On May 23, the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America, which seeks to train boys in courage and other virtues, sadly capitulated to external campaigns of economic extortion and shaming from cultural elites to allow openly gay Scouts.
Since its founding in 1910, there have doubtless been some Scouts with same-sex attractions, just as there have been some who had serious problems believing in God, even though being avowedly gay, atheistic or agnostic were all officially prohibited.
The BSA exists, as its oath and law attest, to train boys to become physically strong, mentally awake, morally straight, trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent men. Guiding them along that formational journey, Scout leaders always recognized that some boys would go through periods of intense questioning, but they were prepared to accompany boys, in the hope that the mentoring, friendship and virtue-training available in Scouting would help the boys sort through these issues.
What wasn’t allowed, however, was a boy’s taking a public existential stand contrary to the principles and values the BSA thought good not just for the individuals but for the cohesion and formative culture of the troop. If a Scout provocatively came out as a Satanist, for example, the BSA had recognized that it was more than an individual lifestyle choice of no consequence to the other eleven- to eighteen-year-old boys. It would minimally become an unnecessary distraction, and maximally a training toxin, to the other Scouts — and hence wasn’t allowed.
But that was before the gay lobby began to treat the BSA not as a virtuous and praiseworthy organization but as a bastion of bigots with irrational prejudices against those with same-sex attractions. The first tactic was a series of expensive lawsuits, but after the Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the Boy Scouts have the Constitutionally-protected right to determine membership standards, they needed to try something else. So the gay lobby began to pressure BSA’s corporate sponsors — like Intel, UPS and Merck — to vow not to contribute another penny until the BSA accepted openly gay Scouts and Scout leaders. The strategy took several years, but at the end of May, the gay lobby achieved half of what it wanted, and publicly promised not to stop its efforts until openly gay Scout leaders were also accepted.
Some have argued, including some Catholics involved in the Scouting movement, that since the BSA still prohibits Scouts from engaging in sexual activity, allowing Scouts with attractions to other boys to come out the closet is consistent with Church teaching that distinguishes between same-sex tendencies, which are morally neutral, and same-sex activity, which Christian revelation clearly condemns as sinful.
But I believe that such an opinion is politically and psychologically naïve.
At a political level, the real goal of the gay lobby is not to clear the path for scores of openly gay boys to obtain merit badges, just as the motivation in seeking to redefine Marriage to encompass husbandless or wifeless unions is not to make room for millions of gay couples to tie the knot. As multiple surveys have shown, numbers in both cases of those wanting to join these traditional institutions are relatively small compared to the number of those with same-sex attractions. The real goal is to dismantle strong heterosexually-normative institutions and traditional sexual morality as a whole.
Next on the dismantling agenda after the push for gay Scoutmasters will be a legal or lobbying effort in favor of those gay Scouts or Scoutmasters who are sexually active, since how can one stifle a “natural” urge? We’ll hear that the real psychological perversion is chastity or repressing one’s sexual desires and that keeping one’s sexual desires unfulfilled is just as unhealthy as keeping one’s orientation in the closet.
The next step will be to get the Boy Scouts to accept transgender girls and Girl Scouts transgender boys, to eliminate any sense of the importance to original differentiation.
The final step will be to come full circle and ban Scouts and Scoutmasters who are “homophobic,” in other words, those who hold onto what the BSA believed for its first 103 years.
At a psychological level, this decision to allow gay Scouts is injurious not only to Scouts with same-sex attractions but also to the overall formation of other troops.
There’s a difference between struggling with same-sex attractions and coming out as gay. In general to be gay means not just to admit to same-sex attractions but to consider them good, wholesome and an indispensably important part of one’s self-identity. To be gay also normally means that one shares the values of the gay subculture.
The U.S. Bishops, in their superb 2006 document “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care,” stressed that young people with same-sex attractions should be dissuaded from defining themselves in this way.
“Persons with a homosexual inclination,” they write, “should not be encouraged to define themselves primarily in terms of their sexual inclination ... or to participate in ‘gay subcultures,’ which often tend to promote immoral lifestyles.”
The bishops went on to discuss whether young people with homosexual attractions should be encouraged to come out.
“For some persons, revealing their homosexual tendencies to certain close friends, family members, a spiritual director, confessor, or members of a Church support group may provide some spiritual and emotional help and aid them in their growth in the Christian life. In the context of parish life, however, general public self-disclosures are not helpful and should not be encouraged.”
The bishops made an important distinction between coming out to traditional confidants and public disclosures. Close family members, friends, priests and counselors can be big supports to help those with same-sex attractions in the struggle to live a chaste life, to make sure their life is never devoid of life-giving, loving, deep friendships, and to assist them to recognize that they are fundamentally a beloved child of God whose primary self-identifying characteristic ought to be their Christian faith. Coming out publicly often makes their sexual attractions their most conspicuous personality train.
While the BSA policy shift doesn’t explicitly encourage Scouts to come out as gay, it does eliminate the clear institutional discouragement. As the bishops describe, this isn’t psychologically or spiritually healthy for the young person involved.
For the other Scouts and Scoutmasters, a gay Scout is no longer just a fellow Scout — and all other members of the troop are provoked to relate to him according to those attractions. His attractions can’t be ignored because coming out of the closet confronts all the other Scouts with them. At least for a time, the attention will no longer be exclusively on the next camping trip or activity, but on how the troop should respond to their gay confrere’s self-disclosure.
Some boys will inevitably tease and, for troops chartered by Catholic parishes that maintain their affiliation after the BSA’s regrettable decision, it will inevitably precipitate a discussion on how there should be no unjust discrimination.
Other boys will start talking more than normal about sexual attractions, both heterosexual and homosexual ones. Authentically Catholic troops will need to enter into the nuanced conversation about how same-sex inclinations are objectively disordered, predisposing one toward what is truly not good for the human person, as the U.S. bishops described in their 2006 document.
It’s also inevitable that such a disclosure will bring about more conversation about sexual activity as well, leading authentically Catholic troops to have to broach the subject of the distinction between same-sex orientation and the immorality of same-sex acts.
Scouting is not supposed to be a sexual education or moral theology class. That’s, however, what it will inevitably become once a Scout elicits these conversations by coming out of the closet.
Scoutmasters will now need to become expert not just in tying knots and pitching tents but in guiding these sensitive conversations.
And eleven-year-old Boy Scouts will now need to grow up faster than the Boy Scout formation program is intended to guide them.
Father Landry is pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Fall River. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org