I'm just back from the Boy Scouts of America national meeting. As you probably know, the BSA membership approved a resolution to change the existing membership policy and remove a ban on openly gay youth members. The ban on gay adult leaders remains in place.
On Wednesday, we had a voter's information meeting. Over 30 speakers stepped up to the mikes to express their opinions for all sides of the issue. Some were youth members, some were old volunteers, and everywhere in between. Everyone had a passionate opinion on the membership resolution, and also a commitment to Scouting. Regardless of what they had to say, their remarks were received respectfully and answered with polite applause, not cheers or boos.
All levels of Scouting are managed by a team of three individuals called the 'key 3'. At the national level they are the national president representing the executive board, the national commissioner representing all the program volunteers, and the chief scout executive representing the professional staff. All of them spoke and made it clear that regardless of the outcome, the organization would implement the result, focus on the mission of serving youth, and move on.
On Thursday morning we had an annual business meeting. We continued the discussion of the membership resolution and heard 2 selected speakers from each of the four regional divisions. They respresented all sides and presented both technical and emotional arguments for their position, and again they were heard with courtesy and respect. Then we voted. At 5pm we heard the result in a very brief meeting. The result was 61.4% in favor of change. There was applause but again no cheers or boos. There was a lot of texting.
On Friday, we went back to work, with a general session, additional meetings, and a recognition dinner. In an inspiring speech, a past national president reminded us that in any difficult decision, there should be no winners or losers, just a change and a new focus on the mission. The message throughout the day was unite and get back to work. I didn't see any evidence of a lot of packing up and going home. There was no yelling or protesting or fighting. We got back to work.
As a scout and scout volunteer for over 50 years, I understand and share the frustration many have with the long-standing hypocrisy. Scouting has a simple and admirable code of conduct stated in the Scout oath and law that has been reinterpreted by church and political agendas to include more restrictions than it needs. That's the way I see it, but many of my Scouting friends read the same words in the oath and law in the context of their deeply held beliefs. For some it is challenging and for others impossible to interpret 'morally straight' in the Scout oath in any way other than as defined by their church.
While all packs, troops, and other units serve youth with a common program, each requires a 'chartered partner' who selects or approves leaders and provides meeting space. Scouting is in a lot of ways like a franchise, where a chartered partner agrees to use the program as part of their overall interest in youth development. The overwhelming majority of chartered partners are churches, with the top 3 being LDS (Mormon), Catholic, and Methodist. From bottom to top, Scouting is a volunteer led organization, and the voting members who elect the local boards are the representatives of the chartered partners. So if you are impatient with the rate of change of policies in BSA, go change some churches and we'll come right along. Good luck to you!
Some churches are finally coming around in recognizing that their religious beliefs about gays are inconsistent with reality (or maybe it is just costing them market share), but that doesn't mean it is easy for them to change. For Scouting, the new BSA policy is a step in the right direction. It is also about all the change our organization can handle at one time. In the future there will be more steps and more progress. For now, we all expect to need a period of healing while we help our scouting friends in the South cope with the impact of this change in their area. They expect to lose more chartered partners, leaders, members, and probably funding than other areas.
There are many scout volunteers who agree that the resolution did not go far enough, that it was far too long in coming, and that the remaining ban on homosexual adults is offensive and contradictory. We all know that there are gay scout leaders all over the country who keep below the radar and do a great job. These gay adults participate because they believe in the Scouting program even if there's a chance they might get tossed out. The parents of their youth members and their fellow leaders respect their work and dedication, just as they do every other leader.
The national board very carefully studied surveys and polling data from over 200,000 responses to questionaires. The resolution they crafted was one that could pass. The resulting compromise continues the ban on gay adult leaders. However flawed this policy is, successfully making some change is progress. This progress is very much better than the damage that could have resulted from attempting but failing to make a bigger change.
The Boy Scouts just made an historic change. Scouting is truly a big tent that includes people from every corner of the country, every part of the political spectrum, and every kind of belief. For each individual, the choice of voting yes or no may have been easy, but for the organization it was hard. The message I want to leave you with is this: In the end we changed Scouting by making a very hard decision while maintaining courtesy and respect for each other. Those of us involved in working toward this decision reflected many times that we wished in our political process we could discuss difficult issues with as much respect and courtesy, then make hard decisions, even if flawed and compromised, and agree to move forward in support of our common interests.