Archives For Boy Scouts

There is one thing that the Boys Scouts of America (BSA) has become very skilled at accomplishing: making headlines. Whether it concerns the so-called “Perversion files,” the new sustainability merit badge, or membership inclusivity debates, the BSA seems to always be in the news. This puts an entirely new spin on their motto “Prepared. For Life.”

Photo Courtesy of Flickr's  deflam

Photo Courtesy of Flickr’s deflam

On July 28th NBC published an article entitled Wiccans, Earth-lovers, Do­-gooders, there’s a scouting group for your kid. It reports on the recent membership exodus from the BSA noting that “alternative groups are reaping the benefits ….whether they cater to God-fearing Girls, old-school camping enthusiasts or even pint-sized pagans.” That article highlights several organizations including Wiccan-based Spiral Scouts, secular groups like Navigators USA and Earth Champs as well as several Christian-based alternatives to Girl Scouts.*

According to BSA’s own records, Scout membership has indeed dropped. In the year 2000 the BSA had 3,351,969 total scouts. Today, that number is 2,658,794.

Policy “controversy” has caused many American families to look elsewhere for their scouting needs.  In recent years, these disillusioned families are coming from a much wider demographic than in the past. Why? The BSA has been playing a dangerous game of policy “teeter totter” that has only served to alienate more and more social groups.

The most well-known situation centers on the BSA’s long-standing policy of excluding gay members.  As stated in a 2003 BSA document, “We Will Not Allow… Avowed Homosexuals to Be Leaders or Members in the Traditional Programs.”  After SCOTUS ruled this policy legal, the Scouts suffered a series of significant losses.  More than 50 local branches of the United Way and a variety of large corporate sponsors such as Intel, UPS and Merck have severed ties with the BSA. In 2001 director Steven Spielberg resigned from the Scouts’ advisory board stating:

I thought the Boy Scouts stood for equal opportunity and I have consistently spoken out publicly and privately against intolerance and discrimination based on ethnic, religious, racial, and sexual orientation.  

Despite the backlash, the BSA held its ground. Then, on May 23 2013, it changed its position stating:

… the Boy Scouts of American (sic) voted on a resolution that maintains its current membership policy for all adult leaders and states that youth may not be denied membership in the BSA on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone. 

This revised policy led to a new exodus – this time from the conservative Christian groups.  As NBC noted, these organizations are forming their own programs that “focus on sexual purity.” In addition, many older scouting-style groups, like the Baptist’s Royal Ambassadors, have seen an increase in interest.

Unfortunately for the BSA, this revised policy has not garnered significant LGBT support.  The Houston Chronicle’s Wiccan blogger and LGBTQ member, Ed Nelson laments:

The Boy Scouts have always [omitted] Gay and… Bi men from being members…Although I disagreed, I respected their stance as a private organization to allow whom they wish into it. I see the money issues as the main reason for the sudden change of heart… It is sad to see when people change who they are for others.

On the surface Nelson’s assumption appears to be correct. The BSA’s partial policy change is a weak attempt to appease donors and lure back members. But it hasn’t worked. Additionally, the BSA is only inviting membership attrition through an environment where dedicated, BSA-educated children cannot become future leaders. These boys will take their skills and their own children elsewhere.

This game of “teeter totter” doesn’t end with the membership debacle.  Religiously, the BSA also teeters on the edge of a well-greased fence. The famous Scout’s Oath states, “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country.” Lord Baden-Powell, the founding father said, “No man can be really good if he doesn’t believe in God and he doesn’t follow His laws.”  These are, by their very nature, exclusionary statements that have, in fact, birthed many alternative scouting organizations.

Image by Artistic Infusion Program Master Designer Donna Weaver / United States Mint Sculptor-Engraver Charles Vickers

Image by Artistic Infusion Program Master Designer Donna Weaver / United States Mint Sculptor-Engraver Charles Vickers

Although they do still exclude atheists and agnostics, the BSA has developed an interfaith sensibility.  It provides leaders with an inclusive holiday calendar, offers multi-faith badges and encourages group discussions on the global community. BSA affiliated organizations do include several minority religions.  The BSA states,

Scouting encourages each young person to begin a spiritual journey through the practice of his or her faith tradition….While Scouting does not define religious belief for its members, it has been adopted by and works with youth programs of all major faiths.

