I was never a Boy Scout. My parents never signed me up. Maybe that was because they were city parents, who were born and raised in New York, and therefore never saw the Boy Scouts as something a young boy should be a part of. I myself never had much aspiration to join, nor did I feel much envy towards my friends who were a part of it. I didn’t feel that the Boy Scouts were some rite of passage that I had to experience in order to truly become a man. Although, some of my friends, and their parents, felt that the Boy Scouts taught valuable life lessons and aptly prepared them to lead a life with integrity and morality. I understood that, even though I saw it as unnecessary.
It wasn’t until I got older that I learned of the Boy Scouts of America’s policy to not allow homosexuals either as members or as leaders. Once I did, I found the idea that the Boy Scouts prepared a boy to lead a life with integrity and morality was not only antithetical to its own mission, it was indicative of the kind of systemic discrimination that comes about when people decide that ideology is more important than equitability.
In the case of the Boy Scouts, the ideology is Christian theology. Granted, the Boy Scouts should not be mistaken for an outdoorsy Evangelical youth organization. The Boy Scouts do indeed teach very practical skills to young boys, as well as instill some important values, such as providing care to those in need, serving one’s community and country through active citizenship, treating the environment with the respect it deserves and staying physically fit. However, the organization is still heavily influenced by Christian ideology. Take for example the Boy Scouts ban on atheists. The Boy Scout oath states that a scout must be able to do his “duty to God.” As a result, the Boy Scouts have banned open atheists from becoming members. For homosexuals, the circumstances are similar because in the eyes of the Boy Scouts, a young gay boy cannot fulfill their “duty to God” if they are willfully committing a sin against Him.
This was the status quo for homosexuals for 100 years within the Boy Scouts, at least until this past week. In a long overdue demonstration of justice, the Boy Scouts voted to lift the ban on homosexuals becoming members. A great leap forward to be sure for an organization that is slow to change. However, in keeping with it’s characteristic snails pace towards justice, the Boy Scouts did not lift the ban on openly gay troop leaders. This means that you could join the Boy Scouts as an openly gay boy, but as soon as you turn 18, you are forced to quit the organization, regardless of your rank or prior contributions to your troop, or even your level of religious devotion (because there are plenty of Christian homosexuals out there). A cruel and unusual punishment to be sure and one that I hope will be rectified quicker than it took to even allow gay members.
As expected, the backlash against the Boy Scouts for this decision has been immense, with much of it coming from none other than Christian fundamentalists and their advocacy groups, such as the Family Research Council. However, the backlash I find the most interesting, as well as the most repulsive, comes from the families who are now going to pull their boys out of the Boy Scouts in light of this policy change. One such family I found in the New York Times article I linked to above:
“Allison Mackey of Hanover, Pa., has five sons — one an Eagle Scout, three now active in scouting and an 8-year-old who had planned to join.
The family has discussed the issue and reached a decision, she said: All the sons were willing to abandon the Boy Scouts if openly gay members are allowed.
“The Boy Scouts are something we’ve really enjoyed because they celebrate manliness and leadership,” she said. But, she added, she and her husband were “looking to encourage our sons in traditional Christian values.”
Personally, she said she would be disappointed to see her sons leave the Scouts.
“To stand by principles would be difficult,” she said. “But we’re going to have to say no. The organization is giving up freedom.””
The last quote of Mrs. Mackey is what has me the most repulsed, and it is precisely what I meant before when I said that people would rather choose ideology over equitability. She firmly believes that the Boy Scouts are giving up freedom by allowing gay members to join. My question to her is very simple, “Whose freedom are they giving up?” I’m fairly certain that it’s not the organization’s itself, as they have the power to discriminate or not against whomever they please. I’m pretty sure it’s not the gay members she’s talking about either, considering she doesn’t want them in the organization at all. So whose freedom is she talking about? Oh wait, I think I got it. She’s talking about her families freedom right? Their freedom to belong to an organization that discriminates against another human being, because those people decide to do something that the Lord does not approve of. Right, it must be their freedom, it’s being trampled on, and their freedom is paramount to all others, so it must be preserved and protected no matter who gets oppressed as a result.
Well sorry to disappoint you Mrs. Mackey, but freedom does not extend to the persecution of others, that’s what we call oppression. Although, in order to truly understand this concept and be repulsed by it, you would have to see the oppressed as human beings deserving of the same respect and treatment as everyone else. You Mrs. Mackey, and many others like you however, do not see the oppressed as equals. You see them as unrepentant sinners destined for eternal damnation. You see them as lesser than you, and you see yourself as Holier than thou. And how did you get to see things this way? Undoubtedly through an ideology that you were conditioned to never question or doubt. An ideology that in reality does not represent true justice or equitability. Instead, it represents human fallibility, and in order to preserve its existence, it locks you in and forces you to never question its origins or its intentions.
This is the problem with ideology, whether it be religious, political or otherwise.
So what’s the solution? Well it frankly is very simple, and albeit somewhat corny. Listen to your heart. We are all wired for empathy, it’s in our nature, but sometimes things get in the way of it seeing the light of day, like ideology. So instead of keeping a closed-mind, open it up and allow yourself to experience doubt and skepticism. It will be a troubling experience at first, trust me, I know. Just push through the uncomfortable bits and you will find yourself feeling a connection to those you didn’t think you would have one with. That’s called being human. It’s an invigorating experience.
You should try it sometime Mrs. Mackey.