BSA: Say No to the NRA

When the first Boy Scouts of America (BSA) handbook was published in 1910, “Marksman” was one of the first 14 merit badges introduced. Since that time, the BSA has had a strong relationship with the National Rifle Association (NRA). After all, the NRA’s original mission statement was “Firearms Safety Education, Marksmanship Training, Shooting for Recreation.” It sounds like a great organization for the BSA to have forged a partnership with considering the aim of the BSA was to get young men outdoors and encourage them to learn new skills and hobbies. Since that time, the NRA has provided the training and experience to support the BSA’s shooting sports programs. In 2016 alone, nearly 60,000 Rifle Shooting and Shotgun Shooting merit badges were earned by Boy Scouts and the NRA Foundation has provided millions of dollars to local Boy Scout councils for training, equipment, and facilities.

However, the NRA is no longer solely associated with education, training, and recreation. The NRA changed its mission statement in recent decades to “The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms Shall Not Be Infringed.” The NRA has become an organization dedicated not to education and training, but to inciting fear in Americans and paying elected officials to turn their backs on the common good and welfare of American citizens. In 2016, the NRA spent over $54,000,000 on lobbying, campaign expenses, direct contributions to candidates, and contributions to political action committees. The NRA’s most public face is that of fear…that the government is coming to take your guns, that there is a war on the second amendment, that the only way to be a secure country is to require everyone, including children, to handle guns. Watch any recent NRA ad and you can feel the fear and hatred radiating from NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch.

Does that sound like the voice of an educational organization whose aim (pun intended) is to educate people on the safe use of guns and to promote recreational shooting?

So let’s get to the Boy Scouts of America and its position on guns. The BSA has encouraged youth to learn about the safe use of firearms for decades. Programs include BB guns, rifle shooting, shotgun shooting, muzzle loaders, and pistols, as well as archery. Firearms can only be used under strict, trained adult supervision and only on approved ranges. Nobody is allowed to carry firearms around camp or anywhere else or they risk confiscation or removal by law enforcement. Hunting or silhouette targets are not allowed in the BSA since hunting is not an approved activity (except for older youth in Venturing) and the BSA does not want youth conditioned to shoot at human-shaped targets. It sounds like the BSA knows how to tackle the issue of teaching firearm safety and responsibility. It has the safety of youth as top priority. I should also mention that no shooting sports activity or badge is required of any youth in the BSA, contrary to the beliefs of the NRA.

Then why does the BSA still have such a strong relationship with the NRA? Well, the NRA is considered the industry standard for teaching how to properly use a firearm. Having witnessed many shooting sports programs in the BSA personally, I will admit that the instructors and range officers had expert knowledge and vast experience to share. As I mentioned above, the NRA Foundation has provided millions of dollars to local Boy Scout councils to build ranges, train instructors and range officers, and purchase equipment and ammunition. All of that is great and it would be difficult to replace that value.

That being said, sometimes the right decision is also the difficult decision. Regardless of the benefits that association with the NRA has brought to the Boy Scouts of America over the past 108 years, why does the BSA continue associating with an organization that promotes fear and the militarization of society? The BSA has a long history of safety when it comes to shooting sports, has strict rules concerning their use, and encourages their use as a recreational activity. Nowhere does the BSA state that firearms are necessary to live a safe and happy life. So why doesn’t the BSA detach itself from the NRA’s grasp and stand up for what’s right? Why shouldn’t the BSA take hold of the NRA’s original mission of firearms training and education? The NRA is not necessary to teach young people how to handle firearms safely. For example, the BSA has proven that it does not need outside governance when it comes to standards of health, safety, and quality with its camping programs. The BSA established its own standards of governance called the National Camp Accreditation Program and has not needed to submit to outside governance such as the American Camp Association accreditation. Why shouldn’t the BSA use its 110 years of experience and reputation to develop its own training programs outside of NRA influence? What’s stopping that? Sure the local councils will not have the NRA Foundation to lean on for grants but again, I did say this would be a difficult move.

