Thursday, May 21, 2015

Eight Things More Worrisome to Me in the BSA Than the Potential of Gay Leaders

I don’t know how the debate over allowing gay adults to be leaders in the Boy Scouts of America is going to play out, nor how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will react if and when that decision is made (I have some hints, but I can’t speak for the church, obviously).

I do know, after eighteen months of being a scoutmaster, there are many more things I’m more worried about as far as my boys go and the BSA goes than whether adult gay leaders (or squirt guns) are allowed or not. Allow me to share a few:

  1.  Uninvolved parents. I’m going to paint with a broad brush here, and also add that there’s some indifference that I could erase if I were a more effective leader (see No. 2). I do know that the scouts I see succeeding – whether it’s through advancement, deeper involvement in scouting (through Order of the Arrow or working at scout camps or whatever – are the scouts who have parents who are actively involved in their boys’ work as scouts. Those boys whose parents aren’t involved may or may not advance – because as a scout leader, I can’t do everything (again, see No. 2). Maybe parents are indifferent because they don’t know what they can do to help (see No. 2). Or maybe they’re rightfully wrapped up enough with jobs, extracurricular activities and other stuff that they’re happy to hand scouting over to someone else. I just know pound for pound, scouting is more effective if parents are involved. I only get your boys one or two hours a week. They’re yours the rest of the time.
  2. Ineffective leaders. I’ve been to Wood Badge. I’m trained up the wazoo. But I am, at the bottom of everything, a human being with a full-time job and a part-time job and I’m trying to write a book and be a scoutmaster. I’m swamped. I should spend more time training the boys on how to be leaders. I should spend more time working with parents so they know what they can do to help their own sons out. And sometimes when I’m with the boys, I’m cranky. I can be boring. I try my best, but I’m a technical writer and introvert working with a bunch of energetic 12- and 13-year-old boys. There just isn’t enough time in the day. Especially when there are blog posts to be written.
  3. Inattentive scouts. This past Tuesday, I had to go round up five scouts who were hiding in the chapel because they didn’t want to participate in the service project with the older scouts and the young women. I had them almost out the door of the chapel when I realized I only had four of them. So I chased them down to opening exercises (See No. 4) and then had to prowl the dark chapel looking for the fifth. I found him hiding in the choir seats, playing a game on his phone. He confessed right away he was hiding and didn’t want to participate. I got kind of mad at him and he knew it (See No. 2). And as I walked him to opening exercises, I had to chase the other four back into the room. Scouting is supposed to be fun, I know. But sometimes these boys need to know there’s work – and, yes, drudgery – involved. That’s life. And when I get them in the room to work on whatever, even if it’s a game, I’ve got ten minutes tops before their attention span is worn out completely.
  4. Heavy LDS-ness. I confess there are times I skip opening exercises. Two of my ten boys aren’t members of the church. Another three aren’t active. And even when OE takes up fifteen, twenty minutes, they all expect to be cut loose at 8 pm. Opening exercises takes valuable scout time away from me. And there are times I wish we could skip combined activities that are basically a Sunday meeting in a Tuesday disguise. My non-LDS scouts are bored. My LDS scouts are bored. And, to tell the truth, I’m bored. These are well-intentioned activities and many of them are of great worth to my scouts, LDS or not. But some of them, well, they're sleepers. I have to be very specific and tell them what’s happening each month on the day we have our combined activity and how it fits into scouting, or at least half the scouts don’t show up. Every month.
  5. Distractions. One boy comes to scouts every Tuesday starving, and rightly so. Mom and Dad both work, and it’s often not until late that they’ve got dinner ready. I feel his pain – I head to scouts straight from the bus. We both spend the entire time thinking about how hungry we are. Then there are the cell phones and tablets. I have taken them away more than I can remember – but they always come back out as soon as the next meeting starts. I have a wife who can pay better attention to things if she’s got her hands occupied; she remembers more from Sacrament meeting than I do, and I’m paying attention while she’s playing mah-jong. I’ve got two scouts like that. They can tell me exactly what we’re talking about, even with a game going in front of their faces. The other boys can’t. So I either let everyone have a device out and fight for their collective attention, or everyone puts their devices away and I fight for their collective attention.
  6. Sports. I love that my boys are involved in baseball, basketball, track, and wrestling. It’s good for them. They learn teamwork, dedication, and how to remain physically strong. But I have scouts who miss outings because of sports. They miss Tuesday nights because of sports. And I struggle to keep them caught up (see nos. 1 and 2).
  7. Self-righteous helpers. There are many of you who have read this list and are ready with smug replies as to why I should let the patrol method, Wood Badge training, or any other scouting-oriented buzz concepts help me fix these problems. There are also many of you out there ready to say that if my scouts are more interested in their devices or sports than they are in scouting, then I must be an ineffective leader. You’re partially right (see No. 2). But mostly, I want to tell y’all to stuff it. I’m doing my level best and have the support of our bishopric and many of the parents whose boys are in my care. And since I’m LDS, I already have a pre-recorded sense of guilt playing 24/7 about my many failings and inadequacies. I don’t need any more from you. What I need from you are an occasional shoulder to cry on and an empathetic ear. I am working on the patrol method and on applying my Wood Badge training – don’t assume I’m not. If you are, that’s your self-righteousness talking, not your willingness to understand and to help.
  8. Poor communication. This runs the gamut from the council to myself (see No. 2). We’ve had two camporees so far this year. Those who organize them work hard to produce a wonderful program for the boys – that also results in partial merit badges that I now have to squeeze into our schedule to5 finish because the camporee organizers never tell us what’s going to be accomplished at the camporee so we can complete requirements beforehand, or organize camporees in a way that partially completes a merit badge when the badge could be completed entirely with a little more organization. (Speaking of which, I need to pause this entry to complete a merit badge card for one of our scouts; see No. 2.) On to me: I need to communicate more effectively with parents, so they know what they can to do help. To do that, I do a lot of handouts (they mostly go home with the scouts, which is only partially effective, see No. 5). I also do a blog. Which some of the parents read. And some do not. There’s something about leading a horse to water here, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. (Same goes for me. I could call the camporee organizers to find out what we can do before we go to the camporee to finish the merit badges, but I don’t (see nos. 2 and 8).)

