What will Boy Scout troops sponsored by Catholic parishes and agencies do if the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) ends its current ban on allowing openly gay men to serve as scout leaders?
That question is not a hypothetical one since last month when Robert Gates, the president of BSA, called on the national organization to lift the ban. His message had a tone of inevitability to it, as he addressed the national meeting of the BSA in Atlanta in May. He cited the spread of marriage equality and the rise of employment discrimination lawsuits as events which are signaling that the organization should change. The New York Times quoted from his speech:
“[W]e must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be.”
Gates, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense, said the current bay on gay men “cannot be sustained,” and that “we must all understand that this will probably happen sooner rather than later.”
Since many troops are sponsored by a variety of religious institutions, Gates qualified his call for change by saying that local organizations should be allowed to establish their own policies:
“I support a policy that accepts and respects our different perspectives and beliefs. I truly fear that any other alternative will be the end of us as a national movement. . . .
“Such an approach would allow all churches, which sponsor some 70 percent of our Scout units, to establish leadership standards consistent with their faith. We must, at all costs, preserve the religious freedom of our church partners to do this.”
In response to Gate’s speech, Edward P. Martin, chairman of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, posted a letter on the Committee’s Facebook page addressed to Catholic scout leaders, saying in part:
“We agree with Mr. Gates that there is cause to act. We also agree with Mr. Gates that chartered organizations must be allowed ‘to establish leadership standards consistent with their faith.’ We certainly support efforts to preserve the Boy Scouts of America. The National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS) has as its mission the constructive use of the program of the Boy Scouts of America as a viable form of youth ministry with the Catholic youth of our nation. We will continue to pursue that mission until such time BSA rules conflict with Catholic teaching. That hasn’t happened yet, nor do we expect it to happen.”
Wouldn’t it be great if the NCCS would allow local Catholic sponsors of BSA troops, the same freedom that Gates wants to allow all BSA troops to determine if they should allow openly gay men to be scout leaders? That would certainly be a step in the right direction. It would allow Catholics who see the ban as discriminatory and against their Catholic principles of equality and respect to judge for themselves who would make the best scout leader, regardless of sexual orientation. When enough Catholic troops do allow gay leaders, they will be a shining testimony to all the others, providing them with wonderful examples of how right it is not to discriminate.
Commenting favorably on Gates’ call for inclusive policies was Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for Equality. The New York Times quoted him as saying that the move was “undeniably a step forward.” The story continued with Wahls’ comments:
” ‘It seems like the Boy Scouts will continue an internal dialogue about the subject,’ he said, adding that a relaxing of the national ban seemed all but certain. The executive board could mandate such a change at any time in the coming year, he said, or it could decide, as it did in 2013, to put the matter up for a vote at next year’s annual convention of scout leaders from around the country.”
Incidentally, Wahls will be a keynote speaker at the national conference of Call To Action, the Catholic social justice organization, to be held in Milwaukee in November 2015. He will speak on the topic “What Makes a Family?” For more information, click here.
In 2012, Greg Bourke, an gay scout leader at a Catholic parish in Louisville, Kentucky, was forced to resign from his role after he acknowledged his orientation publicly. If he did not resign, the troop was threatened with losing its charter. Bourke, along with his now-husband, Michael DeLeon, are among the lead plaintiffs in the U.S. Supreme Court case on marriage equality that will be decided in the coming weeks.
In 2013, the BSA lifted its ban on openly gay youth becoming members of local troops. Following that decision, some Catholic parishes, very few, decided to cancel their scouting programs rather than abide by the new policy. Other parishes, the NCCS, and a number of bishops issued statements saying they had no problem with the inclusive policy. Let’s hope and pray that this new inclusive policy will receive similar support that the previous decision received from this latter group. To read the blog posts from that decision and its repercussions, click here.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
National Catholic Reporter: “Boy Scouts chief says ban on gay Scouts should be lifted nationwide”
National Catholic Reporter: “Possible Boy Scout gay leadership change has religious groups weighing options”