I spent a year in Brownies…second grade, I think. I can sing “The Brownie Song” on demand (“I’ve something in my pocket it belongs across my face….”) and still use the rock I painted one craft day as a door stop. It was a brief sojourn, but the Brownies made their mark on me.
One of the biggest marks was being a Brownie with Beth Cheatham. That was significant for me…because Beth was physically disabled. I was second grade, so I don’t remember the extent of the disability. I think she wore leg braces.
Perhaps the greatest lesson Brownies taught me was that Beth was one of us, just another Brownie. All the things we did included her. She contributed to our troop just like everyone else did. Beth had different physical abilities than most of the rest of us, but she wasn’t excluded because of them. That brief year in Brownies taught me that the diversity of our troop made us interesting. It taught me that we have so much to learn from each other.
The Boy Scouts are beginning to live that message! Last month, the Boy Scouts of America lifted its ban on gay scouts. What an important step!
A few years ago, Pilgrimage was asked to sponsor a Boy Scout troop that was losing its sponsor. It was a difficult issue for us. Many families in our congregation had children in Boy Scouts. There were even a few Eagle Scouts among our members. No one questioned the good work done by Boy Scouts. At all.
The question arose because of the Boy Scouts’ exclusion of scouts and leaders who are gay. After many difficult conversations, we finally concluded that to sign a document that suggested we abide by all the tenets of the BSA was in direct conflict with our mission as an Open and Affirming congregation. As an Open and Affirming congregation, we didn’t feel we could sign a document that would exclude gay scouts or a gay man from serving as a troop’s leader.
The decision was difficult. I suspect that it led to a couple of families leaving the church. Overall, though, it seemed important, vital, to continue living the inclusiveness of our message.
Now, we’re struggling. Again. While we rejoice that the Scouts have lifted the ban on gay Scouts, the exclusion of gay leaders remains in force. What should we do? Signing the sponsorship forms still will require that we commit to a principle that is in conflict with our mission to be inclusive. At the same time, because of the BSA decision to lift the ban on gay scouts, many troops are losing the sponsorship they already have. It long has been our practice–because of our mission–to welcome those who have been excluded by others.
We’re in a real bind.
The problem, of course, is that the BSA is holding to two principles that are in direct conflict with each other. It’s okay for scouts to be gay, but once they turn 18, it’s not okay. That just doesn’t make sense. In fact, it’s crazy-making.
Our hope is that the Scouts are in process…that eventually–and soon–the ban on gay scout leaders will be lifted, too. That seems the only way to create consistency in its own policies.
So…here’s what feels like the best option for us at this point. Because these troops are losing their sponsors (and, from what I’ve learned, a troop without a sponsor doesn’t exist…which means that scouts cannot continue to work toward their goals) through a form of discrimination, we have a responsibility to offer sponsorship. Key to our mission is welcoming those who have been excluded by others.
At the same time, we will continue to advocate for the inclusion of gay leaders. The recent decision suggests that BSA is on the right track. We will continue to encourage the Scouts to continue on that track.
So….Do you know of a Boy Scout Troop who is looking for a new home? Let me know!