The opening line from the "About" page of the Boy Scouts of America website states, "The Boy Scouts of America is one of the nation's largest and most prominent values-based youth development organizations." Their recent announcement about changing the policy banning gay scouts and leaders is most welcomed.
According to Deron Smith, a spokesperson for the BSA, "This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization's mission, principles or religious beliefs." This announcement will, for many people in this country, reinstate the belief that the BSA is once again being based on the right values – values that are not founded on prejudice and antiquated ideas, but rather on compassion and respect.
I am the pastor of a congregation that has chartered a troop for nearly half a century. The troop has been an important part of our church, involved in projects and worship. We have been proud to be their chartering organization, yet it has caused some strain over the years, as we are an "open and affirming" congregation that welcomes and affirms all people in a Christ-like manner, meaning "without partiality," (Matt.12:14) and affirming the immeasurable value of all people in God's eyes. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are always welcome and are active in all levels of activity and leadership in the church.
So chartering a troop whose national body requires them to be un-Christ like has been difficult to reconcile for many of our members, including myself and many aging Eagle Scouts. In many ways, we exercise a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy – we don't ask if the troop excludes gays and they don't tell us. But we have never heard of any instances, for which I am very grateful. As far as I am aware, our troop has acted in a Christ-like manner and has not demonstrated any prejudice or unwelcoming behavior. But what the current BSA policy on gay men and boys has meant for us is that we have been living in a kind of closeted dishonesty, because we have not wished to end a relationship that has been beneficial to the church, the scouts and the community. I am now looking forward to an even more significant relationship between our church and the troop we charter.
I still look forward to a time when the BSA policy moves from non-malevolence to beneficence, which is to move from "not seeking to hurt gays" to a national policy that will affirm and recognize the value of gays in scouting. So, yes, there is still room for growth, but I am overjoyed that the BSA now seems committed to no longer demeaning, vilifying and excluding gays. Such a change will model for their membership significant growth in character development, spiritual growth, good citizenship and the other purposes for their mission.
May this adventure continue down this path.
The Rev. Greg Garland
United Church of Broomfield (Colo.) United Church of Christ