I had reason to have an email conversation with a colleague today involving something that affects an organization of which he and I are both members, BSA or the Boy Scouts of America. He is an adult leader and also teaches climbing and repelling in all its forms. I also am an adult leader, though with a different unit. I’ve attended his class twice in 2 years and was certified to take scouts climbing and repelling on scout owned towers (not rock or mountain climbing). The city of Philadelphia has filed suit against the local BSA council because A) The Boy Scouts of America have in place a policy of excluding gay kids and adults and discouraging or (not certifying) adult leaders who are openly agnostic or atheist. and B) the local BSA council has rented a city structure connected to the city government on an open-ended lease of 1$ per year since 1928, and C) the city cannot allow discrimination in any form to be an actual policy in actual practice in an actual city government building, and D) BSA national won’t change the policy and E) the local council won’t leave.
OK, so the other leader, the climbing instructor, sent an announcement to our Yahoo group with a link to the story (Article here) and tagged it kinda ambiguously but ending with the John Paul Jones quote “I have not yet begun to fight” implying that this was a call to action.
I knew what kind of action he was asking for and I knew I was opposed to it so I wrote this reply to him and the group:
It’s about time somebody stood up to defend actual equality and rights. I stand with Philly on this as I’m sure all true Americans do against narrow-minded homophobes.
Thanks for the heads up (name deleted). A letter writing campaign from like-minded Americans might help to convince BSA of the rightness of the Philadelphia suit and correct their policy nationally.
Moments like this remind me of why I’m proud to be American and a Boy Scout leader because I can teach kids about doing the right thing, even if it isn’t your favorite thing or the easy thing or even a popular thing. Right is right and fair is fair and that’s supposed to be what we stand for. Pitch in, send BSA an email or a letter telling them how you feel (not how your pastor feels, but how you feel) and maybe we can get this thing turned around.
Thanks again for the heads up (name deleted). Together, we can all make a difference.
Of course, I knew that’s not what he meant. I knew he was a closed-minded, ultra right-wing conservative christian poopity poo and what he wanted was for us to all get up in arms and tell the ‘dang’ol gummint’ to stop tryin to tell us Boy Scouts what to do cause we’s doing gawd’s work.
I also knew that wouldn’t be the end of it.
Within a few moments a reply was in my inbox that explained how though Jesus loved everybody he didn’t approve of the gay lifestyle. He also responded that I was attacking his True American Status. Before it was over he explained that the scouts have had this policy since inception (it has not) and then asked how I could say the oath if I felt the way that I apparently felt.
I’m not really the kind to let things lay. It’s not me. Ask anybody. My wife rolled her eyes and knew that we were just at the beginning of this little ride.
my next reply:
(Name deleted), I understand that you’re a Christian and according to the teachings that you believe, Christ hated gays and it is therefore ok to do that as well. But BSA oaths do not say Jesus, they say God. Which god is up to the person saying the oath. There are many faiths and only a small fraction of them are narrow-minded homophobes.
Concerning your American-ness. I didn’t say you were a bad American or that you weren’t a true American. I implied that true Americans agree with the concepts of liberty and justice for all, a principal that governs both our country and our club (BSA).
In an interesting side note, I started to get email on the side, not through the yahoo group, from people who agreed with what I was saying but, as most people do, they were being low-key about it; trying not to be in a fuss. For me, the fuss is half the fun but in some cases, like this one, the fuss is also the point. One needs to make a fuss about some things. That’s how we get bad rules changed, mistakes fixed, policies rethought.
Anyway,.. so I was baiting the guy a little, but I was also stating my true beliefs and venting a bit of frustration I’d had with BSA in general over the years (I live in Texas where they put the mental in fundamental.) And, by now, my kids were watching, even egging me on a little. (Go get him, Dad!!)
I guess I was mistaken. I had always assumed from the limited times that I’d met you that fairness and equality were built-in at the core level of your values. You struck me as a liberty at any cost kind of guy.
If we exclude kids based on one set of parameters like, say, the kid is gay, where does it stop. Do we kick him out because we think he’s gay even if he’s not? Do we kick him out because he supports gay rights not because he’s gay but because he believes in the Constitution? What if he’s just awkward and the kids in the troop call him gay.
At our troop, we don’t exclude kids. We find a way to include and encourage everybody.
There’s a line in something we say before all of our meetings that I think bears on this subject, “… with liberty and just for all.” I’m pretty sure it doesn’t say, “with liberty and justice for all, except gays and atheists.” But since this isn’t a political forum and the argument is essentially political (and we’re off topic, etc) I will only say this much more; Regardless of which side you find yourselves on, the side of honor and justice or the side of narrow-mindedness and exclusion, send an email to BSA and tell them how you feel. At least then, they’ll have some information from the membership to help guide them in their decision.
There was a rapid series of responses like he was firing off ideas so fast he couldn’t stand to put them in the same email. Just get it gone now, oh and this too, and this, and this. This guy doesn’t use spell check and probably never re reads something before he sends it so sometimes the emails are funny when they aren’t supposed to be. My favorite two lines in the next slew of emails were, “I severed my country in war!” and “… to this day I service this country,..”
At any rate, the biblical justifications and “I’m a vet dammit and my opinions mean more because I carried a gun” type shit kept coming in shorter and shorter missives until I just got tired of the back and forth piece meal nature of the conversation. I decided to just say what I meant to say. I wrote it and I liked it. I liked it so much that I knew I was going to post it to “the Middle of the Road”. Of course, I had to write all that I’ve written so far, so that I could show you what I wrote to him last. To quote Bill Cosby, “I told you that story so I could tell you this one.”
