It seems as if everyone has an opinion about whether the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) should admit openly homosexual men into its leadership ranks. But in one particular, everyone agrees: the impact would be profound.
As if to highlight the importance of the decision, even President Barack Obama has weighed in on it. In a pre-Super Bowl interview with CBS News, the president said the Boy Scouts should make the change. Newspapers around the country have editorialized on the subject, almost all of them in favor of the change, with some saying it doesn’t go far enough. The liberal New York Times’ Jan. 30 editorial said the proposed policy "falls far short of the clear and strong renunciation of anti-gay bigotry that is called for."
But millions of Americans believe otherwise, and the Boy Scouts have heard from many of them. The American Family Association (AFA) and the Family Research Council (FRC) have both sent emails to hundreds of thousands of their supporters with instructions to contact the Scouts. The FRC even sent a list of names and phone numbers of Boy Scout board members. The AFA created a petition for its supporters to sign in support of the current policy. As of noon on Monday, more than 90,000 people had signed the petition. Spokesperson Cindy Roberts said the AFA would deliver the petition to the Boy Scouts after the close of business on Monday.
The new policy, if adopted, would allow local councils and individual troops to decide whether homosexuals can serve as Scout leaders. In theory, this change would be consistent with long-standing Scout policy, which allows sponsoring organizations to choose or approve the leaders of the packs and troops they sponsor.
But in practice, the new policy would allow sponsoring organizations that affirm homosexuality to provide immediate openings for homosexual Scout leaders. The Episcopal Church, for example, sponsors more than 1,200 Scouting units (Cub Packs, Scout Troops, and Venture Crews), and actively affirms homosexuality in both policy and practice. The United Methodist Church has more than 350,000 boys in more than 10,000 troops and packs. Gilbert Hanke, general secretary of the General Commission of the United Methodist Men, said, “These proposed changes are actually more consistent with the current Book of Discipline” of the United Methodist Church, which he said “clearly supports ‘the rights and liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation.’”
R. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, warned the new policy would ultimately prove untenable and unpalatable for both sides. “The new policy is a half-measure that amounts to cowardly moral evasion. Those who believe that homosexual conduct is sin cannot endorse the new local option policy. Those who celebrate and demand the normalization of homosexuality cannot and will not be satisfied with a half-measure like a local option.”
On this point, Mohler and the New York Times are in rare agreement. The Times concluded: “The halfway policy change would inevitably invite litigation.” The costly litigation would, however, be directed at local councils, who have even less ability to defend themselves than the national organization.
The national board of the BSA began its three-day meeting today. This issue was not on the agenda originally distributed to board members two weeks ago, but some board members have indicated they likely will vote on the policy by Wednesday.