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Boy Scout Issues

It goes without saying that I am no fan of the Boy Scouts of America. Just about every trauma in my youth had some sort of scouting connection. And, on principle, I think the decision to even consider homosexuality as having any sort of bearing on membership in that benighted organization to be backward and silly.

But just for the sake of argument, let’s consider it anyway.

Back in 1993, when President Clinton was considering lifting the ban on homosexuals on active military duty, then–Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell rejected the contention that excluding gays from the military was akin to racial discrimination and instead compared it to a reluctance to live in close quarters with someone of the opposite sex. A military man with tremendous respect for women would recoil at the idea of unisex bathrooms where men and women shower together. That may make him a prude, but it doesn’t make him a misogynist.

In a nutshell, the idea was that life in uniform is strenuous enough without introducing unnecessary elements of sexual tension into the mix. (All that may end up changing now that women are going to be assigned to the front lines, but that’s a discussion for another day.) In any case, Powell’s arguments were ultimately rejected, and now even President Clinton’s feeble “don’t ask, don’t tell” compromise has been repealed.

The sky hasn’t fallen.

Recent academic studies suggest that the repeal has not had a negative impact on the military overall. One might be tempted, then, to conclude that General Powell’s concerns were unfounded, and only bigotry can account for opposition to the idea of the Boy Scouts of America following the military’s lead and lifting their own restriction against gay scouts. Certainly bigotry is an issue. It is not, however, the only issue. Indeed, Powell’s argument carries far more weight when talking about adolescents and not adults.

Those serving in the military are old enough and mature enough to deal with the complexities of sexual attraction amid their ranks. The same cannot be said for 13-year-old boys with hormones a’blazin’.  These are kids who are only beginning to understand the strangeness of their own bodies and what they ought to, or ought not to, be doing with them.

Can anyone persuasively argue that pubescent boys should be going on overnight camping trips together and sharing tents with pubescent girls? What a recipe for disaster that would be. One could expect a lot of scouting pregnancies to result from the annual 50-mile hike.

Could openly homosexual scouts create situations that were equally problematic?

Well, in the pregnancy sense, no, they couldn’t. That’s simple biology. But what about in the emotionally scarring sense? And I’m not just talking about the relatively few instances where a straight kid would face unwanted advances from a gay one. Given the difficulties of understanding and coping with sexuality at that age, the danger of “out and proud” flamboyant Eagles making life uncomfortable for the Tenderfoot heteros really doesn’t strike me as a widespread problem. I’m far more concerned about the gay scouts themselves. Bullying, in my experience, is a Boy Scout tradition. Remember, I used to get beaten up on scout outings because I was a weirdo. I shudder to think what my scouting fate would have been if I were gay besides.

This isn’t just an abstract matter of principle. A significant increase in hazing incidents would present an unacceptable liability risk for the BSA as an organization. Are they prepared for that? Can the BSA survive as an institution if they make this level of a paradigm shift without a clutch?

There are hopeful signs that such a thing is possible. Canada’s scouting organization makes no effort to discriminate against gays, and the sky hasn’t fallen there, either. But it’s important to note that once the ban is lifted, there is no going back. It’s not bigotry to consider all the ramifications of such a decision before jumping in when you can’t jump back out again.

Bottom line: no scout, gay or straight, should ever have to be inducted into the Order of the Arrow. 

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        • I don’t see a linkage between your two comments. Do you maintain, then, that admitting boys who are sexually attracted to other boys into the Boy Scouts is contrary to God’s word and law?

          • I thought it was universally understood that homosexuality is, shall we say, frowned upon by God. Not that he has every spoken specifically about the Boy Scouts and his expectations of them.

          • “The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

            – The LDS Church – my church – and its official statement at

            I don’t see anything in that statement that would preclude allowing gay kids to join the Boy Scouts.

          • I suppose my question was less about the Boy Scouts but more a bigger question that immediately sprung to mind when you tossed bigotry into the mix.

            Knowing, through your blogs, that you are a man of faith, as am I, I understand what you and your church’s statement on the subject is saying. Essentially love the sinner, hate the sin. I agree.

