The Boy Scouts, Freedom, and Morality

Yesterday morning, a petition bearing 275,000 signatures on a petition protesting the removal of an openly homosexual den leader from a Cub Scout Pack was delivered to the BSA’s annual meeting.

These signatures were delivered by none other than Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout of some notoriety, who recently (last year, I think?) gave an impassioned and interesting speech to the Iowa legislature on the issue of same-sex marriage and civil unions, and argued that he was living proof that SSM would be, and indeed was, beneficial to society.

I came across two different articles at two very different websites about the delivery of the petitions, and they both quoted Wahls differently, and their highlights were probably intentional.  The first I’d like to look at, and the minor of the two excerpts, is from the Christian Post and can be found here.

Wahls is quoted thus:

“They (the petitioners) are ready for progress. We are ready for this progress,” Wahls said on Wednesday, revealing that thousands of scouts had also signed the petition. “I refuse to stand by idly as it (Boy Scouts) forfeits its cultural relevancy at the very moment this country needs it most.”

Well, I agree that it would be a bad thing if the BSA forfeited its cultural relevancy now when our country needs it most.  But I think he has it completely backwards: there is no faster way to forfeit relevancy than by capitulating on the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.  To stand for one’s convictions in an era when those convictions are questioned, frowned upon, or even mocked, is to ensure relevance by simple virtue of taking and maintaining a stand.  Not to mention that Wahls has guaranteed their relevance with newsmaking events like this–but I digress.  Turns out that wasn’t all Wahls had to say.

The Huffington Post piece on the event was decidedly more lopsided towards Wahls and only barely quoted the BSA in comparison to the Christian Post, but since the piece was designed more to focus on the controversy at hand, this is almost understandable…especially in light of the fact that the BSA was outright described as “anti-gay” in the first sentence of the piece, leaving no doubt of the bias of the HuffPo piece.

But their quotes of Wahls differed from the Christian Post, so let’s see what they quoted him as saying.

“While today’s meeting was productive and thoughtful, the delivery of these petitions marks the beginning of this journey, not the end,” Wahls, himself an Eagle Scout,is quoted by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) as saying. “I thought our dialogue today was an honest one, and I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation in the months ahead. We leave today one step closer to religious and personal freedom than when we arrived, and it’s hard to be anything but thrilled about that.”

It is telling that he would characterize this issue, one of admitting openly homosexual leaders as a matter of personal and religious freedom.  Because in describing it as such, he has shed light on the consequences of his action:

That no one is allowed to disagree with him on the issue of homosexuality.

That freedom does not extend to the freedom of association for anyone who disagrees with him.

That freedom does not extend to the freedom of conscience for anyone who disagrees with him.

That freedom does not extend, ironically, to the freedom of religion as regards a religion’s stance on homosexuality.

For Wahls, it is not enough to merely repudiate the Boy Scouts or to advocate a more progressive organization with most of the same goals (and they do exist); it is that the Boy Scouts must specifically and unconditionally surrender in the name of the personal freedom of those who would behave in ways the BSA deems immoral.

This is not freedom in any meaningful sense of the word; the personal freedoms of one do not trump the freedom of association of others.  It is not a circumvention of one’s freedom to be denied membership in the BSA when other alternatives exist that are more suitable to a progressive view of homosexuality, and their freedom is not diminished by the refusal of the BSA as regards homosexual leaders in particular or general.  That much has been settled law since 2000.

Wahls is also quoted by Huffington Post as saying:

“I learned in the Boy Scouts that bravery is not the absence of fear but the mastery of fear. But as long as this policy remains the official position of the BSA, that lesson will ring hollow. I learned in the Boy Scouts the importance of standing up for what’s right.”

“A Scout is brave” is indeed one of the twelve points of the Scout Law.  And he is right about what bravery is and isn’t.  But Wahls overextended his argument by applying the virtue of bravery and ‘standing up for what’s right’ to his action towards the BSA.  Standing up for what’s right is a decidedly moral claim, and the BSA is nothing if not concerned with morals.  In saying so, Wahls crossed a tripwire of sorts.  How does Wahls know that the Scouts are not doing what is right?  Who determines right and wrong?  Wahls does not elaborate, but in using moral language he appealed to a moral standard that he expects everyone to know and abide by.  Exactly what standard is that?  The BSA certainly has one: that of theism.  How does Wahls try to reconcile the moral relativism required for acceptance of homosexuality and the moral objectivism of theism, and more importantly Christian theism that 1) is accepted by the vast majority of troops in the US and 2) specifically forbids homosexuality and calls it immoral?  What’s brave for the goose is brave for the gander, and for the Boy Scouts to maintain their stance is a brave act.

One last remark.  The organization is specifically called “The Boy Scouts of America.”  Not “The Scouts of America.”  Gender is of utmost importance to the entire organization and goals of the organization; the ultimate goal of the BSA is to guide young men into a virtuous, moral, productive masculinity that is only exemplified by virtuous men, the vast majority of which are fathers themselves.  It is further the position of the BSA that this role, acted upon by its leaders, is the foundation of a just and moral society.  (Think ‘just’ is a little too strong?  It’s true: justice hinges on an objective morality, and that is something that cannot be justified by adherents of same-sex marriage.  A just society can tolerate homosexual activity and yet not equate it morally or teleologically with the institutions of marriage and the family.)  It is the position of the BSA that homosexuality is at odds with that goal and thus rejects the confusion of gender that it advocates.

There’s no mistake about it: Wahls comes to the Scouts not as a mediator or ambassador, but as a conqueror and captor, and as further proof that there is no such thing as moral neutrality when it comes the acceptance of homosexuality.

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3 thoughts on “The Boy Scouts, Freedom, and Morality

  1. I think it’s misleading to call Wahls a “conqueror or captor.” He is not advocating forcing the BSA to do anything. He is advocating, with words and with a petition, not with any physical force.

    Also, how does the “foundation of a just and moral society,” or “justice” itself, require classifying homosexual activity as immoral?

    • Had he not characterized it as ‘personal freedom,’ I would be inclined to agree. But he used it to contest the ‘personal’ (his term) freedom of the ousted leader over against the freedom of association and conscience of the BSA.

      As for morality, and justice, it supposes that there is a moral law that is perceptible by all people and subject to none, that is, objective in nature. You cannot have meaningful justice in a society in which everyone defines justice or morality on their own terms (you can hardly have justice without morality), but to consider an objective morality is to step firmly into theistic territory, which is where the BSA currently stands. Ultimately, it gets at the foundations of law and morality. And I would add that it is unjust for a society to disallow the freedoms of association and conscience for those who, like the Boy Scouts, oppose either same-sex marriage or homosexual activity (Canada is a bad example of freedoms of conscience); but a just society can stand up for the dignity and humanity of gays and lesbians and act in the best interest for everyone, gay or straight, in the same way by honoring the traditional marriage and family and neither tolerating nor accepting attacks on the LGBT community. But tolerance, which I mentioned, is different from acceptance; one can tolerate something that is immoral if it is not illegal. Freedom entails morality; but what are we to do when moralities collide? Is the acceptance or refusal of this particular ex-Scout leader morally equivalent? Society has to claim that either one or the other is immoral.

  2. How does it require not doing so? One does not assume their position is just. One argues for it. The idea is that all change is automatically taken to be progress, the enlightened know it, and we’ll just wait for society to catch on all the while ostracizing all those who disagree with us as bigoted, homophobic, etc.

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