Scout’s honor

A while back, a student in my philosophy of religion class turned in a paper which stated that, in The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, Sam Harris argued that morality was based on scientific discoveries about the order God had put into the world at the Creation. I was, I confess, a bit at a loss about what sort of helpful comments I could make on the paper. There’s only so much I could do to soften the blow of, “Actually, Sam Harris is one of the leading advocates of atheism, and his book argued that we can base morality on science, not God.”

I was reminded of that student’s paper the other day, when a friend pointed me to an article by Ken Klukowski, the Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council, titled “Boy Scout Leaders Propose Incoherent Policy on Gay Scouts.”

But before saying anything about Klukowski, it’s important to understand the proposed change in the Scouts’ policy, which can be found in their “Membership Standards Resolution.” I excerpt three key points from the resolution:

  1. “Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.”
  2. “The Boy Scouts of America does not have an agenda on the matter of sexual orientation, and resolving this complex issue is not the role of the organization, nor may any member use Scouting to promote or advance any social or political position or agenda.”
  3. “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”

Now, here is how Klukowski begins his article:

A faction in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) just proposed a resolution to change BSA’s longstanding policy regarding openly homosexual behavior.

The only reply is, “No. This claim is not true. You either read the text so carelessly that you missed the explicit affirmation that homosexual behavior remains prohibited, or you understood the policy, but deliberately mislead your readers about it.”

A Scout is trustworthy.” That is the starting point for  the Boy Scout Law. To be trustworthy means that you don’t say something on an important matter unless you have good reason to believe it is true. That means taking the time to understand what those you disagree with are saying, and then representing their position fairly.

The BSA is a private organization, and are free to adopt whatever membership policy they choose. I was not a Boy Scout, and I have no dog in this fight.

With that said, I think the Boy Scouts’ proposed policy change for youth is a good one. It reflects the distinction between sexual orientation and behavior which the Catholic Church—a major sponsor of Boy Scout troops—has consistently drawn since Persona humana in 1975. It is also a distinction which has been more recently made by the Mormon Church, another major sponsor of Boy Scout troops.

However, regardless of whether you think the proposed policy change is good or not, every Christian ought to expect that, at the very minimum, the participants in this debate will tell the truth about each other.

When I teach undergraduates, I reasonably expect them to have read the assigned texts, and to give a fair summary of the author’s argument. Is it unreasonable to expect the same in a public statement from the Director of the Center for Religious Liberty?

Update: Both the National Catholic Committee on Scouting and the Mormon Church have issued statements regarding the proposed policy change. The National Catholic Committee on Scouting does not make a clear statement for or against the change, while the Mormon Church expresses support for the proposed policy on abstinent gay scouts.

(Cross-posted at First Things)

4 thoughts on “Scout’s honor

  1. Pingback: Scout’s Honor » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

  2. Wesley,

    Thanks for addressing this. I’m a scout master in a very conservative environment and have become frustrated and discouraged by the way this policy shift has been represented by the conservative factions in the area. It’s good to know that some people are not imputing their fears onto what the policy actually says.

    I enjoy all your posts, keep them coming!

  3. The media is SO BAD at representing nuanced positions with respect to this issue. Thank you for calling them out! As for your student… sounds like she may need to actually READ the book. (I’m just not sure how you could read the whole thing and come away with a moral view involving God…)

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