Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Next Battle in the BSA – and the Soul of Scouting

All has fallen quiet (or at least as quiet as it can be) in the Boy Scouts of America since the decision to allow gay leaders came down earlier this year.

But the seeds for the next conflict have been sown, particularly in a revamping of rank requirements that include the question: “Tell how you have done your duty to God.”

I predict this will be the next battlefield, never mind that a duty to God has been an acknowledged part of Scouting (and not just the BSA) since its founding.

Here’s the rub: If a boy says in the scoutmaster conference or board of review that he does not believe in God, rank advancement can be stopped. Per Bryan on Scouting 9emphasis mine):

Q. What if, during a Scoutmaster conference or board of review, a Scout says that he does not believe in God?

A. A Scout is called to do his duty to God by both the Scout Oath and Scout Law, and his belief in God should be acknowledged by his parent or guardian’s signature on the BSA Youth Application. A Scout’s declaration that he does not believe in God is grounds to deny rank advancement and could affect his continued membership in the troop. The situation should be approached with the utmost caution, recognizing that the Scout and his family are best served by a process in which the Scout remains positively engaged in his Scouting pursuits. Troop leadership should not attempt to counsel the Scout, but should contact the boy’s parents or guardians and allow the family time to discuss the situation with the youth. If the issue arises at a board of review, the board should be adjourned and reconvened at a later date, giving the family an opportunity to conduct that discussion with their son.

I happen to be a believer. Have been for a very long time. But in this day and age where people do not read the terms and conditions, this is going to become a sticking point.

But should it?

I know a boy who has been held back on his Tenderfoot rank because he can’t do a pull-up. That’s a firm requirement. And has been for a long time, since “physically strong” was part of Scouting. And I think his leaders are being a bit too hard on him.

My youngest son also fits this category. He’s a chunky monkey like his father. He cannot do a pull-up. But he has passed off that requirement through the help of wise scout leaders (not me) who see his love of Scouts and Scouting should not be halted by one shortcoming.

If we wash out the spiritually agnostic, do we also wash out the physically weak? If so, I’d better leave Scouting. I can’t do a pull-up to save my life. Literally.

How would I react if a boy said to me, in a Scoutmaster conference, that he does not believe in God?
The reaction would be nuanced.

I’m Scoutmaster in an LDS (Mormon) unit. Most of my scouts are Mormons. Some are lapsed. And I have one Scout who is not LDS, but has other beliefs. All are, on occasion, asked to say a prayer over a meal, or before a camping trip. None have refused. They have gone to church-sponsored activities where the focus was religion, not Scouting. None have protested. The parents seem to know this is going to happen. None have complained.

And if they did, and if they insisted neither a certain religion nor belief in God be pushed?

That is their right.

But their boys are still Scouts. They can still come to our troop. They won’t be forced into any activity they don’t wish to engage in – though they won’t be shunned or excluded.

Excluding these boys – and by extension, their families – from the BSA because they elect not to believe in God is a disservice, for the cause of religion (of any stripe) and of Scouting – and certainly of these boys. Shoving them out because they decline to believe in a higher power will further alienate them and make them more disinclined to believe.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

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