I have a problem with protestors. Not all of them. But certainly some of them.
I’ve been a protestor a few times in my life. As a disciple of Jesus, it is important to me to stand up for those who have no voice. That’s a lot of what Jesus was about.
This week, we celebrated the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. There, the Rev’d. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his immortal words, “I have a dream…” and the rest is history.
So why would I possibly have a problem with protestors?
I’m glad you asked. The March on Washington resulted in legislation that began the process of ensuring equality and fairness for striking railway workers. The legacy of the March can barely be contained in words. People began to move and respond, recognizing that their presence had attracted attention. Having attracted attention, they began to make their case. Having made their case, they began to work toward change.
In short, they put their lives into action and not just their protest signs, songs, and slogans.
A Recent Example of Failed Protest
Until then, boys who openly admitted their homosexual orientation were discontinued as scouts. Folks protested this policy. In fact, some have been protesting for years. Restricting scouts to heterosexual boys was, in their opinion, an unfair exclusion, bigoted, and wrong.
While the Boy Scouts of America are not a religious organization, their fundamental values have religious roots. Given the fact that the religions of today are divided, some internally, it should be no surprise that there was a great deal of deliberation on this issue for the BSA as well.
What is important for the purposes of this opinion piece is this: The protests had an effect. The protests brought about change.
In the second paragraph of the BSA official statement on the decision to lift the ban, they stated that:
Based on growing input from within the Scouting family, the BSA leadership chose to conduct an additional review of the organization’s long-standing membership policy and its impact on Scouting’s mission. This review created an outpouring of feedback from the Scouting family and the American public, from both those who agree with the current policy and those who support a change.
They went on to say:
The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive, and unresolved societal issue.
My take on the change is that the BSA decided that this would increase their appeal and broaden their scope within society. The ban was causing a drop in new scout registration. A tipping point had been reached. And now, the organization was ready to open up the organization to a broader audience.
But here is where I have a problem.
Where Are Most of the Protestors Now?
The organization bowed to public pressure in hopes of opening a conversation with a broader audience. And once that happened, everyone packed up their signs and went somewhere else to protest.
The BSA in my area is finding it more difficult to recruit scouts now. Instead of finding new families who were just waiting for the times to change, they are losing families who don’t want their scouting experience to be about sexuality. Some are leaving because they are tired of being a political football. Some are leaving because they disagree with the decision.
Instead of finding eager new participants who are ready to embrace differences in culture, they are finding that fewer scouts are being recruited across the board.
This decision had consequences. Protestors asked the organization to do the right thing, “no matter what the cost.” And now, when the cost is being counted, where are the folks who called for change? Where are the people who were so willing to criticize when the words were cheap and easy?
You wanted the program to be available to kids of all backgrounds, all cultures, all orientations? Then someone is going to have to step up and take the place of those organizations making decisions of conscience about their continued participation in Scouting. Someone is going to have to take the place of leaders who are tired of the tension and stress piling on with every news story.
I don’t believe in cheap words. I don’t let my church get away with it. And my congregations over the years haven’t let me get away with them very often either. So I’m calling you out. If you protested the BSA for their stance on homosexuality, and did not one thing to promote scouting in your hometown, you are part of the problem.
But They’re Not Totally Inclusive Yet
Some of my colleagues say that they haven’t done enough. According to the statement, the adult volunteers are still restricted to heterosexual adults. And many people are protesting this, withholding their support for the program.
I’m not one of those people.
A few months ago, I wrote an article about a Tennessee politician who thought that children should be punished for the actions of their parents and guardians. I thought that was a lousy idea then; I think it is a lousy idea now.
Don’t make a political statement at the expense of children.
Scouting deserves your support, if for no other reason than for you to take the opportunity to make changes from within. You can positively impact the lives of these children, especially if you are clergy.
But that’s not a mindset I’m encountering very often.
In conversations that took place this week, in person and online, I was actually told by one colleague (whose name I will not share), “If the program folds because they are not inclusive, I’m okay with that.”
I asked the pointed question: “So why are you still United Methodist.”
I thought that would make a point, but it sailed right by. “Well, I’m already a part of the institution. But I’m not involved in Scouts.”
The reason that answered astonished me is simple: If you are United Methodist, you are a part of Scouting. At the end of 2010, the United Methodist Church’s involvement with Scouting included: 235,672 Cub Scouts from 5,136 packs and 127,419 Boy Scouts from 5,005 troops. If you claim to be a part of our international missions, contribute to our connectional shared ministry, and participate in our itineracy, then Scouting is one of the projects you support.
Sometimes, total-inclusivity isn’t the most important issue a disciple faces. While I understand that such a statement is a personal opinion, I’m having a hard time understanding why a hundred years of character-building gets thrown out the window because the organization is a little slow to come around on total-inclusivity.
Be a Part of the Coming Solution
Don’t be a part of the problem. Be a part of the solution. If you think that the program is still biased towards homosexual boys, then your local Scouting leaders are more than happy to process your name as a potential leader. If you were agitating for the changes that came this past year, but you’re now off on a new project, you need to be reminded that there is some unfinished business with your last project.
It is easy to wave a sign, to post on Facebook, and to slap on a bumper sticker. But that doesn’t impress me much, nor should it impress you. If you have the guts to call on someone to change, it only takes a little more intestinal fortitude to step all the way up and help make a difference in the long run.
So put down your poster board and start supporting this group that has taken the time to listen to your point of view.
If you don’t support this program during this tough transition, the Boy Scouts of America may not be around for you to support at your leisure.
I’m a United Methodist clergy person. My denomination has pledged its continued support of Scouting in the wake of the BSA’s decision and the subsequent fallout. I’ve supported Scouting since I was a Boy Scout myself. The church I currently serve hosts two Girl Scout Troops, and charters a Cub Scout Pack and a Boy Scout Troop. Our members are heavily involved in the leadership of these units.
Author: Joey Reed
Joey is married to his best friend. Together, they have two children and live in Jackson, Tennessee. Joey serves Grace United Methodist Church, the Jackson District, the Memphis Annual Conference, and the world is his parish.