The Boy Scouts have recently changed their admissions policy. If you haven’t heard about this, and the firestorm of controversy surrounding it, you’ve probably had your head in the sand. And you can consider yourself lucky. Basically, here’s the scoop:
The prior BSA policy explicitly prohibited “openly gay” young men and boys from participating in the Boy Scout program. The new BSA policy states that sexual orientation is not a factor in the admission of young men and boys into the program.
That’s the long and the short of it. I’ve been reading online, and there are a lot of members of the Church who are irate over this policy. They feel that the BSA has abandoned its commitment to moral teachings. Some LDS scouters in various parts of Utah have already made websites where they claim to be starting their own version of Boy Scouts. Here’s why I think this is absolutely ridiculous, and completely unbecoming of Latter-day Saints. Most of the ire is due to one of two reasons: (1) a misunderstanding of Church teachings, or (2) a misunderstanding of the new BSA policy.
First of all, the term “openly gay” is problematic in the first place. When this policy was first written, when someone would openly announce their same-sex attraction, it was usually because they intended to act and behave accordingly. There was no such thing, really, as someone who publicly commented on their same-sex attraction, but who was committed to remaining true the law of chastity. It simply didn’t happen back then. And so anyone who was “openly gay” was, by virtue of that fact, likely violating the standards of the Scouting organization.
The same is not true anymore. Whether for good or for ill, many young men are learning to be open about their same-sex attraction, but who wish to remain committed to law of chastity. In the Church, for example, there are thousands of young men and women who experience same-sex attraction, and who have committed themselves to either marry a member of the opposite sex or remain celibate. In this way, it is possible to be openly gay but morally chaste. Now, I personally believe that same-sex attraction should not be such a large part of these young people’s personal self-identity, nor do I believe it is always healthy to broadcast these attractions to the world. But the Church teaches that these attractions themselves are not sinful, and that it is possible to remain chaste while nonetheless experiencing attractions to members of the same sex (and publicly talking about them). So, the old BSA policy is simply out-of-date and poorly worded in the first place.
The Policy and Church Teachings
The Church has consistently taught that it is not immoral to have such feelings, so long as individuals commit to never act on them and remain chaste. The Church policy states: “The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them.” The Church has, for several decades, invited youth leaders everywhere to openly embrace and include young members of the Church who experience these attractions, and to teach them that they should not feel less worthy for experiencing them. Further, the Church has specifically instructed its leaders to ensure that no individual with SSA feels ostracized for it.
The new BSA policy reflects what has always been the policy of LDS Boy Scout troops. Young men and boys who think they are attracted to members of the same sex have never been systematically excluded from participating in any Church youth functions. The Church’s official press release on the matter states: “Sexual orientation has not previously been—and is not now—a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops.” The new BSA policy has simply made this explicit, and in no way whatsoever contradicts Church teachings, policies, or doctrines. In fact, the Church explicitly teaches that those with SSA should not be excluded from youth programs and social groups, and so this new policy actually institutionalizes a longstanding Church teaching and policy. Further, the policy explicitly states that sexual activity, of any kind, is simply unbecoming of a youth member of the Boy Scout program. This indicates that they are not allowing sexually active homosexuals into the youth program, but simply youth attracted to members of the same sex but who live chastely nonetheless. So why boycott the Scouting program for simply mimicking already existing Church policy?
Further, why would we even want to exclude these young men from the very context in which they can learn more fully what it means to live a moral lifestyle? Why would we even want to exclude a particularly vulnerable group of our youth from the youth organization designed to help them build character and spiritual fortitude against temptation?
Now, it is true that the BSA policy says very little about what young men should do about their same-sex attractions beyond their Scouting years. As it should be. BSA’s stewardship over member boys ends when the young man reaches the age of 18. But it does emphasize the importance of life-long duty to God and moral commitments connected to that duty to God. Young scouters who experience SSA are taught by the Scouting program to commit themselves to God and His moral teachings, and for Latter-day Saints, that includes chastity as defined by the Church. And so young scouts in the Church are in no danger of being indoctrinated by any agenda alien to the teachings of the Church, and the BSA has no desire whatsoever to contradict or supersede those teachings.
