Dear Boy Scouts of America:
I hope this finds you well, though all the conversation in the media seems to say otherwise. You’re apparently between a rock and a hard place, at least politically speaking. You don’t want to alienate your base, but you’re also finding that being a Boy Scout doesn’t possess a sexual identity. I must confess that I wasn’t a Boy Scout, though I wanted to be one.
I grew up in a rural area, and Boy Scouts were certainly possible. However, my mother wouldn’t let me. It wasn’t because she had a crazy liberal agenda, or disagreed with anything Boy Scouts taught. It was simply because we already had church, and the Royal Ambassadors. You’re probably familiar with RA’s, as their affectionately known. It’s the Southern Baptist version of Boy Scouts. One might find them as your stiff competition, but they seem to be some of your most staunch defenders.
Though mad at my mother for not allowing me to participate in Boy Scouts, I now cannot be more thankful for RA’s. As I look back upon my childhood, I remember the pledge clearly:
As a Royal Ambassador I will do my best:
to become a well-informed, responsible follower of Christ;
to have a Christ-like concern for all people;
to learn how to carry the message of Christ around the world;
to work with others in sharing Christ; and
to keep myself clean and healthy in mind and body.
I’ve traveled a long way since I first learned that pledge. I am no longer in the Southern Baptist Convention; I espouse views that often times stand counter to that organization’s beliefs. Yet, without this pledge, I don’t know where I would be today.
I wouldn’t write articles like, “What if Jesus Were Gay.” I wouldn’t embrace the idea that all persons, regardless of gender, should have the ability to serve as pastors. I wouldn’t want to learn how to love people for who they are, not what I think they should be.
So, today, I cannot say that I’m all that empathetic for your plight. I can’t say that I think you have a hard decision on your plate. I was taught long ago that I am to be a responsible follower of Christ; that includes welcoming and embracing those society shuns. I was taught long ago to have a Christ-like concern for all people; that includes turning the other cheek and allowing my own prejudices to be challenged. I was taught long ago that I am to work with others in sharing Christ; that includes reaching out to an organization that wants to change but doesn’t know how.
I’m not a Boy Scout, and for that I’m thankful. No, it’s not because I think you’re a right-wing organization. It’s because I am thankful I could participate in a conservative religious organization that showed me how to love. As a young boy I learned that my primary concern should always be sharing the love of Christ, and living it out daily.
For our future, and for your character, I urge you to do what’s right, not what’s expedient or convenient. The road won’t be easy, but the path to transformation never is. Thankfully, I’ve had the privilege of knowing several Eagle Scouts throughout my short life. Their work has improved and inspired communities. I would like to think that transformative work extends beyond sexuality. Then again, I grew up being taught that the Greatest Commandment was the literal, infallible Word of God.
I can only pray you heed the words of the Oath so many have taken, “…To be a person of strong character, your relationships with others should be honest and open. You should respect and defend the rights of all people. Be clean in your speech and actions, and remain faithful in your religious beliefs.”
If you live up to your oath, I’ll live up to mine.
Rev. Zachary Bailes