In a few weeks, one of my favorite students will officially accept the responsibilities of Eagle Scout. We adults who have watched this young man grow up feel privileged to share in his celebration. After raising far more money than he needed for his Eagle Scout project — he built an outdoor classroom at his high school– he invested the surplus in a fund to help other, less-fortunate, aspiring Eagle Scouts realize their goals.
On the same day of Alex’s ceremony, my spouse will attend a training session to become a Den Leader. I am so proud of him for accepting this responsibility and so grateful that he is an active participant in my son’s life. He was surprised to hear this from me, though, because he knows that I am deeply conflicted about the Boy Scouts of America, and I continue to harbor mixed feelings about my son’s participation in Cub Scouts.
As recently as this past Friday, I was reminded of my ambivalence when I heard an interview with the new CEO of the Atlanta Area Council. I smiled as he described the marvelous activities that would mark the 100th anniversary of scouting, and nodded appreciatively as he emphasized the scouts’ commitment to the environment. He spoke of the long tradition of service to the community and of keeping the image of Boy Scouts fresh and relevant to today’s kids. And then he poked a pin in my swelling balloon of joy, when he answered firmly and without hesitation that the Boy Scouts’ ban on gay leaders has not changed: “That’s been our tradition, and it will remain so.” Unspoken, but clearly communicated, was his moral certitude based on his Christian values.
I had long opposed this stance in my own religion, understanding both the exclusion of gays from leadership positions and the sentiment that homosexuality is wrong to be a most narrow interpretation of one verse in the Hebrew bible. But as a member of this tribe and a rabbi, I was able to teach alternative interpretations and work toward ending the institutionalized discrimination against gays and lesbians in Conservative Judaism.
I had likewise discouraged my son’s participation in Cub Scouts, because I felt that I was without recourse to oppose their policy. My spouse and other leaders in Pack 1800 reassured me that homophobia would not be felt at the local level. In fact, one of the boys in my son’s den has two mothers, both smart and articulate women who share my concerns. Still, they encourage their son’s involvement in scouting and they participate in local meetings and events.
My son, who proudly wore his uniform to school today in recognition of the 100th anniversary, has already benefited so much from scouting this year. He has slept in a tent, hiked in the mountains, visited elderly people in assisted living, and designed an aerodynamic car that earned him first place at the Pinewood Derby–all this with his father by his side. His father and I continue to discuss our concerns about that one “tradition” in scouting that we simply cannot abide. But he is only 8 years old. It isn’t time yet for him to share in these discussions.
How will I mark today’s anniversary? I open my Hebrew bible to a different chapter and read: “There is a season for everything, a time for every experience under heaven… a time for keeping; a time for discarding.” Then I pray: Perhaps it will not take the next 100 years to establish a new tradition.