While encouraging this personal “spiritual journey,” the BSA also produces a marketing pamphlet entitled “Bringing Youth to Christ through a Scouting Ministry.” The BSA uses this document to attract Church affiliates suggesting that the BSA program can be used to enhance their outreach ministry.  The document states, “When properly interpreted by an adult Scouter of strong faith to young people, even the unchurched begin to understand their need for God.”

How can an organization promote interfaith education and tolerance while also advertising itself as a potential tool for faith conversion?  Moreover, how can any public school system be legally allowed to affiliate or promote the BSA, as such, by allowing leaders into the classrooms? (Now that is another “can of worms.”)

Once again, the BSA straddles the proverbial fence in an attempt to maintain the integrity of its membership and its funding. The self-proclaimed values-based organization seems to be very willing to compromise or bend its values in the name of numbers.

Boy Scouts 2010 Jamboree. Photo Courtesy of Flickr's  Preston Kemp

Boy Scouts 2010 Jamboree. Photo Courtesy of Flickr’s Preston Kemp

As if that wasn’t enough, the BSA was recently chastised for excluding children from their Jamboree due to a high Body Mass Index (BMI.)  For an organization that advertises itself as a program for young people that “…develops personal fitness,” the exclusionary practice is contradictory.  It has now successfully ostracized yet another segment of its loyal membership.

Despite the BSA’s inability to maintain a position, it is still a social staple. In fact, a Salt Lake City-based Utah Pride Center has tried twice to become an affiliate organization. Why?

If you peel away all those sticky issues, you find a program that offers a very important experience.  It takes children outside, puts them in nature, forces them to interact with each other and engage their environment. These types of experiences are becoming as rare as the vinyl record.  Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, calls the problem “nature-deficit disorder” to which the BSA has a cure.

But …

For many of us, joining comes with significant compromise – in one form or another.  Do you pack away your beliefs and say yes when your son begs to join?  Or do you say no and take him hiking?

spiralIf you are lucky, you might find an alternative. Or, if you are tenacious, you can start your own as did the Central Pagan Florida Association. President Amber Moon has just finished the leadership requirements for Spiral Scouts and will be offering the experience to her organization’s children.

This is one of the many decisions facing parents. To Scout or not to Scout?  If the BSA would just stick to its policies and stay out of the news, the path to a decision might be clearer for everyone no matter the demographic.  Or just maybe it’s all this floundering that has made the decision easy…certainly not to the benefit of the BSA.

What route have you gone?

 

*NOTE: The Girl Scouts is a separate organization professing an open religious policy and calls itself a “spiritual organization.” The GSA is open to gay and lesbian participants.  

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Judge Rules Against Maetreum of Cybele Exemptions: The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, has just lost their exemption battle before the New York State Supreme Court. While Judge Platkin acknowledged the Maetreum as a valid religion, he denied their building tax exemption on the grounds that the charitable purposes of the building were incidental to  its function.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

“The Court finds that petitioner has not satisfied its burden of demonstrating that the primary actual use of the property is in furtherance of the Maetreum’s religious mission. Rather, the record developed at trial establishes that the property primarily is used to provide affordable cooperative housing to a small number of co-religionists, with the religious and charitible uses of the property being merely incidental to that primary non-exempt use.”

Rev Cathryn Platine says she is devastated by the news, and doubts she has the fiscal or physical resources to continue this fight, noting that the process has “taken a huge toll on me personally regarding my health.” That said, Plataine says an appeal of this decision, and filing for a stay on foreclosure against the property are probably the next steps she will take. In a previous public statement, Rev Platine noted that the town has spent an estimated quarter of a million dollars to deny their exemptions, while the Maetreum is over ten thousand dollars in debt from the proceedings. Acting Catskill Town Supervisor Patrick Walsh stated in 2011 that the town was already too deep into the case to give up and that significant dollars could be saved by preventing exemptions for illegitimate religions.” For those wanting to an make a tax-deductible donation to their $10,000+ legal bill, you can do so directly via paypal to: centralhouse@gallae.com. Or you can contact them through their website.

Reclaiming Co-Founder Withdraws From Tradition: M. Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien), a co-founder of the Reclaiming tradition, and co-author of “The Pagan Book of Living and Dying” with Starhawk, has announced on her blog that she is parting ways from the tradition she helped found, saying she “no longer feel[s] that its principles and practices accord” with her own.

