These days remind me of an old proverb: “May you live in interesting times.” The saying, as I once wrote in this blog, is of Asian origin and is filled with the ancient wisdom that often comes with the two-edged sword of literal and practical irony. The saying invites the recipient to “interesting” times. Ultimately, the irony connotes “interesting” as belonging to something other than what appeals to one’s intellectual curiosity or enlightenment; rather “interesting” here leads one to expect unsteady, perturbing, or even troubling times. So, in these days I find myself living the resonance of the ancients’ dreams and the multi-faceted fulfillment of their mystical proverb.
Recently, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) made a change in its membership policy for youth. The basics of the resolution to the youth membership policy requires the youth member to (a) subscribe to and abide by the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Law, (b) subscribe to and abide by the precepts of the Declaration of Religious Principles (duty to God), and (c) demonstrate behavior that exemplifies the highest level of good conduct and respect for others and is consistent at all times with the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Law. No youth may be denied membership in the BSA on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.
The National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS) understands this policy to mean the following: (a) a youth will not be prevented from receiving a rank award or religious emblem simply for having or experiencing a same-sex attraction; (b) a youth will not need to hide the fact that he has or experiences this attraction, but a youth also will not be encouraged or pressured to disclose publically the experience of such attraction; and (c) a youth experiencing same-sex attraction should not be afraid that he will be expelled by the Scouting community by disclosing the experience of such attraction.
There have been, and will be, no doubt more reactions to this change by the BSA which has a long, close, and admirable relationship with the Christian Church, especially the Catholic Church. BSA is expected to provide more details on the application of this resolution over the coming months leading up to the resolution’s implementation on 1 January 2014. In addition, it is important to remember that nowhere in the BSA documentation have they indicated that this change means that what some have referenced to as “openly gay” youth will be admitted to the organization. This change in policy does not mean acceptance or promotion of a “gay lifestyle” since that would be contrary to the values of the BSA; rather, it means that a youth who may disclose that he is experiencing a same-sex attraction may not be excluded, bullied, treated with disrespect or denied advancement within the movement. The BSA offers the additional clarification that the Scout Oath begins with duty to God, and the Scout Law ends with a Scout’s obligation to be reverent. Those will always remain core values of the BSA. The values set forth in the Scout Oath and Law are fundamental to the BSA and central to teaching young people to make better choices throughout their lifetimes.
As Bishop, I can certainly attest to the significant accomplishments and benefits that Scouting has given to our diocese over the years. The new policy of the BSA does, indeed, prove that we live in “interesting” times, but it also gives us an opportunity to ponder and consider carefully that the new BSA membership policy as such does not necessarily contradict the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church as it is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), numbers 2357-59, and the USCCB document: Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care (2006).
Interesting, or not, these are the times in which we live. While we stand on principle, we must also remember that charity and prudence also guide our way with the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The bishops of the United States are in contact with the leadership of the BSA to assure that the mainstays of the great traditions of Scouting and its treasured alliance with the Church will remain as strong as we can possibly maintain in these interesting times.