Hi (name deleted),
I’m pretty sure we’re at that point in the discussion where the basic disagreement that we share is in stalemate. But, if I may, I think I can make my points and then let it be. You seem willing to discuss so I’ll just write it out and see what it looks like.
I have been in scouts for a big portion of my life. I was a cub, a webelo and a scout. Now I’m a scout leader. Between the years of me being a scout and becoming a leader, a major shift in policy in scouts took place and there was an enormous emphasis placed on Christianity whereas before it had only been one of the many recognized philosophical positions. BSA separated itself from the international scouting community and pursued a number of lawsuits at the federal level allowing BSA to implement exclusionary policies while maintaining it’s special status. The shift was so dramatic that during one of the first “major” lawsuits, a suit involving the scouts versus a gay kid having his Eagle award taken back, the federal government said, in essence, “You can be a private club or you can be a public trust but you can’t be both.” Previously, the scouts had enjoyed special status because of their open for every boy in need policy and stated beliefs of inclusion for all. After that, they were a private club and all of the “special status” applications under the law were removed. And this was all based upon BSA’s insistence that they wanted to exclude homosexuals (scouts and leaders) as well as agnostics and atheists and that all came from the new direction after the national office was moved to Texas where over a period of a few years the attrition rate of executives resulted in a complete replacement of the governing body with ultra right Christian’s.
The beliefs of the scouting organization were changed, by force, by a small number of Christian men. They imposed their belief system on a nation of scouts. I know that you’re not going to agree with this characterization because you’re in the group that believes as those leaders did, that the organization should be Christian based. I’m in the group that was disenfranchised by that decision. I hold out hope that as the pendulum swings, it will swing back in the direction of my beliefs. In the mean time, when I say the pledge of allegiance, I leave out the words “under god” because that’s not how we were founded and it was only stuck in during the 50s during the red scare by a bunch of knee jerk politicians to set us apart from the “godless” communists. When god is mentioned in a scout oath, I drop that too because it wasn’t part of the oath until two years after it was added to the pledge of allegiance. Being a good scout, at least to me, has nothing at all to do with my spiritual identity.
I really do think you should have a group that stands for what you think is right. I just think it should be called the Christian Scouts. That way everybody knows what they’re getting into. And while you’re doing that, the rest of us can have the Boy Scouts.
Something that we forget from time to time is that Boy Scouts is world-wide. Only BSA makes a point of being “Of America” whereas the rest of groups around the world are international in scope and thought. International scouts come in as many varieties as you can possibly think of. I have met Buddhists, Hindus, Muslim, Jewish, Animists and other people from all walks of life including atheists in scouting.
Contrary to what you stated earlier (based on information included beyond the first paragraph of the story) The lawsuit in question is about whether or not an organization that has an exclusionary national policy should be allowed to use, essentially rent free, a government building to run it’s business. Philly is saying, you can do whatever you want, but if you do this, you can’t stay here because we have rules about fairness. If you want to exclude any person or group, go do it over there and pay rent like everybody else. That’s what the suit is about. Is Philly trying to shine a light on something and maybe get the national BSA policy changed? Sure. If they’re realists they know it probably won’t happen but they can bring some attention and at the very least get the private club of gay haters out of the city offices.
Also, for the record and again contrary to what you’ve stated previously, Jesus never mentions gay people in any way in the bible or anywhere else. That’s your religious leader’s interpreting passages attributed to somebody else a book written by multiple people way after the fact who thought the world was flat and only 5 thousand years old. They also believed in slavery and the ritual beating or killing of a wife as punishment for displeasing her husband. I’m sure you don’t follow those beliefs just as I’m sure that there are other things in the bible that you either disagree with or would refuse to base your lifestyle upon. If you want to justify discrimination against a class of people, basing it on one of the thousands of religions the world has known is flimsy at best and basing it on a book that contradicts itself dozens of times and includes rules that you clearly would never follow is merely a convenience that you use to cover something else. You have the right to discriminate against anybody you want, I just don’t think you should wrap it up in what is supposed to be an all-encompassing religion of love, peace and acceptance. The easiest was to find out, according to your religion, what the right thing to do is to ask yourself what would Jesus do. If you think Jesus would walk up to an Eagle Scout, recognized by his community, his family, his friends and his scout leaders as a great kid and an inspiration to others and take that award away because he was born gay, then you have a different view of Jesus than I do. You’re entitled to that view but it is way different from the one I have. And, if you think that is what the Boy Scouts of America stands for because of a political shift in leadership 70 years after inception, then we’re going to have to disagree on that as well.
I appreciate the differences that are allowed in this country like almost nowhere else in the world including our right to have completely diametric beliefs. The best news is that for the most part, we try to keep from inflicting our beliefs on others at the government level. And we do that because we come from everywhere, believe everything and include everybody.
I was pretty sure I was done with it at that point. I hit ENTER, sent it and said to my wife, “That’s all I will say about that. I’ve spent enough time on it.”
But the world doesn’t spin that way.
In his last email to me, where he essentially agrees that we will disagree, there was a line that I just could not leave alone. It’s a shortcoming in my character, I know. But still,.. somethings a guy just has to do. His line was: “You shouldn’t label me with a thing like “homophobic” when you have no idea who I am nor why I stand there. I do not feer (sp) the gay world. Just don’t wish to associate with them and have different beliefs than they do.”
I didn’t respond to him because I knew I was going to write it here. But I want you to take that last line and replace gay with black or mexican. “I do not fear the Black world. I just don’t wish to associate with them and have different beliefs than they do.” “I do not want to associate with Mexicans.” “Chinese people have different beliefs than I do and I don’t want to be around them.”
If that doesn’t sound racist, stupid or both,.. well, I’ll just eat my hat.