M. Macha NightMare on the cover of the upcoming issue of Witches & Pagans.

M. Macha NightMare on the cover of the upcoming issue of Witches & Pagans (out in September).

“I have long felt alienated, estranged, and out of sync with how I’ve seen the tradition devolving. The incompatibilities between Reclaiming and me also trace to loose, undefined standards; lack of accountability; uncivil personal conduct and rude, disrespectful behavior without any restraint or consequences; lack of coherent theology; lack of intellectual rigor; and carelessness in ritual and other aspects of religious practice.” 

NightMare/O’Brien, who also serves on the board of Cherry Hill Seminary, is not the only prominent Reclaiming Witch to express discomfort with the tradition as it exists today, Anne Hill, who co-wrote “Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions,” declared herself “Remaining” in 2007 and that she is “staying connected on my own terms, choosing my battles, and letting the rest go.” What this development means for Reclaiming, and its development, is uncertain. What is certain is that an elder and co-founder publicly severing ties with a tradition they helped found is a call to reflection on how this state of affairs came to be.

New Alexandrian Library Raises Funds to Finish Construction: At the end of 2011 the New Alexandrian Library, a project that hopes to create “a library worthy of its namesake” focused on esoteric knowledge, mystical and the spiritual writings from many traditions, officially broke ground on their physical space in Delaware.  Last month the foundations for that library were poured for the dome structure that will be erected. Now, an IndieGoGo fundraiser has been launched to pay for the next stage of construction.

“The NAL will serve to support and advance serious academic study for new, non-mainstream, esoteric, ‘living’ religions that are most likely to be the guiding forces in guiding the Earth and Humans back to health and evolution of Spirit in the coming century. Like the original Great Library of Alexandria, the schools of Qabala in medieval Spain, and the flourishing of magick that occurred in renaissance Italy, the diverse confluence of minds and resources would result in great leaps forward in theory and practice. The NAL will be one of the cornerstones (of many created by various groups across the globe we hope!) of a new magickal renaissance. The benefits of this growing network for future generations will be incalculable.”

The goal is $12,500 by September 11th. So far NAL has raised $1345 towards that goal. The NAL project has already started building an impressive collection, one that includes the recent acquisition of rare Dion Fortune paintings gifted by Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki. As NAL board member Ivo Dominguez Jr says in the video above, this is a project initiated by us, for us, one that deserves our support so that it can become a reality. For more information check out their Facebook page, or go to their official website. You can read all of The Wild Hunt’s coverage of the New Alexandrian Library project, here.

Spiral Scouts Honor Eagle Scout Protest: Due to an ongoing policy of the Boy Scouts of America “not granting membership to open or avowed homosexuals,” one recently affirmed by its leadership, a growing number of Eagle Scouts, the organization’s elite members (including Circle Sanctuary Minister  Bob Paxton), have been resigning their membership and sending back their badges and medals. Now, alternative scouting organization SpiralScouts International has announced that they are offering any Eagle Scout who returned their badges in protest their highest honors.

“SpiralScouts International respects the leadership, and responsibility demonstrated by these brave men, who have returned their Eagle Scout badges over this disagreement. We offer each of you the honorary status of ‘PathFinder’, and the Award of ‘Founder’ (our Eagle Scout Equivalent) within SpiralScouts. This is our highest rank, and as you have set forth to hold to the ideals of understanding, equality, and leadership, that we strive for within SSI, it would be our honor to extend this to you. Our program, which began in 1999, was developed to be as inclusive as possible in all areas: it features coed groups and leaders and is nondiscriminatory in all regards (sexual orientation, religion, gender). The program is available to all children, and we are happy to be able to offer this option for scouts.”

SpiralScouts International, which is a project of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, says that “although it cannot repair the hurt that has been caused, we hope this gesture lends support to those who are struggling, and helps us take a step forward into a future that embraces all of us as the sacred beings that each of us are.” Contact information for the SpiralScouts can be found, here.

That’s all I have for now! As always, if you have community news you’d like to share, please drop me a line.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

New Alexandrian Library Lays Foundation: At the end of 2011 the New Alexandrian Library officially broke ground on their physical space in Delaware. A project that hopes to create “a library worthy of its namesake” focused on esoteric knowledge, mystical and the spiritual writings from many traditions, and the “ history of our magickal communities,” the NAL project has already started building an impressive collection, one that includes the recent acquisition of rare Dion Fortune paintings gifted by Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki. Now, the foundation for the dome structure has been recently completed, and PNC-Washington DC interviews Assembly of the Sacred Wheel (NAL’s sponsoring organization) Elder Michael Smith about the process.

