I have been reluctant to write about this for years, in part, because this question tugs at very personal feelings and identity.
I grew up a ‘scout’. Started out as a Cub Scout, then Webelos, and then ended my tenure in the Boy Scouts as an Eagle Scout. I wasn’t even one of those fast achievement guys who gets Eagle as fast as they can. I loved scouting. I turned in my Eagle Scout paperwork on the day before 18th birthday (the last day you can be eligible) sliding it under the door of the area office (as they were closed, it was a Sunday of course). The goal of my scouting was not the Eagle achievement, but the experience of leadership, friendship and exploration. I made great friends in those years, one I count as a life long friend to this day. In scouting I learned more that has benefited me in my real life, working, ministry, and personal than all of my school education.
It was, and is, a core of me.
And this is why it is hard to say that two things I love, the Boy Scouts & the United Methodist Church, need a good examination of their relationship and possible separation.
The Boy Scouts the last few years have been very strong in their ban on gays within the ranks of their teenage participants. They have been sued by individuals and eventually won out. The gist of the argument is that they were private groups and could manage their membership however they felt. I am actually okay with that law abiding decision.
What I am not okay with is that this discrimination of persons seems to go un-noticed by my United Methodist Church. I looked this up:
- At the end of 2010, the United Methodist Church’s involvement with Scouting included:
- 235,672 Cub Scouts from 5,136 packs
- 127,419 Boy Scouts from 5,005 troops
- 8,408 Venturers from 1,146 crews
With some 40,000 churches world wide, that is about 12.5% of the churches globally have a troop. If we narrowed to the United States that number would sure to be higher.
You see, the UMC has a specific doctrine/principle on homosexuality. I include it in full here but highlight a segment I want you to take notice of.
We recognize that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We believe persons may be fully human only when that gift is acknowledged and affirmed by themselves, the church, and society. We call all persons to the disciplined, responsible fulfillment of themselves, others, and society in the stewardship of this gift. We also recognize our limited understanding of this complex gift and encourage the medical, theological, and social science disciplines to combine in a determined effort to understand human sexuality more completely. We call the Church to take the leadership role in bringing together these disciplines to address this most complex issue. Further, within the context of our understanding of this gift of God, we recognize that God challenges us to find responsible, committed, and loving forms of expression.
Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are only clearly affirmed in the marriage bond. Sex may become exploitative within as well as outside marriage. We reject all sexual expressions that damage or destroy the humanity God has given us as birthright, and we affirm only that sexual expression that enhances that same humanity. We believe that sexual relations where one or both partners are exploitative, abusive, or promiscuous are beyond the parameters of acceptable Christian behavior and are ultimately destructive to individuals, families, and the social order.
We deplore all forms of the commercialization and exploitation of sex, with their consequent cheapening and degradation of human personality. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation or use of children by adults and encourage efforts to hold perpetrators legally and financially responsible. We call for the establishment of adequate protective services, guidance, and counseling opportunities for children thus abused. We insist that all persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured.
We recognize the continuing need for full, positive, age-appropriate and factual sex education opportunities for children, young people, and adults. The Church offers a unique opportunity to give quality guidance and education in this area.
Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. All persons need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all, and we will seek to live together in Christian community. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.1
If this reads to me differently you can take me to task, but as I see this. Our church affirms that each person is of sacred worth and God is working in their lives. Because of this understanding we accept people into the fold of the church AND ITS MINISTRIES to experience this change and fulfillment of life. Even if our church officially does not affirm the homosexual practice & considers it incompatible with Christian teaching. Does that mean we kick people out. Even in our stance on Capital Punishment we say that no one is beyond the reach of Christ. So how is it that we allow an entity to work within the walls of the church that is averse to such a strong principle of our church? Look on many church websites and you will see the Boy Scouts listed as an official ‘ministry’ of the church.
Do I expect this article to change get all kinds of scouting troops the boot from the various United Methodist Churches they inhabit? NO. I merely hope to bring to question a contradiction of principles that works within the walls of the church that I struggle with. You might not care at all. You’ve probably stopped reading altogether now.
I might not be returning my Eagle Scout badge.. I would first need to find my badges. Most likely, I may continue to be like others who are conflicted. I would hope that maybe some of my methodist brethren would at least take notice that the Boy Scouts should not just get a blanket endorsement from our church anymore.
But from UMC Scouting, The Methodist Men, to the Cross and Flame Award (scroll down) it might not be so clean and tidy that we endorse a group that pushes out young people who we, as a body of faith, agree are of sacred worth and should be cared for in their fulfillment of God’s life for them.
As a United Methodist Church institution…
This all Had me thinking of…
Who are we supposed to stand up for as Scouts and as a Church?