It’s time for the BSA to stop supporting the NRA and lean on one of its most core values, the Scout Law. It will not be an easy path but since when should a Scout be encouraged to choose the easy path?

A Scout is Brave. A Scout can face danger even if he is afraid. He has the courage to stand for what he thinks is right even if others laugh at or threaten him.

The leadership of the Boy Scouts of America has been very brave in recent years by leading the charge in the efforts to eliminate discrimination towards gender, homosexuality, and religion. Let’s ask them to be brave again and disassociate with the National Rifle Association. Shooting sports can be encouraged as a safe and fun hobby and even as a means of protection, but not at the cost of being associated with such a hateful organization.

If you agree, share this post with your friends and sign the petition to the National President of the Boy Scouts of America to cut ties with the National Rifle Association and forge a new future of responsible firearms education, not firearms radicalization.

Boy Scouts of America: Cut Ties with the NRA

In no way does the author’s posts or opinions represent the views of the Boy Scouts of America organization.

Turning Boys into Men? The Mission of the Boy Scouts of America

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The mission and purpose of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is to turn boys into men…right?

Wrong!

Believe it or not, the BSA’s mission statement has never included “boys” or “young men”. The original mission statement of the organization was “to teach patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred values.” In 1937, the mission statement was updated to “Each generation as it comes to maturity has no more important duty than that of teaching high ideals and proper behavior to the generation which follows.” The current mission statement of the BSA is:

“The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.”

So if boys and young men have not been mentioned in the BSA’s mission statements, why are girls just now being allowed?

Actually, girls are not new to the BSA at all. Den Mothers were first officially introduced in 1932 to the Cub Scout program as adult leaders. Then in 1988, women were approved to hold any position of leadership in the BSA, including Scoutmaster of a Boy Scout troop. But what about the female youth? There’s a long history there as well. Girls were first approved in Exploring and Sea Exploring in 1971, Venturing in 1998, and STEM Scouts in 2014. Girls are not new to the BSA at all. Girls are just new to the two traditional Scouting programs of the BSA; Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. Why the big fuss then? Well, those are the two programs that are the most traditional and where you will find the most die hard alumni.

But it doesn’t make sense! How can girls be Boy Scouts?

Well, they won’t be Boy Scouts. The BSA is currently working on a name for a parallel program to the Boy Scouts. It will include the same uniforms, positions of leadership, outdoor experiences, and advancement…including the rank of Eagle Scout. It will even include the opportunity for girls to join the Order of the Arrow, the National Honor Society of the BSA. Boys and girls of elementary age will be called “Cub Scouts” as boys have been since 1930. Boys of middle and high school age will presumably continue to be called “Boy Scouts” and the equivalent name for the girls has not yet been announced. There is not necessarily a need to change the name of the organization though. It seems that the Boy Scouts of America will probably start referring to itself as “BSA” more, following the example of when the YMCA began referring to itself as the “Y” for simplicity purposes. There might be a time when the BSA changes its name fully, possibly when female membership becomes formidable. After all, the BSA began an effort in the 1970s to rebrand as “Scouting/USA” in response to the introduction of girls into Exploring in 1971, and the last Boy Scout council desegregating in 1974…apparently the BSA wanted to stop calling youth “Boy Scouts” because of the negative connotations involved in calling someone “boy”. It was a great effort but ultimately it did not go over well and the effort stopped by 1980. However, to this day the BSA does still retain the rights to “Scouting USA”.

But the boys need a place to go to be boys!

First of all, the boys will still have their own place. Boys and girls in Cub Scouts will be in separate dens…at least for now. Boys and girls in the older program will be in separate troops entirely…again, for now. Why? In making this historic change, the BSA’s top leadership has identified the importance of maintaining a single-gender environment. That focus is mainly on the older end of things, hence the entirely separate troops for the older boys and girls. The worry is that boys and girls mature at different rates and I think, that the girls might end up hogging all of the elected leadership positions in a troop. Personally, I think another factor in keeping them separate is to appease those die hard folks. We’ll see how this goes but I don’t think it will be long before the separation ends entirely.

