Yesterday, the Boy Scouts of America took a divisive vote.
During a meeting of the organization's National Council here in suburban Fort Worth, a vote was taken to approve a proposal allowing boys who claim a sexual orientation other than heterosexual to remain in the Scouts. Although controversial, this proposal represented a choppy compromise over the even more contentious demands by some in the gay lobby to admit openly non-heterosexual adults as troop leaders.
That bigger battle over gay Scout leadership still looms in the organization's future. For now, gay-rights activists have claimed a measure of vindication by officially overturning traditional scouting policy that excluded - in theory, if not in practice, openly-homosexual boys from participation in the organization. Undoubtedly, before yesterday, boys who later determined that they were gay were matriculating through the Boy Scouts without much of a fuss.
Yesterday's vote passed by 61 percent, a considerable majority, prompting several conservative factions within Scouting to announce that they are exploring the possibility of forming a new organization for heterosexual boys exclusively.
Since the Boy Scouts are headquartered here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and yesterday's vote took place at a resort near our major international airport, our local media has been all over this story. If it wasn't for the ongoing cleanup efforts underway after the historic tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, just a couple of hours north of us, and the stunning assassination of a reputed drug cartel lawyer in an exclusive shopping district locally, the Scouts' vote would have been the biggest news in town. After all, north Texas isn't known as a bastion of liberal ideology. To many people here, this vote by the Scouts' National Council represents further proof that the rest of our country is moving quickly and irrevocably towards left-wing immorality.
Of course, immorality still flourishes right here in north Texas as well. It's simply not of the left-wing variety.
Another thing many conservatives are forgetting is that it's their highly rhetoricalized democracy that is helping create this sociological sea change in our country. Although I benefit from our democratic republic as much as anybody, and am not proposing we adopt any other form of government, isn't it obvious that our system isn't perfect? Democracy is fueling how increasingly accommodating we are of lifestyles and choices that our society used to deem inappropriate for private discussion, let alone Boy Scout votes. Sixty-one percent of the Boy Scouts' National Council approved this measure, which, according to simple arithmetic and basic political science, is a clear majority. People voted the way they felt compelled to vote. Democracy worked, right?
Not so fast, some conservatives are saying. We don't like the vote results, so we're taking our toys and going to play in somebody else's yard. And while I understand their sentiment, and personally feel that the issue of sexual identity among adolescent boys needs to be handled in an entirely different manner, it's as if the parents and leaders who don't like the vote results have a tolerance for democracy only when it works in their favor.
Now, I know "tolerance" has become a politically-charged word these days, and while I find some initial reactions to yesterday's vote by its losers more childish than anything, they have the right to leave and create an organization that better represents their convictions. After all, matters of sexuality are rarely insignificant, and broad interpretations of cultural mores administered in a bureaucracy like the Scouts have a habit of backfiring. To God, a sin is a sin is a sin, but different sins have different repercussions, and homosexuality is an issue about which parents of faith are correctly concerned.
Problem is, of course, that inevitably, somebody with a different perspective will challenge any new replacement organization as well, and we'll probably end up in a similar situation down the line. Maybe these folks already have anticipated that likelihood, but figure their kids will be grown up and out of their new organization by that time, so it will be somebody else's problem. But do you see the over-arching dilemma here? This issue is not going to go away, and if it ever does, it won't be anytime soon. Trends don't reverse themselves just by democratic vote. Democracy usually just represents how a group of voters think.
Indeed, democracy as a system of governance is only as popular as the majority opinion. And the majority opinion isn't necessarily right, moral, justified, feasible, humane, ethical, or sustainable. The bigger problem with this vote isn't so much the perceived threat of openly-gay boys participating equally in Scouting, but the apparent lack of context regarding the appropriateness of sexuality of any kind receiving this much attention in Scouting. How involved are the Scouts in their young membership's sexual development and society's moral reality of modern child-rearing? Why should this topic comprise a viable component of Scouting curriculum?
How many children know their sexual "identity" at such a young age anyway? Should Scouting be considered an appropriate venue for encouraging young boys to be publicly expressing whatever sexual "identity" they presume they have?
This isn't just a critique of gay youngsters, but straight ones, too. Isn't a conventionally permissible attitude about "boys being boys" part of what's helping to get younger and younger girls pregnant? Do the Scouts already address such gender issues? I understand that hormones and testosterone are ramping up in noticeable and natural ways during these kids' early years. But if I was a parent, I'm not sure I'd want my boys being educated about their sexuality by their Scoutmaster. Has sex so saturated our culture that a group of boys can't go on a camping trip without exploring their sexuality - whether gay or straight?
Votes like this one yesterday help me understand why many people with extremist ideologies are skeptical that compromise actually accomplishes even a fraction of what they'd like to see happen. Although sticking to one's political principles also means that nothing substantive gets done, that can sometimes seem preferable to reaching accord on something that itself may have little overall value. Although I don't really have a problem with the Boy Scouts admitting professing gay boys into its activities, and while I believe evangelical parents could use interactions with such boys as faith-building exercises of love and ministry, posing such a vote as a referendum of sorts on the bigger issue of gay leadership seems more threatening and rabble-rousing than affirming of civil rights. This vote also lends credence to the claims of bigotry made by the gay community, while the whole issue of teenaged sexuality risks being trivialized and obscured.
In changing times, as we can see, this is what democracy can do. For better or worse, at least we all know where the Scouting leadership now stands, and where it is likely to go in the future. How glad I am that my hope isn't in any democracy, but The Monarchy - the Kingship of Jesus Christ! There is no democracy in His Kingdom, but the only people who fear His autocracy are the ones who want no part of His sovereign grace.
Votes here on Earth will come and go. I'm thankful that I live in a democratic republic, instead of a totalitarian state, but I'm not blind to democracy's limitations. We believers in Christ need to remember that this world is not our home. Democratic majorities will inevitably vote their preferences, which won't necessarily honor God, since human nature is intrinsically corrupt. I mean, think about it: how many parents have to train their children to misbehave?
For American parents who rely on the Boy Scouts to help train their children, I'm not sure there's any way yesterday's vote could have been beneficial for helping young boys "be prepared," since holding a vote to affirm or deny a particular pattern of sexuality is no way to prepare young minds for interacting with this topic later in life. Nor am I sure that the reactionary creation of splinter groups will serve the best long-term interests of those groups. It's not like this is an isolated dilemma. How many church youth groups, for example, have to deal with this issue on a regular basis? I'm assuming - and hoping - they do so with a great deal of prayer, parental interaction, and love.
Funny how a lot of these things always come back to love, isn't it? I'm not very good at love, so I find I'm usually preaching to myself about how much God expects us to incorporate it into every avenue of our faith walk. Not that you and I shouldn't take a stand against evil, but that when we do, we need to keep things in perspective. Democracy is one thing, but our lives are being lived in the Kingdom of God for the King, Jesus Christ.
Talk about your ideal Scoutmaster!