LegalWorks Apostolate - Counsel for a Culture of Life

Boy Scouts Loving the Sinner, Vague About Hating the Sin

National Organization Votes for Moral Ambiguity

By Stu Nolan

The headlines are trumpeting the news that the Boy Scouts of America has changed its membership policy to allow participation in Scouting by "open and avowed homosexuals". Of course, those words do not appear in the resolution that BSA adopted. Nonetheless, it is difficult to interpret the resolution in a most charitable light while the national organization describes the "new" policy as a "change" that ends the previously -- supposedly unjust -- policy of "discrimination".

BSA set the stage for the new policy by conducting a massive listening tour, supposedly to inform the deliberations of some 1,400 voting BSA executives. This perceived need for a polling operation did not inspire confidence in BSA prior to the vote, since popularity does not instill moral legitimacy to a fall from grace. Nonetheless, BSA was sure to pay homage to these efforts and has been boasting about the extensive "process" ever since the vote. The emphasis on "process" is of course a big red flag to anyone concerned about substance.

As to the substance of the new policy, we are told that the new membership policy will cease discriminating "on the basis of sexual orientation alone" with respect to youth membership but not with respect to adult leadership. A poor man's King Solomon, BSA has attempted to please both sides and instead has pleased no one, an especially odd result after such an extended exercise in measuring noise. In seeking to sustain a youth formation program that promotes masculine leadership in the context of virtuous living, BSA might do better simply to teach the youth in their charge that free men need not be "enslaved by their various passions and pleasures" (Titus 3:3).

After this disappointing start, BSA insists, "any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting." That part certainly sounds nice, but it also begs the question why the previous policy existed for so long -- and why BSA bothered to vigorously and successfully defend it before none other than the U.S. Supreme Court. Perhaps, rather than taking this Pontius Pilate model of leadership at face value, we should dig deeper.

The oft-employed references to "sexual orientation" and "open homosexuals" are ambiguous terms at best. Both avoid making mention of the actual sin that concerns us. If one limits the discussion to whether people can confess their sexual desires, freely and without fear of being ostracized, then one really has marginalized quite effectively the core of the matter. What we really mean to discuss, then, is "same sex attraction", which is by itself disordered but not sinful, and "homosexual conduct", which is intrinsically immoral.

Enthusiasts for homosexual conduct have seized upon empathy for those who experience same sex attraction. They depict the defenders of traditional Scouting as callous advocates of "discrimination" against boys and men who might otherwise "benefit" from participation in Scouting. Let us first rebut this unfounded characterization; then, let's explore how the new policy is in fact unjustly discriminatory. We can then conclude by explaining why those who experience same sex attraction cannot truly hope to benefit from Scouting.

I'll stipulate that true compassion is owed toward those who experience same sex attraction. Even so, sanctioning sinful activity in no way demonstrates a bona fide compassion.

In any event, not all eligibility standards constitute illicit discrimination. Of necessity, each of us discriminates on numerous occasions throughout any given day, and the new policy announced by BSA continues to discriminate against, for example, girls. Only irrational and unjustifiably injurious discrimination is immoral. In fact, as explained below, morality sometimes demands discrimination. The terrible irony here is that BSA had successfully defended its legal right to discriminate, only to voluntarily cede its moral obligation to do so.

The irony does not end there. The concession by BSA will inevitably invite litigation to reverse its legal victory. Moreover, the supposedly improved membership policy truly does discriminate in an immoral manner against a much larger number of existing Scouts.

The widespread criticism of the new policy includes the following charges:

* It abandons a legacy as a champion of instilling the aspiration to virtue;
? * It compromises the integrity of BSA in its core teachings;
* It renders hollow the portions of the Scout Oath that pledges to be "morally straight";
? * It undermines the Scout Law commitment to remaining "Clean" and "Reverent".
? * It constitutes a tacit endorsement of immoral sexual activity;
? * It succumbs to the seduction and illusory promise of increased membership;
? * It reflects a prostituting of itself in a quest for corporate cash; and
? * It in no way satiates the appetite of libertine enthusiasts for homosexual conduct, or their zeal to assault BSA and any institution still willing to condemn sexual activity outside marriage.

