by Tim Wade
I am an Eagle Scout.
Two weeks ago the Boy Scouts of America voted to change their membership standards to allow openly gay youths to join the organization. The wording of the resolution can be found here. Like many people, I was not surprised. I had expected the ruling for some time as I observed the cultural tide enveloping organizations and institutions at a dizzying rate. Though not surprised, I was dismayed at the least. What’s more, I felt betrayed. I had dedicated nearly twelve years of my life to the Boy Scouts of America. I had worked my way from Tiger Cub up to Eagle Scout and I now felt that all of my achievements were tarnished because of the relaxing of the moral code that under-girded the organization.
In the days since the resolution, I have attempted to think through its implications more carefully. Has the fabric of the organization been altered in such a fundamental way that the organization can no longer carry out its mission? In order to better answer these questions, I wanted to rediscover the organization’s own under-girding principles. Therefore I turned to the words of Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts.
Baden-Powell made it clear that the goal of the Boy Scouts was to build character in young men, and to do so with a very intentional religious focus. He stated, “There is no religious “side” of the movement. The whole of it is based on religion, that is, on the realization and service of God.” Baden-Powell’s vision for the Boy Scouts was one of morality and service that is inseparably wed to one’s religious convictions. More from Baden-Powell on scouting’s purpose can be found here.
The aim of scouting then is to develop the character of young men in a very specific way that is informed by scripture. For the past 100 years, the Boy Scouts have helped socialize countless young men. I watched firsthand as youth who were labeled as “troubled” became respectable, God-honoring men because of the values which were promoted by the scouting program. I can trace transformation in my own life as I came to love God’s creation, and leadership skills which now serve me in ministry were cultivated through Boy Scouts. Therefore I am left concerned and curious about the future of the scouting program. What exactly does this new resolution mean for the future of the Boy Scouts?
Based on these foundational aims and my firsthand experience, I do not believe that the recent resolution to allow openly gay youth must necessarily lead to the ruin of the program if certain parameters are maintained. If the biblically informed ideal of manhood remains unchanged and all youth, regardless of their sexual orientation, are encouraged to move toward that unchanging ideal, then this resolution need not be detrimental.
In fact, this change might be the means by which openly gay young men are taught that their abhorrent dispositions must be brought into conformity with a certain ideal and therefore changed. In my own life, there were morally repulsive traits which I was able to see as such because of the values which were instilled in me through scouting and I was able to change because of mentorship and personal growth based on biblical principles promoted through scouting.
Unfortunately, I do not believe that these parameters will be maintained. Admittance to membership typically means something greater than mere admittance. Inclusion often becomes a celebration of LGBT values. Therefore, by admitting openly gay youth, the ideal of manhood which has remained relatively unchanged for a century within the scouting program will now be redefined to include homosexuality as an acceptable alternative.
This is where the resolution, although not explicitly stated, becomes problematic. The LGBT community will not be satisfied with openly gay young men being allowed to join the program if the program continues to affirm that their sexual dispositions are unacceptable. Therefore public pressure will continue to mount until the Boy Scouts not only admit openly gay youth, but also celebrate homosexuality as a perfectly acceptable aspect of manhood.
How then should we view these changes from the perspective of the church? Christians do not need to be exclusionary. Programs we are involved in do not need to be defined by who we keep out. The church does not prevent people from attending, but once a person becomes a member of the church, there is a certain expectation of holy living or church discipline may be applied.
The Boy Scouts are not the church, nor should we expect it to be so, but as a method of socialization for young men it has been an invaluable institution. My fear is that it will cease to be such an institution, not because it has allowed gay young men to join, but because in allowing these young men to join, the Boy Scouts will inevitable shift their ideal of manhood toward which the young men are striving. The church then must welcome all people to come, but it must not alter the standard of holiness to which it calls those people to submit.
Tim Wade is an Associate Pastor with Ferguson Avenue Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia. He and Lauren, his wife of 5 years, have one child, Lydia Lucille Wade.
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