A project of the National Catholic Committee for Trail Life USA


Incede Dignus

Why Trail Life is a Better Option for Boys Adventuring

By Stu Nolan

The decision of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to allow, as of January 1 of this year, "open and avowed homosexuals" to participate in Scouting is confusing both because the press has employed vague language to describe this reported change in policy and because BSA has at times cited ambiguous language in the actual policy statement that was adopted and claimed a strict reading of the language does not conflict with traditional Church teaching.

On the one hand, the Church does not teach that same sex attraction itself is sinful, albeit the attraction is intrinsically disordered. At the same time, the Church does teach that acting on same sex attraction is always sinful, no matter how young or old the persons are.

What is moral and what is immoral may seem to some a discussion best left outside of polite discourse, but it is all highly material to any organization designed to inculcate virtue in its members. We do not talk about Scouting as a means to instill character only to avoid clarity on what is moral and what is immoral conduct. And we cannot accept a dodging of the question by suggesting that all sexual conduct at a young age is inappropriate.

Thus, the ambiguity in the language of the recent policy change, and the vague language in the press reports, call for clarification. Specifically, there is a tension between the policy as it is being described by its proponents and by the press, as opposed to the most charitable interpretation possible pursuant to a strict reading of the text. If the press and proponents of the change are to be believed, BSA has abandoned its legacy. If defenders of the policy language, as approved, are to be believed, it is less evident that any "change" occurred at all.

But is it reasonable to believe BSA just trumpeted from the hilltops that it has "changed" its policy to allow participation by "open and avowed homosexuals" while continuing to condemn acting on same sex attraction at any age? If BSA continues to condemn acting on same sex attraction at any age, it has been remarkably mute about it.

Moreover, does anyone actually believe that prior to this policy change, boys experiencing same sex attraction were being hunted down and expelled from Scouting? Hardly! The traditional policy was aimed at preventing any endorsement or promotion of same sex activity in an environment where boys routinely participate in overnight camping trips. It never denied participation to those experiencing same sex attraction on that basis alone.

Accordingly, absent clarification, we must take proponents of the policy at their word when they describe the policy as a "change" to allow "open and avowedly homosexual" participation in Scouting. Rightly or wrongly, the action by BSA has been widely interpreted to mean that BSA no longer condemns same sex activity.

BSA may not "have it both ways" by purporting to adopt a change in its policy and at the same time, in hushed tones behind closed doors with Christians, explaining away the new policy statement as essentially unchanged and remaining consistent with traditional Church teaching.

Now, the point here is not so much that BSA's approach to the admission of same sex attraction activists is unacceptable, but rather that it is illustrative of an organization unable or unwilling to defend Church teaching. One cannot claim to be an effective virtue-instilling and character-building institution if one is -- at best -- choosing to be ambiguous about the immorality of sexual misconduct.

Accordingly, an organization that maintains the legacy of the methods employed by Robert Baden Powell to build character in boys as they learn to be Christian men is to be greatly preferred. Trail Life USA, in embracing the Christian faith as the source for building virtuous men, has distinguished itself from any pretenders to Baden Powell's legacy. It is possible, as Trail Life's founders have shown, to build a rugged outdoors program that teaches character and leadership without sacrificing morality. In fact, unapologetically placing morality at the center of the program is the most effective way to teach boys how to be virtuous men.

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Incede Dignus

National Catholic Committee
of Trail Life USA
c/o WitnessWorks Foundation
for a Culture of Life

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