I’m not going to go on, but I could probably come up with another two to round out a Top Ten. Even if the BSA were to decide to allow adult gay leaders, and even if the LDS Church, my chartering organization, agreed to the change, there are simply too many other things for me to worry about than whether my next assistant scoutmaster – or my successor – is gay or not.

WARNING. The rest of this blog post focuses on my personal thoughts on what BSA National President Robert Gates said concerning adult gay leadership at the national meeting today. Read at your own peril.

Robert Gates, president of the Boy Scouts of America, is rocking toe Boy Scout world today.

Or is he?

CNN reports he’s calling for an end to the BSA’s ban on gay adult leaders, following on the heels of its 2013 decision to allow gay scouts to participate in Scouting.

He stops short of that, in reality. What he is in fact saying is that the BSA should change its policy to allow individual chartering organizations the right to set the criteria for adult leadership, thus letting the chartering organization – not the national organization – set the standard.

I have no problem with that.

You can read Gates’ full address here.

Excerpts here:

[D]ozens of states – from New York to Utah – are passing laws that protect employment rights on the basis of sexual orientation. Thus, between internal challenges and potential legal conflicts, the BSA finds itself in an unsustainable position.

We can move at some future date – but sooner rather than later – to seize control of our own future, set our own course and change our policy in order to allow charter partners – unit sponsoring organizations – to determine the standards for their scout leaders. Such an approach would allow all churches, which sponsor some 70 percent of our scout unites, to establish leadership standards consistent with their faith.

Our oath calls upon us to do our duty to God and our country. The country is changing and we are increasingly at odds with the legal landscape at both the state and federal levels. And, as a movement, we find ourselves with a policy more than a few of our church sponsors reject – thus placing Scouting between a boy and his church.

For me, I support a policy that accepts and respects our different perspectives and beliefs, allows religious organizations – based on First Amendment protection of religious freedom – to establish their own standards for adult leaders, and preserves the Boy Scouts of America now and forever. I truly fear that any other alternative will be the end of us as a national movement.

I agree wholeheartedly with what Gates says -- the BSA should let individual chartering organizations decide the issue.

Could the LDS church – of which I’m a member – appoint a gay scout leader?

Here’s the word from “Handbook 2: Administering the Church”. So I’m not accused of taking anything out of context, here is the full section on “Homosexual Behavior and Same-Gender Attraction” (highlights mine). Liberals will be offended by the first part. Conservatives by the latter part. So retain an open mind and read the whole thing.

Homosexual behavior violates the commandments of God, is contrary to the purposes of human sexuality, and deprives people of the blessings that can be found in family life and in the saving ordinances of the gospel. Those who persist in such behavior or who influence others to do so are subject to Church discipline. Homosexual behavior can be forgiven through sincere repentance.

If members engage in homosexual behavior, Church leaders should help them have a clear understanding of faith in Jesus Christ, the process of repentance, and the purpose of life on earth.

While opposing homosexual behavior, the Church reaches out with understanding and respect to individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender.

If members feel same-gender attraction but do not engage in any homosexual behavior, leaders should support and encourage them in their resolve to live the law of chastity and to control unrighteous thoughts. These members may receive Church callings. If they are worthy and qualified in every other way, they may also hold temple recommends and receive temple ordinances.

And to those who argue such an appointment would lead to a violation of the Scout Oath, I’ve got to tell you something: I’m in violation of the Scout Oath myself. I’m a fatty, see. I’m about eighty pounds overweight. I am not keeping myself physically strong. Yet I’ve been a scoutmaster for almost two years now, and everyone involved in my charter organization seems to think I’m doing a good job. If the BSA were to instigate a policy requiring a sensible body mass index reading, I’d be out on my fat rear end.

Now on to those who would argue the LDS Church would leave scouting if such a policy were put in place. Well, I suppose anything could happen. But it ain’t gonna. If the church allows chaste, gay members to serve in the church and hold temple recommends, the only thing stopping the church from allowing chaste, homosexual scout leaders is BSA policy, not church policy. What Gates is proposing if you read his speech closely aligns pretty well, in my opinion, with the LDS Church’s current stance.

Again, this is my interpretation of the church handbook and policy. I am not a prophet nor do I claim to have received any revelation on the subject (see No. 2 above). Others are welcome to form different interpretations. If you can come up with a different interpretation that is consistent with the policy quoted from the handbook, I’d love to hear it.

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