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A few days into the Boy Scout policy controversy

May 28, 2013

Despite appearing over a holiday weekend, my post on the Boy Scouts of America has garnered thousands of views and generated many comments, pro and con, on the web or sent to me personally. Most comments are positive, which is nice but, for all I know, folks who agree with me are more likely to say so than are folks who disagree. Or maybe not.

Folks who disagree with me typically start off by saying “I agree with Peters on the ‘law’ or on the ‘principles’, but . . .” These folks should stop and reflect on what they are saying. Agreement with Peters on ‘the law or the principles’ is agreement with Peters, period, for I make no claims beyond those directly consequent to the law or principles. May I suggest that critics read with the same precision with which I try to write?

Anyway, those who disagree with me almost always make one, sometimes two, points but they make them in so many different ways that I simply cannot respond to each individual and point out how. Either they (1) assert a criterion for membership in the Boy Scouts that the Church herself does not observe and, I suggest, would not expect others to observe, or (2) they predict disaster for the Boy Scouts based on predictions about possible (maybe even probable, for all I know) future developments, something I expressly refrained from doing because the only question before us, today, is the text of the policy.

A few other points have come up with some frequency:

How can a gay boy keep himself “morally straight”? First, of course, the BSA term “straight” far pre-dates the sexual connotation it has taken on in the last generation. But to answer the question, he can do so the same way every other single male can keep himself morally straight, namely, by adhering to the norms for behavior expressly set out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and repeated throughout BSA literature, i.e., by acting chastely.

There’s going to be pressure to admit gay men as Scout leaders. Notice, we’re not talking about the youth membership policy anymore. Notice, we are making predictions about future developments. That noted, there is already pressure to admit gay men as Scout leaders, and the BSA has rightly resisted that pressure before in rather the same way that the Church admits as members people who experience/identify as homosexual, but she does not admit them to formation to Orders.

Now atheists will have to be admitted to the Boy Scouts. Really? Why? Scouting, a free association of private persons, makes reverence toward God an express membership requirement. An atheist youth might be a perfectly pleasant fellow, but he cannot make a profession of reverence toward God, so he can’t join a group requiring reverence to God. How people can think the revised BSA membership policy opens the door to atheists escapes me: Scouting does not make “heterosexuality-ness” a requirement of membership (any more, by the way, than does any other major youth formation program I’ve googled over the weekend, including those who claim to teach important values for use in life); what the BSA does do, in contrast to every other youth formation program I’ve looked at recently, is expressly reject non-marital sexual activity. The BSA is strikingly counter-cultural in that regard! One would not know that to judge from some of the condemnations heaped on it in recent days.


In the film A Man for All Seasons (1966), Margaret confronts her father Thomas More with news of an oath going thru Parliament. When Sir Thomas asks what are the terms of the oath, Meg blurts out “Who cares what the words are, we know what it will mean!” More’s reply is vital: “An oath is made of words. It will mean what the words say it means.” Well, a membership policy is made of words, and it means what the words say it means.

No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”

Now, if the words of the BSA policy are unsound (as were the words of the oath More was confronted with) a Catholic may not cooperate with it; even if the BSA policy is sound, but is later abandoned in principle or in practice, Catholics must cease their cooperation. But if the words of the BSA policy are sound, as I argue they are, and if it has not been abandoned, as it obviously has not been, Catholics may well cooperate with the BSA, and some Catholic critics of the BSA should temper their remarks lest they unjustly harm the BSA or lead others into doing so.

Update, 29 May 2013: But for one sentence, I basically agree with Tom McDonald’s take on the Boy Scout matter. The one sentence that stands out–nay leaps out–but is completely unsupported by everything else McDonald wrote, is this: “The shift in policy shows that the BSA is willing to concede moral high ground.” Huh? How? Where? Please point to where the BSA did anything such thing.

Anyway, pace that lone line, the rest of McDonald’s essay, imo, reads well and usefully.

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