            I think when I read your piece, my first thought was why were you equating judgement of sin, and in the Boy Scouts case, “shunning” it, “standing against it”, however you wish to define it as bigotry? And if so, if God has defined sin and will not accept it, then God is a bigot.

            That make any sense?

          • Well, sure. But as a man of faith, then you know we’re all sinners. I think when you start deciding that which sins preclude participation in public life, including the Boy Scouts, that bigotry can definitely enter the equation.

            For instance, should the Boy Scouts kick out heterosexual boys who sleep with their girlfriends? Or, even more problematic and widespread, those who really, really want to sleep with their girlfriends, or any girl, but don’t act on it? (In other words, every male with a pulse?)

            How are they any less sinful than a gay scout?

          • Because its yuckier? I don’t know. There is a line somewhere. Well, maybe there isn’t. Maybe that’s my issue. There are no lines anymore. We must accept everything and then come up with very logical, reasonable reasons to make ourselves feel better about it. Because none of us want to be bigots. But standing up for religious societal tennants will get you there in a hurry.

          • You’re a refreshingly honest man. But “yuckier” isn’t a workable standard. I agree that we need lines, but we also need practical reasons for them.

          • No … the LDS church was NOT saying “love the sinner, hate the sin” with that statement.

            Rather, they were saying that there is no sin in having homosexual tendencies and attractions. So it’s not a case of loving the person who has same-sex attraction in spite of their sin, it’s a case of that person not being a sinner at all (unless they ultimately engage in sinful sexual activities).

            The distinction is important.

  1. I’m kind of mixed on this issue as well. I absolutely agree with the hate the sin not the sinner mentality and don’t think a boy should be excluded just because he’s gay. But how do you preach against the sin and teach the sin is wrong when openly allowing it to be practiced in your ranks?

    For example, 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.

    and the scout law is:

    A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.

    How do you teach the hypocrisy of having scouts recite this (being clean and morally straight) and having scouts that are opening not?

    Do you change the scout law and oath to remove those references and be more politically correct? I think that would be an enormous tragedy.

    • Holy cow! What?%*&!

      In what way is a teenage boy dealing with same-sex attraction not clean and morally straight?

      It’s a different issue entirely if the boy is violating commandments. But that would apply to both gay and straight boys.

      In the church we make a distinction that most in the world do not. That distinction is between being homosexual (e.g., having the attractions) and engaging in homosexual behavior (e.g., sexual activity). The world doesn’t make this distinction because they assume that any attraction will be acted on, whether gay or straight.

      But let’s not let that confuse the issue when it comes to the church and its position. Same-sex attraction is not sinful … same-sex activity is.

      • I agree with you completely…which is why I said “openly practicing”, which I mean to either be engaging in the practice or actively advocating its permissibility (probably the more common of the two). I guess in my mind a person who has same gender attraction, but does not engage in homosexual activity is not “gay” in much the same way that a person isn’t a thief until they actually steal something (however Christ did take it a step further with the Pharisees calling them adulterers in their hearts.)

        My point is, say the BSA decides to allow gays to become scouts, but continue to maintain the current scout law and oath. Do you really think the LGBT community will not advocate or put pressure on the BSA to change the law/oath? The camel’s nose is in the tent. How do you make sure only his nose is in the tent?

        • I can’t say what the LGBT community will or won’t do if a change is made. But since when has the BSA done anything in response to the LGBT lobby? They never have. Even now, a change in policy would (in my mind) likely be the result of LDS lobbying, not LGBT lobbying. Or is it just a coincidence that after a decade of pressure on this issue from the LGBT lobby the BSA decides to revisit the issue just 2 or 3 months after the LDS clarifies its position with the new website? I think not.

          As for whether a boy with same-sex attraction who is not engaging in homosexual activity is really “gay” … let me ask you a question. When you were 13 and turned on by that hot girl in your junior high, were you “straight”? Or was your sexual orientation still undetermined because (presumably) you had not yet sampled the goods? I think it’s fair to say that you were straight then, just as these boys with same-sex attraction are gay.

          It’s largely semantics. But I get tired of LDS men (and I don’t know if you are one of them) claiming that one is only “gay” after they have engaged in homosexual activities … as if their own “straightness” was only determined on their wedding night.

