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   Monday, November 19, 2007  

Crisis of conscience

Several weeks ago, our neighbors rang the doorbell.  They have a son and a daughter.  The daughter was selling girl scout cookies, the son was selling boy scout popcorn.  As a former girl scout and lover of their fine cookies, I had to buy.  But I didn't feel that I could buy from one and not the other, so I ordered some caramel corn that I didn't even really want.

Yesterday, both were delivered.  Perfect timing since tomorrow we are taking  a long car trip and they'll make excellent snacks while driving.

But as that popcorn sits on my kitchen table waiting to be loaded into the car tomorrow, it's making me think about difficult issues.  Now, as a former girl scout, I know the benefits of that organization but quite honestly don't know their policies on many issues; the boy scouts' policies however have been very highly publicized over the last several years.

I am a Christian and I do believe that some things are sinful and wrong -- primarily the judging of other's beliefs.  I believe that we are called to love one another, to care for one another, to forgive others when they sin and to leave the judgement to God.  I try to live a life in which I show others love.  I believe that it is the responsibility of Christians to hold other Christians accountable for their actions, but what that means is lovingly praying for and with them, asking them about their relationship with God and being there to listen and talk with them about what God would want them to do and be.  For me, it's not a life of forcing my opinion and beliefs on others; rather, it is a life of loving service to my fellow man regardless of how they choose to live their lives.

Through high school, I was friends with M.  He was kind, generous, intelligent, always willing to help others, hard-working, a gifted student -- basically I could go on and on describing the kind of teenager that I can only hope my lowercase will grow up to become.  M was an Eagle Scout.  He went on to college and we lost touch.  I found him through myspace sometime this past winter and sent him a message asking how he had been since I last saw him in the early 90s.

He told me about finishing college in 3 years and going to work for the boy scouts organization.  He seemed to really love it in the way he wrote.  But then he realized he couldn't continue working there.  He was gay and had finally decided that he couldn't live with the dishonesty of hiding that any longer.  So he resigned and began living his life as an openly gay man.

And as that popcorn sits on my table, all I can think about is my friend M.  How can I support an organization that thinks that M isn't good enough?  An organization that purports to be all about morality, service, and general Judeo-Christian values yet fails on the most important (from the Christian standpoint): to live a life that is Christ-like, to love one another, to refrain from judgement.

I'd like to say that I won't buy their popcorn anymore.  That I won't let boy scouts who are raising money wash my car.  However I don't think I can honestly say that.  I don't like that they are judging my friend and other men who may be just as wonderful as he is on the basis of their sexuality.  But I also know that for many kids, scouting is one of the only positive areas of their lives.  I've seen it in the inner-city kids I've taught -- their scout time each week was the highlight of their lives exposing them to far more than they would ever have the opportunity to see and do and learn otherwise.  They are taught about community service, which was a concept that had never been taught to those city kids.  I also know that there are other organizations that fill those same roles for children, however the fact is that in many areas those other organizations aren't available.  In a city neighborhood rife with poverty, where parents have no cars, the kids are lucky to have a boy scout troop (pack? den?) in their neighborhood.  The kids that I taught didn't live within walking distance of any other programs -- no boys and girls club, nothing.  Just one cub scout pack and one girl scout troop.  That was it.

And while I can be clear on some issues of groups I will support financially (schools are almost always in the yes column; church groups with doctrine I believe...absolutely.  I won't donate to churches with which I disagree fundamentally, just as I would expect their members to refuse to support fundraising efforts from my church)...this seems to fall into a gray area.

The obvious issue in this particular purchase was that the children were standing at my door side by side each selling something.  How can I say no to one and yes to the other?  And while I could explain my moral dilemma to the mother of these kids, you simply can't say that to (or in front of) a 6 year old and a 7 year old.  The kids themselves have nothing to do with it.

And what do I do when the lowercase is older and he wants to be a boy scout?  Do I let him join while explaining to him my issues with the organization?  Do I just say no?

Or am I analyzing this all far more than is warranted?  Maybe I should just shut up and eat my popcorn.

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  Comments about my post, "Crisis of conscience":
I can't tell you what to do when the Boy Scouts come knocking on the door, as I know I would feel uncomfortable addressing politics with someone else's child even when it affects me directly, as this does. I also totally understand your point about inner city kids with no other options.

However, I can tell you about the Girl Scouts, and also give you some options for Timmy. The Girl Scouts have an official non-discrimination policy on sexual orientation (and they have to - if you took all the lesbians out of the GSA you wouldn't have a lot of GSA left!).

If you want Timmy to have a scouting-type experience, there are a number of possibilities open to him that the kids you taught didn't have access to, so I would encourage you to follow your conscience and choose a different organization for him. 4-H, Boys and Girls Club and Campfire Boys and Girls organizations are all alternatives. Another route would be to work for change from within - the Greater New York Council of the BSA is officially opposed to the anti-gay policy of the National BSA. I don't know whether packs in your area fall in their jurisdiction, but in any case Timmy could join BSA and you and he could work to promote education, tolerance and change in the national organization.

If we have a son in the future, we'll look into non-BSA activities for him. There are even some pagan Scouting organizations out there (an idea which entertains me greatly).

PS - Librarian that I am, I must say that I got most of the information that I didn't already know on this topic from http://www.scouts-honor.com/community.html

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