Readers of my work have been surprised to learn that deep down I’m really a goody two-shoes.
In fact, back in high school, I earned my Eagle Scout, the highest honor one can earn from the Boy Scouts of America. The rank requires progression through all six ranks, earning 21 merit badges, and completing several service projects along the way. For my final service project, I organized and executed a massive clothing drive to benefit a mission in Cranks, Kentucky. I also was a patrol leader and had lots of happy backpacking trips at “high adventure” camps like Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. Prior to earning my Tenderfoot badge, I was in the Cub Scouts program and went through all its ranks, as well. My brother, Ben, was also a Cub Scout and Boy Scout, and he earned his Eagle Scout rank.
All good memories and experiences, and I wouldn’t trade any of them.
And now, here I am, the father of two wonderful little boys, thinking about what extracurricular activities I would like to enroll them in once they’re older.
Sadly, I have no plans to encourage them to be Scouts. In the intervening 20+ years since I was in the organization, a couple ugly truths have come to light about the good ole B. S. of A. And about me, I suppose.
The first is that you can’t be an atheist or agnostic and remain a member. (See the Wikipedia entry about the BSA’s Declaration of Religious Principle.) When I was Scout, that wasn’t an issue for me. I was a confirmed member of the Methodist church. I played piano for the choir and sometimes took over for the organist (me playing the piano) when the organist was out. Right up until age 26 or so, I played and sang in the church’s Christian rock band, The Messengers, and I had a great time doing all of it. But was I religious? Did I have a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” as true believers have suggested I should?
You know, I think I was just in it for the music. Sad to say, but true. This became more apparent for me in college, when I played piano for the Methodist youth organization, and I started having real questions about the logical underpinnings of Christianity. That’s when I also encountered, for the first time, actual religious zealotry in the form of some of the other Christian youth organizations. And there was one particularly intense co-ed who struck me as only one or two marbles shy of being a great cult member candidate. (She was, incidentally, hellbent on keeping her virginity intact until marriage while I was equally hellbent on convincing her to depart with it. This resulted in one memorable discussion after which she needed therapy because I had “shredded” her beliefs.)
But I digress. Suffice to say that the Matt Warner of today, if he rejoined, might need some legal counsel for violating the 12th point of the Scout Law, the one reading, “Reverent.”
Man, I had a great time as a Scout. That was true even when I was being rushed from Goshen Scout Camp to the emergency room to receive 16 stitches under my eye after my face lost an argument with a dock. That was true even when courting frostbite at the “Freeze-O-Ree” camporees in the dead of winter.
And no, I didn’t suspect or even give a thought to the second ugly truth about the BSA that has come to light since then, the one that goes, “We believe that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts.”
Last June, the Scouts concluded a two-year review of this policy and concluded they should leave things alone.
In response, several Eagle Scouts have been doing an amazing thing: they’ve been returning their badges. Last week, a member of my community returned his. So, I felt like I needed to do something, too. Today, I mailed off the following letter:
Matthew Warner, Eagle Scout
Staunton, VA 24401
September 17, 2012
Wayne Brock, Chief Scout Executive
Boy Scouts of America
1325 West Walnut Hill Lane
P.O. Box 152079
Irving, TX 75015-2079
RE: BSA position on homosexuality
Dear Mr. Brock:
Somehow, I progressed through all of the ranks in the Boy Scouts of America and earned my Eagle Scout rank over 20 years ago without becoming aware of the BSA’s policy of discriminating against homosexuals. Had I known about it, I would have lobbied within our organization (Troop 1100 of Burke, Virginia) to strongly protest this policy to the Chief Scout Executive at the time.
I’m not going to return my Eagle badge to you, as many of my fellow Eagles are now doing. I spent years progressing through the ranks, earning merit badges, serving in leadership roles, and learning to serve others. I have many fond memories of my fellow Scouts and Scoutmasters and of my outdoor adventures at places like Philmont Scout Ranch. It doesn’t make sense to return what I worked so hard to earn.
So, as an Eagle Scout, I am herein sending you my protest against the BSA’s medieval ban against gay members. As Justice John Paul Stevens observed in his dissenting opinion to Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, the BSA’s ban is inconsistent with its founding principles. The BSA is primarily concerned with shaping young men into the leaders of tomorrow, with special attention to the Scout Oath and Law, which are a system of morals. I fail to see how somebody’s sexual orientation falls within that purview. Science has shown that whether somebody is gay is a matter of genetics, just like the color of one’s skin. The BSA, as far as I’m aware, does not discriminate against African-Americans, for which I’m glad. So why does it have this double standard against gays?
But let’s accept for the sake of argument that sexual orientation is a choice. For it to become a moral issue, then, the choice must present possible harm to someone as a consequence. How does being gay harm anyone? The only potential injury I’m aware of stems from the unthinking hatred of a hostile society. But hatred and intolerance can be changed. I would like to believe that one of the oldest and most revered youth organizations in the world has some power in this regard.
The LGBT people I have known are the most civic-minded, responsible, intelligent, and kindhearted parents and entrepreneurs I have ever met. My wife, my two sons, and I are proud to count them among our closest friends.
I challenge you also to make some friends in the LBGT community. Give yourself a chance to like them as fellow human beings, rather than as the faceless brunt of a Bible verse. You might then be sickened, as I am, that they would be treated as second-class citizens, publicly and privately. Do you have that kind of courage? Does the Boy Scouts?
Leadership was one of the greatest skills Scouting taught me. I urge the BSA in turn to demonstrate its own moral leadership by taking a stand for what’s right. I know you recently concluded a two-year study on this very issue and decided to leave the BSA membership policy status quo. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still fix this situation. It’s never too early — or too late — to correct a mistake.
cc. Troop 1100, Burke, VA
Glenn Adams, President, National Eagle Scout Association
After mailing the letter, I guess I wasn’t surprised to read today’s headline about a progressive Delaware church evicting a Boy Scout troop over its policy banning gays.
Huh. Maybe the church isn’t so bad, after all.