Oh No! Girls in the Boy Scouts. Is this the End of the World?

Several of my Facebook friends have been stirred up over the news that the Boy Scouts of America would now be accepting girls into the Cub Scouts and allow girls to earn the Eagle award.  Relax folks.

You need to know the facts.

First, this isn’t new.  Remember that The Boy Scouts of America, is the United States branch of an organization that exists in over 190 countries.  The BSA itself consists of several organizations: Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Venturing, Explorers, Sea Scouts and also the STEM Scout pilot program.  All of these, except Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts have admitted girls as young as eleven years old, since around 1971.

Second, as an international organization, the Boy Scouts have allowed girls in both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts in nearly every country on the planet except for the United States and a few other countries, most of which are predominantly Muslim.  That’s why international events like the Scout Jamboree and the World Jamboree have had female participants for decades and the camps they use are already fully equipped, and staffed, to support them.

That bring us up to date as we consider the recent announcement and change to BSA policy.  Let’s take a look at what the announcement actually says:

  • Hispanic and Asian communities prefer to participate in activities as a family. Recent surveys of parents not involved with scouting showed high interest in getting their daughters signed up for programs like Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.

That’s a significant motivation to be racially inclusive and, frankly to be good citizens, as well as a good idea for an organization that has been shrinking as busy families have less time to join any kind of club.  The same struggle is seen in music, sports, and theater programs at schools as well as all sorts of community groups and clubs.

  • Starting in 2018, families can choose to sign up their sons and daughters for Cub Scouts. Existing packs may choose to establish a new girl pack, establish a pack that consists of girl dens and boy dens or remain an all-boy pack. Cub Scout dens will be single-gender — all boys or all girls.

The control of implementing this is completely local.  If your pack doesn’t want females, or if you simply don’t have the female volunteers to properly supervise the addition of girls, then don’t.  But even if you do, the girls and the boys will belong to separate dens and will only be together at Pack meeting when all of the leaders, male and female,  are present.  And remember, Cub Scouts don’t have camp-outs unless their parents are with them, and scouts never share a tent with an adult, unless that adult is a parent.

  • BSA will also deliver a program for older girls, which is projected to be available in 2019, that will enable them to earn the Eagle Scout rank. This unique approach allows the organization to maintain the integrity of the single gender model while also meeting the needs of today’s families.

Read that again.  They did not say that girls will join the Boy Scouts.  What they said was that they are developing a program that will make the Eagle rank, and presumably, merit badges, etc., available to girls.  That does not say that girls will be integrated with the boys, but instead emphases that they want to “maintain the integrity of the single gender model.”  How they intend to accomplish that has yet to be explained, but there’s nothing here that seems worth getting upset about.

So relax.

I’m a pretty conservative parent of boys and a girl.  I was involved in scouting as a boy and I have been active in scouting since my boys were in grade school and joined Cub Scouts.  I attended this year’s Boy Scout Jamboree, and I saw plenty of female Venturers, as well as female international scouts.  As a chaplain, I was pretty plugged-in to the news of what was happening across the camp.  And as far as I know, there were zero problems that arose because both genders were present.

Honestly, I think that this is a good step.  It makes a premier program of leadership development available to girls who will hold important positions of responsibility in our industry, our culture and our society.  And, as described, it will take nothing away from the boys.  Why would we rob half of our children, and ourselves, of this opportunity?

I don’t see a downside here.

 

 

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Why I Spent Two Weeks in a Tent

I just spent two weeks living in a tent, sleeping on a cot, walking farther than I have in

Jambo Tent
Our home away from home.

decades, taking really cold showers, and I probably had one of the best times of my life doing it.  For two weeks in July, I served as a chaplain, along with about 76 other pastors (including just about every denomination and faith you can name), at the National Boy Scout Jamboree which is held every four years at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Glen Jean, West Virginia.  While many people have heard about the Jamboree, many have questions about what a chaplain does and why the Boy Scouts would need so many of them for a single event.  Honestly, I

Jambo chaplain group picture
The chaplains of the 2017 National Scout Jamboree (photo by Father Senic Cirera, San Mateo, California)

 

 

 

asked myself the same questions before I went, and while some of the answers are simple, others take a little more explaining.

