The Southern Baptists are not going to leave the Boy Scouts en masse after all. After the Scouts’ controversial decision last month to allow openly gay Scouts while excluding openly gay adult leaders, many had expected that the Southern Baptist Convention, which sponsors nearly 4,000 Scout units, would sever ties with the Scouts. But they stopped short of anything that drastic, while still expressing their disapproval.
The Associated Press reports:
While the resolution does not recommend that Southern Baptists drop ties with the Scouts, it expresses support for those churches and families that decide to do so. It also encourages churches and families who choose to remain with the Scouts to work toward reversing the new membership policy.
The choice is up to individual congregations, a few of whom have already severed ties. As an Eagle Scout, I would urge religious and social conservatives who disagree with the new policy to stick with the Scouts nevertheless.
Social conservatives should remember that the Boy Scouts is one of the few institutions in American life, apart from the churches, that even pretends to advocate for sexual restraint among teenagers. In the debate before and after the Scouts’ policy change, it has been almost uniformly ignored that the new membership standards reaffirm the prohibition of sexual activity of any kind for Scouts: “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.”
Even sexual teachings aside, the Boy Scouts still offers a number of countercultural goods: youth education centered around very “uncool” values like duty and honor; outdoor education and conservation; localism and volunteerism. No other organization can get as many distractable thirteen-year-olds to sit through a lecture on the local political system on a Monday evening, or tear kids away from video games long enough to build a park bench, as the Boy Scouts can. Front Porch Republicans, localists, and social conservatives alike should rally around anything that promotes the Scouts’ increasingly rare ideals.
The alternative is, of course, to support these ideals while withdrawing to smaller, more sectarian groups. This is also a mistake. The important recognition that the Boy Scouts is not just an extension of Sunday school has allowed it to cultivate a broad coalition encompassing Methodists, Mormons, and Muslims alike. The national reach of Scouting brings the advantages of superior summer camps, professional staff, and national events together for the kids who are, after all, the most important part of the entire enterprise.
As the culture wars continue to be fought by adults, churches shouldn’t punish the kids by splintering a great American institution. There aren’t many of them left.