Notwithstanding all these criticisms that others have made, the BSA dance with the devil is darker still, and in ways less widely understood. After all, proponents of the new policy can, however unpersuasively, argue that the new policy does not endorse homosexual activity so much as it elects agnosticism on the matter. In this context, capitulation becomes much easier than explaining the moral obligation to discriminate.

In truth, however, virtuous leadership required that the previous policy of so-called discrimination be retained because the new policy -- both for boys experiencing same sex attraction and for adult leaders of overnight camping trips -- is unarguably morally problematic if examined from the perspective of traditional Church teachings. And, perhaps surprisingly, neither of the Church teachings we cite below have any direct bearing on same sex attraction per se.

The first problematic aspect of the new policy concerns the obligation to avoid the "near occasions of sin". If placed in an intimate setting, any teenage boy who is attracted to someone ? regardless of the sex of the person to whom he is attracted ? is likely to experience sexual temptation, whether the temptation is to the serious sin of sexual activity outside of marriage or even of the also serious sin of impure thoughts. Thus, to introduce boys into close quarters with anyone, boy or girl, to whom they may reasonably be attracted sexually -- i.e., sharing a tent on an overnight camping trip -- unarguably would place these boys in the near occasion of mortal sin.

The second problematic aspect of the new policy is that it necessarily requires adult leaders to sanction sleeping arrangements that place Scouts in the near occasion of sin, which itself constitutes an additional serious sin known as "scandalizing the faithful". Thus, adult leaders who intentionally, or with recklessly disregard, coordinate or supervise the Scout(s) in question, would themselves be culpable for serious sin.

The public nature of the sleeping arrangement presents another serious moral problem; that is, it presents a second type of scandal on the faithful. Specifically, when other Scouts witness an adult leader's perceived sanctioning of the placement of a boy experiencing same sex attraction in the near occasion of sin, the faith of those other Scouts is undermined. Each time this happens constitutes yet another scandalizing of the faithful. Thus, by BSA's decision, it has transformed from an organization from one that was dedicated to instilling character and leadership into an organization that is instead placing Scouts in the near occasion of mortal sin -- and requiring adult leaders to further scandalize the faithful by sanctioning that placement.

Consider, then, some remaining objectionable elements of the BSA statement announcing the new policy. The press release claimed that BSA "will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive, and unresolved societal issue." To the contrary, and most sadly, BSA just did this. The statement further decreed "there are no plans for further review on this matter." Right. Good luck with that.

Inasmuch as the new policy endangers the souls of those who take seriously the teachings of the Church, this constitutes a much broader ? and unjustified ? discrimination against faithful Scouts who must now disassociate from BSA and to thereby lose access to its land resources and advancement programs.

Such discrimination is impossible to outweigh by some illusory benefit to the prospective new Scouts that the new policy allows to join, since the newcomer cannot possibly obtain the true Scouting experience he supposedly sought. As expressed through BSA, Scouting has been fundamentally transformed it into something else entirely.

Let us also take exception to the notion that "While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting." It is precisely because of our disagreement with this policy that we cannot any longer conclude with sufficient confidence that participation in BSA will remain a net benefit to boys. We can only agree that boys benefitted from the Scouting that used to be. Now that BSA has fundamentally changed the program from one that teaches virtue into one that promotes sin, it is no longer a program we can universally hail as beneficial to all boys. Indeed, we must in some way express a vote of no confidence.

To paraphrase President Ronald Reagan, we have not left BSA, but BSA may have left Scouting. The families, institutions, and values that many of us hoped to serve through Scouting may no longer be compatible with the culture of BSA. If so, we will have no recourse other than to shake the dust from our feet and move on. We hope and pray that BSA will clarify -- loudly and repeatedly -- that its "new policy" is not really so new at all, and that the Boy Scouts will continue to teach that homosexual activity is immoral at any age. But if BSA fails, either by design or by incompetence, to correct the widespread impression among the public that the Boy Scouts just made themselves a haven for homosexual advocates, then we must build another organization that will assist in youth formation while honoring the best traditions of Scouting.

We will do well to remember well the lesson on which Sir Thomas More relied, that to remain silent suggests assent. We most emphatically do not assent to the BSA retreat from virtue. Perhaps we will meet with no greater success in this world than did More, who after all was a martyr. Nonetheless, it is not those of this world, so much as the saints such as Thomas More, who we seek to emulate.

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