NPR (et al) reported yesterday that 17 year old Ryan Andersen has been denied the rank of Eagle Scout by the Boy Scouts of America. Here’s the organization’s statement:
“This scout proactively notified his unit leadership and Eagle Scout counselor that he does not agree to scouting’s principle of ‘Duty to God’ and does not meet scouting’s membership standard on sexual orientation,” Deron Smith, a spokesman for the organization said in a statement. “Agreeing to do one’s ‘Duty to God’ is a part of the scout Oath and Law and a requirement of achieving the Eagle Scout rank.”
First, I am not questioning the BSA’s legal right to exclude anyone from its ranks, on the basis of whatever criteria they wish. Private organizations can do that.
Second, I don’t know what the substance is of Andersen’s failure to do his “Duty to God,” but I suspect that the two objections of Duty to God and sexual orientation are connected. However, I could be wrong on this count. Further, I don’t know Andersen’s religious faith or denomination.
However, I think this would be a fine opportunity for Catholic leadership to speak out in support of kids like Ryan, and urge the BSA to welcome gay Scouts. Here are a couple reasons why:
1. Official Catholic teaching, unlike that of many right-wing evangelical churches, draws a distinction between sexual inclination/desire (the official teaching tends not to use the word “orientation,”) and sexual acts. Homosexual acts are condemned, while homosexual desire is not. I suspect the BSA does not encourage sexual activity for any of its members, but rather encourages them to remain sexually abstinent, at least until marriage or responsible adulthood. (A quick googling didn’t answer this question for me. My searches yielded reports about sex abuse and poor responses to sex abuse within this all-heterosexual group.) Why wouldn’t the Catholic Church want to encourage all interested kids to join groups calling for responsible chastity? Not to mention the fact that scouting might help them find the kind of solid friends that Church teaching says is helpful for gays in dealing with homosexual desire? Catholic magisterial teaching says that no unjust discrimination of any kind should be practiced against LGB people–wouldn’t involvement in a group that helps form responsible and thoughtful men be a good thing for gay kids? (Since I am talking about a response by Catholic leadership here, I am not calling into question the Church’s teaching on same-sex relationships here. There’s no need to change Catholic teaching in order for Church leaders to support scouting for gay kids.)
2. We’ve heard a lot about religious liberty from Catholic leadership this year. Many Christian denominations and other religious groups are supportive of LGBT people and (when appropriate) same-sex relationships. It may well be the case for Ryan–and it is undoubtedly the case for many scouts–that Duty to God as they understand God REQUIRES them to be open and affirming of LGBT people. In their own well-formed consciences, such scouts are put in a difficult position of having to decide whether their membership in a group that excludes gays is in conflict with their promise within that very group to be reverent and to serve God. Wouldn’t a call for an inclusive stance point to the bishops’ sense of the urgency of protecting religious freedom for all and the importance of obeying conscience?
So these are two reasons for Catholic leaders to call on the BSA to change their exclusive policy. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that they boot out Boy Scouts from church buildings unless they do so–such strictures are reserved for punishing Girl Scouts because of their association with insidious groups like the Sierra Club. But it is in keeping, istm, both with current magisterial teaching regarding LGB people, and would be a resounding reiteration of our leaders’ own call for greater respect for religious freedom in American society.
Again, this is not a legal matter, but a moral matter. Shouldn’t Catholic leaders support the inclusion of gay kids in scouting?