A good compromise leaves everyone unhappy, and the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to punt on their most controversial issue — the current ban on homosexual leaders and members — seems set to do just that.
The organization’s statement Wednesday delayed action until the annual meeting of the National Council in May:
After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the Scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy.
To that end, the National Executive Board directed its committees to further engage representatives of Scouting’s membership and listen to their perspectives and concerns. This will assist the officers’ work on a resolution on membership standards. The approximately 1,400 voting members of the National Council will take action on the resolution at the National Annual Meeting in May 2013.
For those confused by the terms, the National Executive Board is not the same as the National Council. The Executive Board consists of about 70 members who act, as the name implies, as corporate executives. The National Council includes the National Executive Board and all its members, but also includes the heads of regional and local councils, as well as a number of national staff members, honorary members, and other odds and ends. Most decisions are made by the Executive Board, not the National Council, making the decision to put “membership policy” before the full Council an unusual one (although the statement does not say that the Council will necessarily be passing a binding vote — it says they will “take action,” which could turn out to be purely symbolic.)
In simplest terms, this is both a delay on a tough decision and a chance to spread the blame for the eventual result. And it comes in large part due to the action of Scouting’s most petulant minority-majority: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Meet the Two Councils Behind the Delay
A Reuters news story on the Wednesday decision included this interesting statement:
A coalition of 33 councils that represent about one-fifth of all youth members had asked the board to delay the vote.
For a sense of scale, there are just under 300 BSA councils nation-wide. There’s pretty much only one place in the nation where one-tenth of Scouting’s organization can claim to represent one-fifth its youth membership, and that’s Utah. We’ve talked on this blog before about the disproportionate influence of the Mormon church on Scouting, and the “33-council coalition” is a fascinating example of it.
Indeed, the “coalition” doesn’t seem to exist outside of the Great Salt Lake Council’s website and a press statement made by the District Director of the Utah National Parks Council. There is no public listing of the 33 councils, nor is there any statement signed by all of them. The only publicly-available document I could find at the time of this writing that suggests it speaks on behalf of a new coalition was posted on the Great Salt Lake Council’s website:
This letter has been taken down since I snapped the screenshot of it. When I contacted the Great Salt Lake Council for comment, executive assistant for the council Lisa Boren said that the letter represented the council’s own views and did not speak for any 33-council “coalition.” She stated that she did not know the origin or author of the document, but that it was the Great Salt Lake Council’s official position on the issue. Ms. Boren also said that the Great Salt Lake Council did not have permission from the other councils to disclose who the members of the coalition were.
In reply to similar inquiries, District Director for the Utah National Parks Council John Gailey said that he did not have a list of the 33 councils or any document to which they were all signatories. He added, “The Great Salt Lake Council has already stated that they were one of the other councils. I don’t know who the others are.”
A Scout is Brave. Scouting Isn’t.
Let’s pause and make sure we’re all on the same page here: two councils (out of roughly 300) are on the public record as opposing an immediate decision on membership standards from the National Executive Board. Theoretically they have the support of 31 other councils who decline to be named, and who have not added themselves as signatories to any official letter or document.
And yesterday the National Executive Council folded and agreed that the issue “needs time for a more deliberate review.”
Bluntly, we’ve been “reviewing” the policy of banning homosexuals since 1991, when it was first formally codified (though the BSA had successfully defended in court its right to ban homosexual members at least once prior to 1991 as well). Those two decades have been largely characterized by shrinking membership, loss of major donors, and a constant stream of heartbreakingly bad press, with a healthy salting of covered-up sexual abuse scandals thrown in for good measure (which call into pretty serious question the organization’s qualifications to judge morality of any sort).
This is not an issue that needs more time. The only groups left dragging their heels are the LDS-dominated councils: a truculent minority that threatens to leave and take its ball home any time the National Executive Council lurches toward modernization. If any councils other than Great Salt Lakes and Utah National Parks feel a need for more time or more review on revised membership standards, they haven’t spoken up yet — or at least, they haven’t been willing to commit their names publicly, which amounts to the same thing.
It’s time to stop letting the Mormon minority set the course for all of scouting. Yes, those few councils hold a disproportionate chunk of Scouting’s on-paper membership (and, as a result, provide a disproportionate chunk of registrations and fees) — but that’s because Scouting is a “sanctioned” activity for male youth within the Mormon church, meaning many young boys are signed up by default, whether they’re active participants or not.
Ending Scouting’s discrimination policy might well make the Mormon troops and councils withdraw from Scouting altogether. It’s the implied threat behind letters like the Great Salt Lake Council’s. And yes, losing the majority of the Utah councils and the LDS troops throughout the country would be a short-term blow to membership. But it would be a long-term step toward organizational survival and relevance — and, more importantly, it would be the right thing to do.
The National Executive Council’s choice to pass the buck today humiliated Scouting, one in a long series of public humiliations. In May, they’ll get a chance to at least partway redeem themselves.
Will the BSA finally do it? I want to say “yes.” But I wanted to say that yes, it would happen today, too, and it didn’t.
A Scout is Brave. Someday, Scouting as an organization will be, too.