“How can the Boy Scouts admit gay youth? Doesn’t the Scout Oath require them to be ‘morally straight’?” some ask.
It does, and it has since 1911.
“So how can the Boy Scouts admit gay youth – they’re not straight?”
First things first – the use of the word ‘straight’ to mean ‘heterosexual’ was first used thirty years after the Scout Oath was adopted by the BSA.
So, it is impossible that the Scout Oath meant ‘heterosexual’ when it was adopted. Sexuality is not and never has been part of Scouting.
“So, if ‘morally straight’ doesn’t mean ‘heterosexual’, what does it mean?”
Simply put, it means living one’s life in adherence to one’s morals.
“So, then, what are the morals of the Boy Scouts of America?”
That one is easy – they are established by the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. Beyond that, a Scout’s morals are established by his community, religion, and personal moral code. To be morally straight, a Scout will abide by his moral code. The particulars of that code will vary according to his place, his faith, and personal beliefs.
Boy Scouts, as an organization, is non-sectarian. It does not impose any requirements on a youth beyond the Scout Oath and Law, but it does require the Scout to live up to his own morals. It’s a reminder to the Scout to never stray from his principles, a guide that will serve him well throughout his life.
Certainly, there are differences among the worlds’ religions. A Jewish Scout may not be permitted to eat pork, while a Catholic Scout may be a happy consumer of bacon. Scouting does not require the Jewish Scout to eat bacon, nor the Catholic Scout to abstain from bacon for the Jewish Scout’s sake, but it does require both Scouts to be ‘reverent’ and to respect the teachings of each others’ religions. He doesn’t have to follow those teachings, but he has to respect that the other Scout follows them. Tolerance of every Scout’s religion is simply the only way for an organization like the Boy Scouts to be viable.
In regards to homosexuality, some of the world’s religions don’t address the subject at all. In the Abrahamic religions, Leviticus forbids many things, including homosexuality and the eating of certain foods; those who observe the Kosher tradition abide by these rules. Most Christian traditions consider Mark 7:15 to reverse the prohibition on those foods from Leviticus, and some denominations feel that the literal text of Mark 7:15 also removes the prohibition on homosexuality. Some denominations further cite Matthew 19:12 as clarifying Jesus’s stance on homosexuals and as such they welcome homosexuals into their churches. Other denominations strongly disagree, and so there is religious controversy as to which Bible verses mean what, and how they should be properly interpreted.
Boy Scouts of America does not take a position on the interpretation of any Bible verses. It is explicitly non-sectarian and only requires that Scouts and Scouters be ‘reverent’ towards theirs and other religions, while abiding by their own moral codes.
Some Scouters (for the most part not Scouts) are currently upset that the most recent change in BSA policy is no longer in line with their own religion’s teachings. This is certainly true in many cases, and one can understand the challenge a Scouter faces when the BSA’s policy changes from directly supporting a teaching of his own church to requiring the Scouter to be instead tolerant of others’ churches’ teachings. Though perhaps difficult, that same Scouter can take solace knowing that the new BSA Membership Standards policy is more clearly in line with the Scout Oath and Law that than previous policy was. Scouters are encouraged to continue continue to help other people at all times, and to always be Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Brave, and Reverent.