March 19, 2013 | permalink
My piece in today’s Guardian on the BSA drew this interesting comment:
“I was a Scout in NYC in the 60s and 70s and tolerance ruled. We were Jews, Chinese, Protestants, Blacks and we didn’t meet at a church. The focus was on nature and the outdoors. I honestly did not think of the Scouts as a particularly religious group. The ‘under God’ statement was about par with the pledge of allegiance. At summer camp Towadena we each had to attend some kind of religious service. I was Unitarian and had Chinese, Muslim and non-practicing friends (hey, this was New York). We created a lovely Native American service in the woods. It was all slightly hippyish and no one cared.
Membership is less than 30% of what is was in my day and the dramatic decline has been disproportionately among liberals, moderates, and seculars. The anti-gay ban has helped to exacerbate their hemorrhage. The secular troops of my day, sponsored by the Elks or the local firehouse, are largely a thing of the past.
Religious conservatives have meanwhile pushed membership; Mormons above all: Mormons made the BSA their official youth group (not GSA for their girls, alas) and today Mormons, who are less than 2% of the US population, control more than a third of troops.
The ban is really a story of a Mormon stealth takeover and their abhorrence of homosexuality, which contravenes their theological belief in celestial marriages. Mormons hold a theological hatred of homosexuality given their belief in celestial marriages. The ban against gays was implemented in 1992 under Mormon pressure. During the Supreme Court argument in BSA vs Dale in 2000 the Mormon Church explicitly said that if the ban were lifted they would take their ball and go home.
Nowadays churches, mostly conservative, sponsor more than 70% of troops. Mormon and Baptist Scouts rarely form mixed groups and often meet in churches and hold religious services. The vast majority of Mormon troops especially are 100% Mormon with all boys in a Mormon ward automatically enrolled (Mormons don’t brook sloppy diversity). The photo of boys praying together in Texas completely repels me and is absolutely against Scouting’s original non-sectarian mission. Scouting should never be associated with any one religious sect. And once diversity rules, frankly the vast difference among the belief systems of Unitarians, Hindus, Buddhists, Evangelicals, and Jews makes it impossible to define ‘god’ (or gods) and so makes the atheist question moot.
This transformation of the BSA into a church group is a uniquely American phenomenon thanks to our unusually powerful Christian right wing. Other leading Scouting nations, including Canada, Australia, Mexico, France, and the UK where Scouting was founded, remain non-denominational, as we used to be, and have no such bans.
If you have any doubts about Scouting’s initial intent, hear the words of Scouting’s English founder, Lord Baden Powell:
“Buddha has said: ‘There is only one way of driving out Hate in the world and that is by bringing in Love.’ Scouting’s aim is to produce healthy, happy, helpful citizens, of both sexes, to eradicate the prevailing narrow self interest, personal, political, SECTARIAN [emphasis mine] and national, and to substitute for it a broader spirit of self-sacrifice and service in the cause of humanity.”