It has been over 40 years since I became an Eagle Scout, but I still remember the merit badges I earned, the scout leaders who taught me skills and the Court of Honor where I received that award. I learned a lot from those merit badges and from Scouting generally, a view shared by millions of men who were once Boy Scouts.
It pains me to see the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) embroiled in the current controversy over Scouts who have a gay sexual orientation. Unfortunately, as a result of last week's decision on this matter, some sponsoring organizations may pull out. At the same time, some gay rights organizations are still hurling threats unless gay adult leaders are allowed in as well. According to the Associated Press, the Human Rights Campaign is planning on penalizing companies that donate to the BSA, and gay rights leaders in California are still pushing a bill to strip the BSA of its tax-exempt status.
The polarization on this issue is part of a deeper national schism. In the past week, I experienced two related incidents. One was a story I heard about a Brigham Young University student interviewing for a job with a Washington, D.C., group being asked about her views on gay marriage. When she expressed her opposition, she was berated and told she would not be hired. In the other incident, I was speaking to a BYU staff member who complained that homosexuals are trying to take over and won't be happy until everyone is homosexual. Both attitudes disturbed me.
We need to adopt a "live and let live" attitude towards each other. Gay rights groups need to praise groups like the BSA when they take stances that move towards the gay rights position rather than suggest it just isn't enough. Those who favor gay marriage should treat civilly all those who don't favor it. It should simply be a matter of disagreement.
Similarly, those opposing gay rights should recognize that change is coming and that it will not be the end of civilization as we know it. Over the past 50 years alone, our society has integrated African-Americans and women and empowered them to be who they want to be, all without the world ending. In fact, these steps have been beneficial for all of us.
The BSA has endured change as well. Blacks were not fully integrated into the Boy Scouts for many years. I remember in the late 1960s, my council's Scout camp in Georgia had blacks come a separate week from whites. The BSA has not been harmed by racial integration; to the contrary it has helped the organization. And the BSA is better because women are allowed in leadership positions and girls are allowed to join Venturing. The BSA survived those changes. It will survive these, too.
Scouting, like society, is changing. This change is for the better. Change will not come fast enough for some and too fast for others. Regardless, we should respect each other no matter how much we may differ.
Richard Davis is a professor of political science at Brigham Young University. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of BYU. Email: Richard_Davis@byu.edu