          • My point is we all struggle with different things whether it be lust, selfishness, greed, pride, laziness, etc, etc, etc. Just because we struggle with _________ (fill in the blank) but are doing our best to overcome it doesn’t mean we necessarily have to identify with or label ourselves as part of the group who does choose to act out on it. It’s the acting out that identifies. Gay sex may be the ultimate act of homosexuality, but certainly isn’t the only one. I had to start chasing girls long before I could have a wedding night.

            To me, same gender attraction is just like any other challenge we have to overcome in order to put off the natural man. Is it tough? Sure. But it doesn’t somehow make you special anymore than being prideful or selfish or whatever challenge you face.

          • I agree. But I think you too readily dismiss what people with same-sex attraction go through in their efforts to remain chaste. I suspect it’s nothing like any challenge you or I have faced.

            And just because a boy acknowledges his same-sex attraction doesn’t mean he is necessarily labeling himself as part of that group or somehow embracing that culture. For many, acknowledging the reality of their struggle is likely an important step in being able to successfully deal with it.

  2. When I read the title of this post, I thought you were going to write about how the LDS Church needs the BSA to soften its stance on homosexuality (putting it more in line with the church’s stance), lest problems arise for the church. Specifically, the church is in a tough spot if it preaches to teenagers dealing with same-sex attraction that they have done nothing wrong and that there is a place for them in the church … and then uses as the activity arm of the Aaronic Priesthood a third-party organization that excludes these same teenagers from participation. That sends a very mixed message publicly, and more importantly, to these teenagers and their families. I don’t think it’s sustainable, and I suspect the church is one of the many voices behind the scenes encouraging a revision in the BSA’s stance.

    But that’s not what your post is about. So I won’t go there. 🙂

    • Except I agree with you 100%.

      I have to be circumspect in how I discuss this, but I submitted a modified version of this post as an opinion piece that could have been used by church-owned media. The reason it was rejected is that, for all the noise about where the church stands and what it will or will not do if the ban is lifted, they have taken no official public position. My guess is that your speculation about their behind-the-scenes discussions is pretty accurate.

  3. Andy’s take is right on the money. A gay scout is both clean and morally straight if he’s not having sex with anybody, and a straight scout that is sexually active is neither of those things.

  4. So its ok to want that hot gay love all day as long as you don’t actually partake. Like its ok to want to kill that jerk down the street as long as you don’t. There is something to be said for controlling one’s sinful desires. Still seems like a weasly stance to me.(Like Jimmy lusting in his heart) Its a tough issue. We’re all weak human beings. I appreciate the discussion gentlemen.

    • “So its ok to want that hot gay love all day as long as you don’t actually partake.”

      Yes. Just as it’s OK to want that hot straight love all day as long as you don’t actually partake, which describes every teenage boy since the beginning of time.

      • I would say No and that being morally clean and straight certainly includes thoughts since our thoughts in large part determine who we become. Sure teenage boys won’t be perfect at that, but we have to teach them moral purity starts with your thoughts. Otherwise we become like the Pharisees in the New Testament who made it a point to follow the letter of the law, but missed the whole point of it.

        Tons of scriptures indicate this like Matt 5:28 “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

          • You two are conflating two separate issues. One is illicit heterosexual vs. illicit homosexual activity. The other is controlling our passions.

            Yes, it is true that all men (and women) should control their passions. We should not fantasize about that which is not right. In the context of this discussion, that applies to both gays and straights.

            But a gay boy fantasizing about gay sex is no more wrong than a straight boy fantasizing about straight sex. Both boys should learn to better control their passions. The fact that one boy’s natural passions are for an activity that is strictly forbidden, while the other boy’s natural passions are for an activity that is only conditionally forbidden, is besides the point of whether the boys are appropriate in fostering their fantasies.

          • Being morally straight and clean includes how you act and what you intentionally, purposefully think about. You can’t separate the two (for anyone, regardless of sexual orientation).

          • I don’t disagree.

            I’m simply saying that unless you are willing to say that a straight boy who sometimes fantasizes about straight sex is not clean and morally straight, you shouldn’t say that a gay boy who sometimes fantasizes about gay sex is not clean and morally straight.