New Alexandrian Library foundation.

New Alexandrian Library foundation.

“…sacred waters from around the world, sacred protective objects and crystals charged for this very purpose at our Between The Worlds gatherings’ main rituals in 2000, 2004, and 2007 are placed throughout the foundation. This work was designed to root all of the power and intention we have raised to support the Library over the years. Additional ritual and magickal work will be done at each step of the construction. The specific dome construction allows us to place objects and implant workings into each seam between the triangles – to help the project grow and prosper each step of the way.”

Smith says the project is on-schedule, and construction of the dome kit will begin soon. You can receive regular updates on the library’s progress at their Facebook page. As always, monetary donations, no matter how small, are needed to make this happen. One can donate through the NAL’s website or through the Causes campaign ‘Support the New Alexandrian Library.’ You can read all of The Wild Hunt’s coverage of the New Alexandrian Library project, here.

Circle Minister Joins Eagle Scout Protest: Due to an ongoing policy of the Boy Scouts of America “not granting membership to open or avowed homosexuals,” one recently affirmed by its leadership, a growing number of Eagle Scouts, the organization’s elite members, have been resigning their membership and sending back their badges and medals. One of that growing number is Bob Paxton, a Circle Sanctuary Minister, who was interviewed yesterday by Pagan Newswire Collective Managing Editor Cara Schulz about his decision.

“I can say that as a Pagan my experience as a Boy Scout directly lead to my choosing the Pagan spiritual path.  Experience that I had in the woods, experiences I had in summer camps, experiences I had in some of the ceremonial occasions very much led me in that direction [...] We are hoping to accomplish, not only by sending the letters but by publicly sending the letters a public shaming such that if nothing else it’s my hope that down in Irving, Texas as these letters and these medals come in with the mail delivery every day that somebody opens them up, puts them on a table, and takes a look at this and says, “You know, something’s wrong here. We have to do something else. People that we nurtured up to the verge of manhood are coming back to us now from 10, 20, 30, 50 years and saying no, you can’t be like this.”  If that doesn’t stand a chance of changing their hearts, I don’t know what will.”

As Paxton notes, his Pagan experience began as a Boy Scout, and no doubt many Pagans nurtured a reverence for nature in a scouting organization. Today, groups like the Spiral Scouts attempt to recreate the scouting experience from with a Pagan lens. Paxton says that as a Pagan minister, and an LGBT ally, he felt the national organization ratifying the exclusion of gay men allows a culture of bullying that could not go unanswered. No doubt other Pagan Eagle Scouts are considering the same steps that he has.

Nature Spirituality Podcast Interviews Former Sierra Club Director: Tomorrow, the Faith, Fern, and Compass podcast, hosted by Alison Leigh Lilly, and her husband Jeff Lilly, will post part one of an interview with Former National Director of the Sierra Club Melanie Griffin in a two-part special.

Melanie Griffin

Melanie Griffin

“After a wildly successful premiere season during which the new podcast hosted by Alison Leigh Lilly and her husband Jeff Lilly grew in leaps and bounds reaching listeners worldwide, Faith, Fern & Compass celebrates with a two-part special exploring the changing face of environmentalism and the growing interest in nature-centered spirituality. Former National Director of the Sierra Club Melanie Griffin has been a leader in the national environmental movement for more than 25 years; as an activist and lobbyist, she has been instrumental in the passing of ground-breaking legislation to protect the environment and regulate industry in the United States. In an exclusive interview with FF&C co-host Jeff Lilly, she shares personal reflections on her experiences working for the Sierra Club, exploring the ways that science, technology, the economy and social media has shaped the conversation about ecology and environmentalism over the past few decades, and how her own faith has played an important role in her commitment to the planet.”

Lilly has long been a champion of environmental concerns within the context of modern Paganism, and is the coordinator/editor of the Pagan Newswire Collective’s No Unsacred Place group blog, which explores the relationships between religion and science, nature and civilization from a diversity of modern Pagan perspectives. Griffin says she “sees the divine most strikingly in the natural world,” and this should be a must-listen program for anyone interested in how our faith, and environmental activism can intersect. You can subscribe to Faith, Fern, and Compass on iTunes, or download directly from their site.

In Other Community News:

That’s all I have for now! Speaking of Pagan community events, I’ll be at Faerieworlds this weekend, and hope to share with you the many Pagan elements of this wonderful event. So stay tuned! As always, if you have community news you’d like to share, please drop me a line.