Yesterday was Scout Sunday in the United Methodist churches that sponsor more than 11,000 Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs. That figure ranks the Methodists second among all sponsors of Scout units, right behind the Mormons and ahead of the Catholics.
Together, those three churches essentially own the franchise for nearly half of all Scout units, serving two in five boys in the program nationwide. Including all other faith-based organizations, both figures rise to roughly two-thirds.
That’s about half of what you need to know to understand the difficulty the Boy Scouts of America faces as it deals with calls to admit gay youth and adults after 103 years of disallowing them.
The other half is that pressure put on the BSA by secular groups, such as businesses and large non-profits, comes largely in the form of financial contributions they withhold from the organization until it meets their core conviction that excluding gays is wrong.
Which runs counter to a core conviction for many of the BSA’s largest religious sponsors that homosexuality is a sin.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Scouts’ board members decided Wednesday to wait until May to decide whether to keep the ban or lift it completely or in part, by allowing local Scout groups to decide whether to admit gays.
No one should expect their decision, whatever it is and whenever it comes, to resolve this conflict of convictions. Or to portend a bright long-term future for the BSA.
It would not last long as an organization that allowed some local units’ policies to, in the eyes of other local units’ sponsors, violate the Scout Oath’s dictum to keep oneself “morally straight.” A house divided against itself will not stand.
Its secular donors and ex-donors make clear the BSA will continue to lose critical funding if it keeps the ban. Its dominant cohort of religious sponsors make it equally plain they will not countenance ending the ban.
Anyone who understands the vital role played by Scouting’s sponsoring organizations – as I do, having spent 11 years as a Cub Scout and then Boy Scout, eventually serving in a multi-state, regional role — knows the threat the religious groups issued is an existential one for the BSA.
The charters for the troops they sponsor are up for renewal every December, so the fall could be both severe and swift. The churches could render the BSA a shell of its current self, if not dead, as soon as next year if they stopped sponsoring Scout units.
So, many of us wonder if those seeking change are ignorant of the BSA’s structure, naive about the likely fallout, or just less interested in its fate than their agenda.
All the more so, because most disputes about the ban — like almost all fights within the BSA, frankly — center on adults who used to be Scouts or adults who want to be Scout leaders. That is, they chiefly center on “adults,” not “boys.”
It would be far simpler if the debate were only about the boys: only about who learns how to tie knots and how not to burn eggs over a campfire. There has long been a de facto “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for youths in Scouting. Simply making that official might assuage faith groups’ concerns while expanding access for boys.
But it wouldn’t comfort those who demand a complete change, those who know national treasures make good trophies, and those who would prefer the BSA serve no one if it won’t include them.
– By Kyle Wingfield