Around the time of puberty, my childhood interest in formal religion--the church-going, Sunday school variety--began to fade. Looking back, I can see that my yearning for God and spirit did not disappear but shifted from indoors to outdoors, from choir music to birdsong, from the fiery rhetoric of the pulpit to the wood fires I learned to make as a Boy Scout. Native American lore, with its awe of the Great Spirit, infused scouting, beginning with the Cubs, in whose handbook I read the Omaha Tribal Prayer. On hikes with my troop, and at Chank-tun-un-gi, my much loved Boy Scout camp, I sometimes felt the closeness to God that many young people find more movingly in woods and streams than in sermons and hymns.
In fact, though scouting did not promote any particular religious belief, there was a sense of the spiritual in its principles of loyalty, respect, and service--the image of a Boy Scout helping an old lady across the street, á la Norman Rockwell, while a cliché, was perhaps a reflection of a sincere effort to instill in boys the value of helping those in need, of growing up to be a Good Samaritan.
The spiritual aspect I found in my Boy Scout experience came to mind recently when I read about the Supreme Court's hearing a case in which an Eagle Scout was kicked out of the organization because he was gay. James Dale is an Eagle Scout--as I was myself--who was serving as assistant scoutmaster of Troop 73 in Mattawan, N.J., eight years ago when a local newspaper ran an article about his participation in the Lesbian/Gay Alliance. Subsequently, he was booted out of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).
|I hope that boys coming of age today whose sexual orientation is different than that of the majority will not be excluded from the nurture I found as a Scout|
Dale was told that the Boy Scouts "specifically forbid membership to homosexuals," though there is no such language in any of the Scout laws or oath or the Boy Scout handbook. The lawyer for the BSA, George A. Davidson, argued that the policy of excluding gays was based on the Scouts' "moral code," as expressed in the phrase "morally straight" in the Scout oath ("To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight") and the word "clean" in the Scout law ("A Scout keeps his body and mind fit and clean"). The idea that homosexuality is a violation of such codes is becoming less prevalent as our society becomes more tolerant, as illustrated by the laws protecting gay rights, and more knowledgeable about human behavior, as expressed by the American Psychiatric Association dropping homosexuality from its categories of mental illness.
While fundamentalist and other conservative Christians believe that the Bible prohibits homosexual behavior, most churches now accept gay men and women as members. Those Christians who welcome gays to their congregations cite the example of Jesus' befriending and dining with those outcasts of society, and his treating all men and women as brothers and sisters loved by God.
Dale, the fallen Eagle, believes he is fighting for the principles of scouting by exemplifying honesty, leadership, and standing up for one's beliefs. Certainly, his advocacy of honesty seems to collide with the Scouts' position that only Scouts who had "publicly expressed their sexual orientation would face eviction." In other words, don't admit your sexual orientation and you'll be acceptable. Dale was not advocating homosexuality but asking only to continue his 11-year scouting career, which The New York Times reported was by all accounts "exemplary."
Whatever the Supreme Court may decide, I wish the Boy Scouts would look deeper into their own oath and laws and see the spirit of brotherhood within them. It was more than 50 years ago that I earned the rank of Eagle Scout as a 14-year-old boy in Indianapolis, and I was told that "once an Eagle, always an Eagle." As an old Eagle now (not bald, but gray), I hope that boys coming of age today whose sexual orientation is different than that of the majority will not be excluded from the nurture I found as a Scout: the fellowship of comrades, the wonder of nature, and the lore of Native Americans who saw in sun and stars the evidence of Spirit greater than our own.