.Founded in 1910, the organization is not affiliated with a particular church. It is quasi-religious, however, with each member swearing to do his duty to God, be morally straight (an ironic choice of words under the circumstances) and to remain reverent.
How those terms are defined is up to individual members and sponsoring organizations, and Thursday's outcome in Texas, ratified by 61 percent of the 1,400 voters, indicates most saw no conflict between openly gay Scouts and the organization's traditional oath and laws. As members of a private organization, they had every right to do so.
But by ending one source of tension, the vote created another one by forcing those who disagreed to do one of two things: leave Scouting or compromise the very Bible-based beliefs they have sworn “on their honor” to uphold.
Although many religious denominations consider homosexual behavior sinful, the problem with Thursday's vote is not that it will inevitably lead to pup-tent romance. Those orthodox churches acknowledge that all Scouts – gay and straight – are sinners in need of God's grace, and a statement by the local Anthony Wayne Area Council made it clear that “any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.”
The problem is that many church-sponsored Scout groups have now been told that Scouting – not the Bible or their own consciences – will decide what is morally acceptable and what is not.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints responded to the vote by pointing out that sexual orientation has never been and is not now a disqualifying factor for boys who want to be Scouts in Mormon-sponsored groups. “Willingness to abide by standards of behavior continues to be our compelling interest,” the church said.
But “don't ask, don't tell” didn't satisfy activists when the military tried it and it won't be any more acceptable here. Can a person truly be “openly gay” when behavior is constrained by church doctrine?
And it's not just the Mormons. “Individuals who are open and avowed homosexuals promoting and engaging in homosexual conduct are not living lives consistent with Catholic teaching,” said a statement from the National Catholic Committee on Scouting.
Because the national Scouting organization “superseded the authority of local chapters, (it) caused a crisis of conscience for our pastors, parents and congregation members,” stated my own the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
Regardless of your position on the gay-rights issue, such opinions matter because Mormon chapters account for about 420,000 Scouts, Catholics 280,000 and thousands more in groups affiliated with Lutheran, Baptist and evangelicals churches. And some of those denominations' reactions were interesting because of what was not said.
“We will need time to evaluate the decision and determine what it will mean for BSA troops in our congregations,” The LCMS stated.
“Since the change in policy will not take effect until Jan. 1, 2014, (we have) adequate time to study its effects (and) will determine how it may impact Catholic-chartered Scout units,” the Catholic Scouting committee added.
Anthony Wayne Council Scout Executive John Gliot said his 270 organizations were deeply divided prior to the vote but said “our goal is to help kids, and that won't change.” But when the Girl Scout pledge made allegiance to God optional in 1995, a group of Catholic parents in Cincinnati created an alternative. Today, the American Heritage Girls organization has more than 18,000 members and has grown by 40 percent in the past two years.
It would be a shame if a similar schism rends the Boy Scouts, but that appears to be a very real possibility thanks to the mandatory nature of the vote. And if it does happen, the organization will be fundamentally different – and diminished — from the one the activists were so eager to join. Scouting may not want to have anything to do with actual sex, but the practitioners of sexual politics will continue to be very interested in Scouting.
Or what's left of it.