Now, it’s also true that activists and lobbyists want the BSA to abandon completely its commitment to morality and its emphasis on our duties to God. And these activists have made headway and have persuaded many officials in the BSA of their position. But notice that their voice did not carry the day. The change in policy does not actually threaten the BSA’s commitments on these regards. So the BSA should be praised for navigating murky and dangerous political waters to produce a policy change that can be accepted and celebrated by Latter-day Saints as appropriate and necessary. This was a thoughtful — not reckless — endeavor, and it’s clear that BSA officials have carefully remained true to their deepest obligations. That deserves our applause, not scorn.
Official Church Reaction
On top of all that, the Church has explicitly praised the new policy for allowing youth of all sexual orientations to participate and learn what it means to fulfill our duty to God. In several statements, the Church has said that the new policy simply reflects already existing Church policy. An official spokesman for the Church submitted an editorial to the Washington Post praising the new policy and explaining all of these details.
For members to rebel against their own Church in the defense of what they (ostensibly) believe to be the teachings of their Church is simply inappropriate. It reflects poorly on us. Let’s open our ears to what our prophets and apostles have been teaching. They teach explicitly that same-sex sexual relationships in any context are morally wrong and forbidden by God. They have repeatedly reassured us that this is never going to change. They are also teaching us that same-sex attraction itself is not a sin, should not result in social ostracism, and those who experience it should be embraced in full fellowship in all Church youth programs. This is what they are teaching us. Are we listening?
And there is nothing in the new BSA policy that contradicts the teachings of living prophets and apostles on this regards. They have, in fact, welcomed it, and have signaled to the members of the Church that they should welcome it too. That is, after all, why the Church has made repeated statements in praise of the policy, and why the Church’s spokesman, on behalf of the Church, published an editorial on why Mormons embrace, and should embrace, the policy. Why are we ignoring them? Why must we, in our stubbornness and pride, block our ears and dismiss their gentle invitation?
I want to acknowledge that we are living in an increasingly hostile world, one that seems intent on imposing on us its values and criminalizing our own. We are fighting a war against evil, a war against sin, and a war against deception. We are called to stand with God and fight in His royal priesthood army. But nonetheless, we see the midst of darkness and confusion leading many of our friends and associates astray. As one person put it, it seems like we are losing the culture war.
For this reason, there is a lot of fear out there. But in the midst of this war against evil, our hearts should be at peace with our fellow man. For a heart at war does not see truth. When our hearts our at peace, we can see through the darkness and see evil for what it is. When our hearts are at war, we begin not to see evil for what it is, we begin to see evil in everything. We begin to jump at shadows, and suspect malicious intent in every action of others. And for this reason, it is easy to see this change in policy as one more concession in our gradual defeat against the forces of evil.
We must be vigilant and wary, but forever and always, our standard bearer should be Christ and His spokesmen. Prophets and apostles have signed off on this policy, and for that reason, we should not fear it. Yes, false ideologies are saturating the political landscape, and the cards seem decked against those who wish to defend religious liberty and moral truth. But this time, we have won the day — the BSA administration carefully weighed the issues, and decided to mimic the LDS Church’s policy, and to reassert its allegiance to our duty to God. That is a victory.
If we slacken our commitment to the BSA, fail to magnify our callings, or use this policy change as a justification for despair, we are actually doing two things: (1) we are failing to heed the teachings of our leaders on this matter (for they have taught us not to exclude same-sex attracted youth in our programs), and (2) we are allowing the adversary to fill our hearts with fear, and for all of the wrong reasons. If we study the teachings of the Church on these matters carefully, we will see constant reassurances that the doctrine and policy of the Church has not changed.
One of the adversary’s tactics is to deceive us into thinking our very own Church is giving up the fight. What can be more disheartening than that? But thoughtful observers will see no evidence of that whatsoever. They will just see that God’s servants are not allowing themselves to be distracted by battles that shouldn’t be fought in the first place, and this being one of them. Exclusion from youth programs of SSA youth is not, and has never been, the Savior’s way. Including them, and teaching them chastity, is the Savior’s way — and that is exactly what the BSA and the Church have jointly committed to do.