This issue is very important to me, but my friend Mark said it better than I could.
February 3, 2001
Dear Ms. S:
In your January 24 letter to the Oak Park Parent-Teacher Organizations, you equate the BSA's exclusion of homosexuals with the "Duty to God" found in the Scout Oath. This assertion is
|Inconsistent with the position of the Boy Scouts of America|
|Inconsistent with the position of the Boy Scouts of America|
|Dangerous for the Boy Scouts of America.|
Your letter is the first time I have ever heard the assertion that the BSA's position on homosexuality is based on "Duty to God." That is certainly not the position taken by the BSA in its brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in the Dale case. And it is certainly not the position relied upon by the Supreme Court in its opinion. Both the BSA brief and the Supreme Court opinion tie the BSA's position on homosexuality to the Scout Law's requirements to be "morally straight" and "clean" - character traits unrelated to religious beliefs.
While the BSA's position that homosexuals are not "morally straight" is bad enough, linking that position to "Duty to God" violates the BSA's long-standing principles concerning religion. It is an extremely dangerous undertaking for the BSA. And it is extremely offensive.
While the BSA has always taught that members have a "Duty to God," it has never, never presumed to instruct members on the particulars of religious faith or belief. The details of religious beliefs have been left to the boy, his family, and his religious institution. Article IX of the BSA Charter & Bylaws states that the BSA is "absolutely non-sectarian in its attitude toward . religious training." This makes sense for an organization that has members who are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Unitarian, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, and Baha'i.
Ignoring the wisdom of the BSA's long-standing non-sectarian tradition, you state, "In defining `Duty to God' . the BSA must be guided by the position of its religious partners." You then select three denominations - Methodist, Latter Day Saints, and Roman Catholic - as the guiding authority for Boy Scouts on matters of faith. According to your letter, it is the teachings of these three denominations that define "Duty to God" for the Boy Scouts of America. I find it impossible to reconcile this statement with Article IX of the BSA Charter & Bylaws. Unfotunately, nothing divides people like religion. And you're taking the Boy Scouts right into the battleground of religious factionalism. The only conclusion I can draw from your letter is that a boy who does not share the religious views of those three denominations is not living up to his "Duty to God" and, therefore, is not fit to be a Boy Scout.
Based on your letter, that must be your position. If the BSA defines "Duty to God" according to the teachings of those three denominations then I submit that Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, Hindus, Buddhists, and others cannot be Boy Scouts. The only boys who can be Scouts are those who can pledge "to do my duty to God as defined by the Methodist, Latter Day Saints, and Roman Catholic Churches."
If that is not your position - if you want to tell me that scouts are free to follow the teachings of other churches - then you have no authority to point to the teachings of those three denominations to define "Duty to God." If the Boy Scouts believe in religious tolerance and non-sectarianism (as required by its Bylaws) then the views of the Methodist, Latter Day Saints, and Roman Catholic Churches have no more weight than any other sect. But that is clearly not you're position.
Not only do you equate "Duty to God" with the teachings of three denominations, you also choose to ignore religious denominations that disagree with the BSA's position on homosexuals. The following organizations filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the homosexual scout leader James Dale and denouncing the BSA's policy on homosexuality:
|The General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church (what!?)|
|The Episcopal Diocese of Newark|
|The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism|
|The United Church of Christ Board for Homeland Ministries|
|The Unitarian Universalist Association|
So, can Episcopalians be Boy Scouts? Unitarians? Reformed Jews? Does their "Duty to God" - which apparently conflicts with your official definition - satisfy the Boy Scout Oath? Again, according to your letter, I'd say they're out.
Let's talk about the Methodists. One of your big three . or are they? Two official agencies within the United Methodist Church filed briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court - on opposite sides! The General Commission on United Methodist Men, which apparently oversees the church's involvement with scouting, filed a brief in support of the BSA's policy. The General Board of Church and Society, which advocates on behalf of the Methodist Church on social and political issues, filed a brief condemning the BSA's policy.
It appears that defining "Duty to God" by looking to the teachings of the Methodist Church might not be as helpful as you thought. Read both briefs. Is homosexuality immoral according to the Methodist Church? Can Methodists be Boy Scouts? Maybe some Methodists are OK, depending on whether they are members of the General Commission on United Methodist Men (OK) or the General Board of Church and Society (not OK).
Let's see, your definition of "Duty to God" has disqualified Jews, Muslims, Episcopalians, Hindus, and at apparently some Methodists. As Ross Perot once asked, "D'ya hear that big suckin' sound?" That's you sinking into the sectarian quicksand. And you're taking the Boy Scouts with you.
I will make my last point. I am extremely offended by your attempt to define my duty to God. I have pledged to do my duty to God. I take that pledge very seriously. How I come to understand my duty to God is my business. It is not your place or the Boy Scouts' place to define my duty to God. If I want guidance I will seek it from sources of my chosing.
I may decide to look to the official Catechism of the Catholic Church, which (despite the Bishops' brief in support of the BSA) instructs Catholics as follows:
[Homosexuals] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.
I may decide to follow the example of Jesus, who dined with those who were treated as sinners and excluded by the Boy Scouts of His day.
I may decide that my duty to God compels me to part company with the Boy Scouts of America.