spielberg made a movie of his troop while getting his Photography merit badge before eventually becoming one of the biggest movie producers of all time. Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, was also an Eagle Scout.
Numerous presidents, governors and other politicians once wore the khaki uniform that is synonymous with Scouting. A teenager named Brent Paucke drew on his Scouting experiences nearly a decade ago to find the courage to stand up to a school shooter in Williamsport and successfully defused the situation. His mother had enrolled him in Scouting because he lacked a father figure and she wanted him around positive male role models.
And the list goes on. In all, 104 million young men have participated in Boy Scouts since 1910.
Few organizations have the track record of the Boy Scouts of America — and yet, Scouts across the country are currently feeling vilified due to controversy around Scouting’s ban on openly gay Scouts and leaders.
To many outside of the organization — and a few within Scouting’s ranks — the ban seems antiquated and discriminatory. They assume it is solely in place because of Christian views on gays and feel that Scouting should take a more global, open-door approach to the topic.
But what if it runs deeper than that? Scouting is an activity that challenges young men in numerous areas. Teamwork and leadership are shaped while a Scout pariticpates in activites as wide ranging as camping, fishing, nature, canoeing, citizenship, heritage, aviation, chemistry, communication, dentistry, animal care, archeology, astronomy, cinematography, art, emergency preparedness, first aid, forestry, fire safety, metalwork, boating, orienteering, fitness, plumbing, pottery, robotics, welding, wood carving, space exploration and so much more. There are more than 100 merit badges covering all these themes and more.
But you’ll find very little on relationships. Boy Scouts bite off enough with the themes they already cover — aspects to build a well-rounded young man and attempt to help him find potential career paths while working on self confidence and leadership abilities.
Ask Scouts who have failed to reach the organization’s highest pedestal — Eagle — why they fell short, and a large majority will tell you it is because along the way, they discovered girls and their priorities changed. There is a good reason why Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are separate entities — and no one is suggesting they merge.
Introducing openly gay young men into Scouting, though, adds new levels of gray to that otherwise black-and-white division. Camping trips and other adventures off the beaten path could quickly take on a different feel. Volunteer Scout leaders would have more to worry about than what stories will be shared around the campfire each night. Does this dynamic offer a possible teachable moment for the young men along? Perhaps. But is this the proper place and time to deal with those issues effectively?
Ultimately, the Scouting movement has held its policy for quite some time, and being a private organization, doesn’t have to change a thing. If someone doesn’t like the policy, he/she can simply find a different activity to get his/her son involved in.
However, as social and political pressure builds, groups that help fund Scouting are starting to second-guess their stance on supporting the organization.
Suddenly, millions of Scouts across the country are in danger of losing important funds that help keep troops active and give young men the opportunities they need to succeed and enjoy new life-shaping experiences.
These young men find themselves in the crossfire, and unfortunately they’ll be the ones who suffer most if groups start to pull their support.
You would think there was a better way to address the situation — to lift up an organization that has such as longstanding track record of producing capable, confident young men — instead of trying to bully it into changing its policy.
In that case, those who feel justified become the vilified.