The easiest question to answer is why the Jamboree would need almost eighty chaplains.  Simply put, scouting has always regarded the spiritual life of its members to be an important value regardless of faith and with something over 28,000 scouts and 6,000 staff converging on the Summit for two weeks, this small city needed trained pastors to provide spiritual care.  As a member of a sub-camp staff, my tent-mate Michael Lavoi (a Mormon chaplain) and I were responsible for a “congregation” of more than 20 sub-camp staff as well as 2,000 scouts and their adult leaders.  As staff members, we helped out in registration during the busy arrival day, helping to carry mail, or wherever an extra hand was needed.   And, although the first few days were easy from a pastoral perspective, after everyone started getting tired we were called upon to help scouts, and adult scout leaders, mediate personal conflicts.  There were young people who were homesick, some that were in fights, leaders who knew about a death in the family of one of their scouts but whose family asked that they not be told, there were threats of suicide, thefts (yes, it happens even in the Boy Scouts), and everything else that happens when people live together.

But that isn’t all we did.  Chaplains took turns working shifts in the basecamp medical center so that one of us was either present or on call so that we could encourage the doctors and nurses but also to be on hand to provide comfort to scouts who were sick or injured.  We took turns offering worship opportunities, not only on Sunday, but every morning or afternoon.  Each scout had the opportunity to earn a special “Duty to God and Country” patch during the jamboree, and one of the requirements to earn it was to meet with their chaplain and talk about what their “duty to God” might look like in every day life.  That meant that many of our daily “office hours” as well as our evenings were spent meeting with individual scouts, or entire troops, to discuss subjects of religious significance.  Often, as we met with these young people, and shared meals with them, they asked other substantive questions about God, religion, faith, and other things.

Of course there was worship.  The first Sunday we were there, before the scouts
arrived, we held a Protestant service in the back of the dining hall and had somewhere between 300 and 600 staff in attendance.  A week later, the Protestant service was held in the stadium and, while we met in the pouring rain, there were still

Mark Dyer - Jambo with Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball
Left to Right, Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball (West Virginia Annual Conference),  Rev. John Partridge (East Ohio Annual Conference),  Scout Mark Dyer Jr. (Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference) Photo by Deborah Coble, West Virginia Annual Conference

probably two or three thousand in attendance.  Afterward, the United Methodist chaplains hosted a communion service (open to everyone) on Brownsea Island near

the stadium.  That service, officiated by West Virginia Area Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, was attended by 200 or more and the communion elements were served by the 15 

United Methodist chaplains alongside United Methodist scouts who had volunteered to help.  As I returned to my tent from our communion service, I noticed that the rain had finally stopped, and that may have contributed to the increased attendance (probably 5000 or more) at the Catholic worship service which followed ours at the stadium.

It’s worth noting that the Summit is enormous and covers 14,000 acres and adjoins 70,000 acres of National Park Service land in the New River Gorge National Park.  That means that nothing is close to anything else.  A walk to the bathroom is a quarter mile round trip.  A visit to the medical tent is a mile.  A trip to the stadium or to the chaplains’ headquarters can be two miles one way, and if you hike up to the top of Garden Ground Mountain to visit the Scottish games or the pioneer village, its at least three miles, all up hill, one way.  Over the course of two weeks, I walked about 75 miles and my partner, Michael, had hiked well over 100 miles.

But being a chaplain isn’t all work.  In two weeks you have the opportunity to live with, and share your life with, your fellow staff members.  Some of these scouters return every four years and request the same arrangements so that they can work together again.  There’s a chance to encourage young people and to build relationships with people of other faiths, and people from other states and other countries.  Not only was the jamboree attended by participants and staff from all 50 states, but also from 58 other nations.  Our leadership tried hard to make sure that staff members could get some time off and see some of the activities in and around the Summit, and although there isn’t enough time to see everything, as you visit you find yourself among young people from around the world.  While I didn’t get a chance to ride the half mile long zip line (the “Big Zip”), I did get a chance to climb a rock wall, navigate the treetop high ROPES course, and ride through all of the mountain bike courses.

Remember that while the Boy Scouts in the United States is mostly for boys, ours is one of the only countries where that is true.  All of the international troops are coed, as are the older youth from the Venturing, Explorers, and Sea Scout programs in the United States.  And so, while I was invited to participate by the United Methodist Men, whose office includes our official United Methodist scouting representative, there is a desperate need for female chaplains as well.  Out of all the chaplains present, only one was female and, since our denomination is one of the few who ordain female clergy, the United Methodist Church has the opportunity to fill this need.  Chaplains and other staffers at the Jamboree ranged in age from their 20’s up to well into their 80’s.

My two weeks at the Jamboree were probably some of the hardest and yet some of the most rewarding, and fun, that I have ever had.  They are indeed, memories that will last a lifetime.  But the next Jamboree is in four years and the United States will host the World Jamboree at the Summit in two years.  Whether you are clergy or laity, male or female, young or old, you have gifts and skills that can be used to encourage and bless the next generation of young people from around the world.

Think about it.

You should come.