On My Honor

By Don Rollins

On my honor I will do my best

To do my duty to God and my country

and to obey the Scout law;

To help other people at all times;

To keep myself physically strong,

Mentally aware and morally straight.

The Boy Scout Oath

Time was, a body had to go some to get punted out of the venerable institution known as the Boy Scouts of America. Back in the day, sneaking a smoke, raiding a tent or organizing a peeing contest would rate a stern lecture, not excommunication. Excommunication was reserved for safety-related stuff: archery contests gone awry or pyrotechnics positioned in the stern of a rival troop’s canoe. Or two.

But enough about me.

As of the last few decades, it’s gotten a whole lot easier for the Scouts to exclude folks, much of which has nothing to do with shooting arrows at Frankie Burnside’s head. These days, it’s not just about what you do: it’s about who you are. And if who you are is gay or atheist, you can take a hike.

If you like that, progressive friends, you’re gonna love the tale of Scout Troop 413, Matthews, North Carolina and its theologically dyspeptic sponsor, Christ Covenant Church. They’ve upped the ante for good old-fashioned, balkanized, American anathematization with their new policy: No Mormons Need Apply.

For those of you less obsessed with the goofier aspects of American pop religion, this one might have slipped by. The facts (as supplied by the AP) go something like this:

• Two boys join Cub pack;

• (Mormon) Mom and Dad apply and are encouraged to become leaders;

• Two meetings later, church representatives dismiss parents as non-Christian;

• Church offers to let boys remain in the program;

• Mom and Dad nicely tell church to go to hell.

Now, keep in mind that this religious wrangling went down against the background of considerable, longstanding antipathy between the BSA and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS). The Scouts have historical ties to orthodox (mostly Protestant) Christian culture. The Mormons, not so much. At stake here is who’s a real Christian. (Can you feel me, Mitt Romney?) And this round goes to the BSA hierarchy.

Folks, this thing is wrong on so many levels: wasted volunteerism; toxic religion; public image; paramilitary hierarchy. Not to mention the signals sent to two kids about their worth and place in the world. But perhaps what’s most troubling here is the absence of a modern, dynamic and inclusive vision for the BSA. Scouting in America has been in decline for over a decade, and rather than become more relevant, the BSA’s brain trust continues to let local troops/packs employ rightist thinking and practice. This, when the nation is sorely in need of youth-oriented, melting pot models and institutions.

It would be a mistake to paint Scouting with the broad brush Christ Covenant has so brazenly provided. Theirs is an extreme example. Furthermore – and to Scouting’s credit – some troops and councils continue to push the envelope when it comes to sexual expression, belief and religious affiliation. (The BSA is regularly embroiled in lawsuits of one kind or another, some originating from within its own ranks.) But the BSA brass still call the biggest shots. And the BSA is doing no one a favor – not their grassroots leadership, sponsoring organizations, the nation and certainly not its boys and young men – by clinging to a past based on privilege. One can only wonder how thin the ranks have to be before things change.

If change is to come, sustained, outside leverage will be key. Troops and their host entities dot the country, the majority of which have interactive websites. Be in touch. (Uh, if my initial experience here in South Carolina is indicative, you might be received with less than robust enthusiasm when politely inquiring about related troop or pack policies, but, hey, it’s worth a shot.) You can also visit the BSA website (scouting.org). Just enter your zip and contact your area Council. Play nice. But be heard.

Scouting is not dead, nor should we wish it so. But it’s still barring and banishing, in too many places, good people just because of who they love, what they think or where they worship. Unless and until its policymakers change that, its own honor will remain in question.

Rev. Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Spartanburg, S.C. Email donaldlrollins@gmail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2010


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