We invited local scouts to a Shabbat service in honor of national Scout Sabbath on February 13. Here's why we did it and how we addressed the Boy Scouts' national policy excluding LGBT scout leaders.
I signed onto this letter to the Boy Scouts of America about its policy that excludes gay scouts and scout leaders from its ranks. I was Life Scout, member of the Order of the Arrow, Junior Assistant Scout Master, and BSA Camp staff member (at Camp Wahtutca in New Hampshire; the Boy Scouts had a significant positive influence – especially on my leadership skills – during my formative years.
The Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism in Washington, DC, is shepherding a letter from Jewish clergy. For years the Boy Scouts of America has maintained a policy that excludes gay scouts and scout leaders from its ranks. Later this month the Boy Scouts National Council will consider a proposal to lift the ban on gay youth but uphold its policy of prohibiting LGBT adults from serving in the organization:
We write as rabbis and cantors to add our voices to the call for the Boy Scouts of America (“BSA”) to end the ban on gay scouts and scout leaders. Many of us are former scouts, the parents of scouts or children who aspire to scouting, and admirers of the mission and purpose of the BSA. Each of us, however, opposes the BSA’s discriminatory policy that excludes gay scouts and leaders.
The BSA ban causes real harm to gay youths, adults and their families around the country. LGBT youth, and often the children of LGBT parents as well, face alarming amounts of bullying, harassment, discrimination, and – most distressingly – LGBT youth experience significantly higher rates of suicide. These children and their families must not be denied the opportunities to achieve and the structures of support that the Boy Scouts already provide to so many.
The book of Proverbs tells us, “Train up a child in the way the child should go, and even when the child is old, they will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). For many children across America the Boy Scouts has proven an excellent way of sharing such life lessons and building character. Like the Boy Scouts, our Jewish tradition emphasizes the values of personal responsibility, service to the community and a broader commitment to justice. These values apply equally to gay and straight individuals. Indeed, how can we teach service to a community when that community excludes our friends, family members and neighbors?
We are pleased to hear that the Boy Scouts of America will consider a proposal to end the ban against gay scouts. However, we were deeply troubled to learn that the ban on LGBT scout leaders would remain in place. We believe that each human being is created b’tselem elohim, in the image of God. That stamp of the divine does not change between childhood and adulthood. Indeed, LGBT adults can and do provide exemplary role models for both straight and gay youth.
As Jewish clergy, we urge you to fully lift the BSA’s policy of discrimination that currently impacts both children and adults. When that occurs, we look forward to participating again in the worthy work of the BSA.
Other Jewish clergy may sign on here.