By Paul Carter
Is Scouting Worth the Fight? Liberals say 'Yes'
FORT A.P. HILL, VIRGINIA -- Like a commander rallying his troops who
have just been turned back in their assault on a strategic hill,
Benjamin Sockis has outlined in The New Republic the liberals' call
to courage in their continued effort to have the Boy Scouts of
America yield on its stand against homosexuality. The goal, clearly,
is to take the hill with continuing assault.
Benjamin Sockis is an assistant editor at The New Republic magazine.
His September 17th article, entitled "Big Tent: Saving the Boy Scouts
from its supporters", begins by presenting a verbal picture of the
religious diversity and harmony that was clearly evident to him
during the National Jamboree held in July.
The article touches on the history of the Boy Scouts, how it came to
the US from England and how it grew into an important part of both
male adolescence and the culture of America. Mr. Soskis asserts that
the early history and success of Scouting were due to the movement's
willingness to accept all young men, without regard to race or
religion. He laments what he sees as the changes in Scouting of the
past three decades which have brought about discrimination against
and exclusion of gay boys and men. The source of these perceived
changes is certain key sponsoring organizations for Scout troops.
"Is Scouting worth the fight?", Sockis asks his readers. He responds
for them: "The answer is yes. For, even in its tarnished state, the
Boy Scouts does bring together boys from diverse economic, ethnic,
and religious backgrounds, providing, in Robert Putnam's terms,
'bridging social capital.'" (MN note: Robert Putnam uses the term
"social capital" in his book "Bowling Alone", which describes the
decrease in social interaction in modern society. "Bridging social
capital" is defined on a web page of the World Bank as "cross-cutting
ties between different groups". From the same source, "social
capital" is "solidarity among homogenous groups." See
The place in American culture of the Boy Scouts makes changing the
organization to accept gays an important strategic objective, as
understood from The New Republic.
Mr. Sockis outlines how what has become this BSA battle against
homosexuality has been fought in the newspapers and in the courts, as
well as among organizations that sponsor Scout troops and even among
the local Councils of the Boy Scouts.
The article describes The Boy Scouts of America as an organization
that has lost its original moorings in diversity and shifted position
due to pressure from certain large religious groups, among them the
Catholic Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Mr. Soskis cites sources which suggest that the Boy Scouts of America
is becoming a religion itself. He suggests that some "progressive"
efforts from within the Boy Scouts should give hope to those who have
been disappointed that the Boy Scouts can discriminate against those
His article concludes with his question, referenced above, "Is
Scouting worth the fight?" As he responds in the affirmative, he
offers encouragement to liberals to take heart. There are key efforts
currently underway to help the organization return to its roots in
diversity and acceptance.
For readers who support the moral values currently represented by the
Boy Scouts of America, Mr. Soskis' article is a window into how
change is being effected upon conservative principles in general and
the Boy Scouts tenets in particular.
Reference is made in the article to the soon-to-be published book,
"On My Honor: Boy Scouts and the Making of American Youth," by
Professor Jay Mechling of the University of California at Davis.
Professor Mechling writes, "To maintain the position that
homosexuality is immoral amounts to preferring some religions over
others on this matter. Professor Mechling suggests that the Scouts
are "acting like a church and departing from the founders'
Support for this concept of the BSA playing favorites is offered by
Mr. Soskis. He cites an excerpt from an amicus brief filed in the Boy
Scouts' Supreme Court case by, among others the United Methodist
Church, Reform Judaism, and the Episcopal Dicese of Newark, where
these groups stated that "...our boys and young men do not
participate in the Boy Scouts for the purpose of expressing the view
that gay boys and men are immoral."
In encouraging the efforts for change within the Boy Scouts, Mr.
Soskis offers a plan which he suggests will eventually prove to be
successful: "Until society and the Boy Scouts with it, comes to a
consensus about the equality of gays and lesbians, liberals should
work to decentralize the BSA--allowing different troops to define
their own moral and sexual rules..." Again, he references the
writings of Jay Mechling, saying that "the Boys Scouts of
America--that is, the legal corporation and the bureaucrats working
in the office buildings of the national office and the council
offices--is not the 'real' Boy Scouts in the sense that a boy
experiences Scouting through a concrete folk group of men and boys."
And with regard to what will happen as these efforts are undertaken,
Mr. Soskis invokes the Scout Motto while stating liberalism's goal
for both the Boy Scouts and the greater society: "moral progress."
His summation: "Of course, remaining in the Boy Scouts would require
liberals to tolerate a degree of moral discomfort. It would also
require faith in the nation's moral progress: that the BSA will, over
time, come to see nondiscrimination as the principle that best honors
scouting's heritage. And it would require a belief that the Boy
Scouts, by joining together children of different backgrounds in "a
brotherhood of youth," can help achieve that progress. Should that
time come, liberals, by refusing to abandon the organization even
when it seems to have abandoned them, will--in the best tradition of
the Scouts--be prepared."
Big Tent: Saving the Boy Scouts from its supporters
The New Republic 17Sep01 N1
By Benjamin Soskis