Secondly…let’s tackle this phrase “boys will be boys” and its significance in this debate. Many times in the social media arguments in which I find myself, the die hards are arguing that boys need a place to just be boys. So let’s ask ourselves…is that a good thing? Google “boys will be boys” and see what comes up:

“boys will be boys: used to express the view that mischievous or childish behavior is typical of boys or young men and should not cause surprise when it occurs.”

“This isn’t the first campus rape discussion to be trivialized with the “boys will be boys” mentality.”

“This statement implies that any negative behavior should be excused on the grounds that boys are always doing things that are wrong, and need to be treated with a degree of leniency that borders on insanity.”

Those are all on the first results page. Why do we want to encourage the “boys will be boys” mentality? It never means anything good. It refers to mischief or unmentionable acts, such as what one of my social media opponents referred to as “hide the pickle”. Another one lamented that boys will no longer be able to skinny dip on Scouting trips. Yes…these were real arguments against allowing girls to participate in BSA Scouting programs. And yes…both of those people have been blocked and added to my personal “ineligible to volunteer in the BSA” list.

So how significant is this change? It’s a HUGE step forward for the Boy Scouts of America. Now families can fully participate in Scouting. Girls who have been participating in den and troop meetings as well as camping trips can finally be recognized for what they’ve done instead of standing by and watching as only their brothers are praised. It means that the gold standard of youth leadership training and accomplishment, the rank of Eagle Scout, is now obtainable by young women. It also means that every time I step into an elementary school to recruit new Scouts, I no longer have to turn away the girls who I have gotten so hyped up about BB guns, bows and arrows, camping, fishing, and hiking. It’s one of the last barriers to full inclusion in the Boy Scouts of America and it came crashing down fast. In my professional time with the BSA, I have witnessed the barriers against homosexuals, transgenders, and girls removed. The only thing left is full inclusion without regard to spiritual belief. Progress has already been made on that front…but we’ll save that one for another post.

I was the first Eagle Scout in my family. My daughter could now be the second. I’ve never been prouder to be a part of the Boy Scouts of America.

What Does It Mean to Be a 21st Century Scout?

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In less than two weeks, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) will turn 108 years old. For 108 years, the BSA has stood by the core beliefs that were established from its founding in 1910, rooted in the Scout Oath and Scout Law.

Scout Oath

On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

Scout Law

A Scout is …
trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly,
courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful,
thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

The Scout Oath and Law have not changed in 108 years but society has changed dramatically. So what does a modern Scout look like? How can the Oath and Law have stayed the same through all of the changes in society? For a long time, the BSA maintained the same beliefs and standards, regardless of what changes occurred in American society. However, in recent years, the BSA has made significant changes in what it has held as necessary “to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law”. Just since 2013, the BSA has lifted the ban on homosexual youth and adult leaders, allows transgender youth, allows girls into Cub Scouting (and girls into a Boy Scout equivalent program in 2019), and allows atheists and agnostics as well.

Surprised by that last one? Yeah…me too. In 2016, the BSA and Unitarian Universalist Association restarted their relationship by signing a new Memorandum of Understanding which would encourage Unitarian Universalist congregations to form Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops, and Venture crews. So what’s that about allowing atheists and agnostics? Well, the foundation of the Unitarian Universalist Church is that ALL are welcome, no matter what their background, lifestyle, or beliefs may be. Visit a service at a Unitarian Universalist Church and you’ll find members who are Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Wiccan, atheist, agnostic, gay, lesbian, transgender, and just about any other type of person you can think of. So how does the Unitarian Universalist Association come to terms with the BSA’s “Duty to God” requirement? Let’s take a look at a piece of the Memorandum of Understanding that the BSA and UUA signed in 2016:

“Whereas, Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote sources for wisdom, reflection, and spiritual growth, including: direct experience of mystery and wonder; words of prophetic people; world’s religions; Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves; Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science; spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature; and

Whereas, one of the seven Principles that Unitarian Universalists affirm and promote is “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning” and have many ways of naming what is sacred; some believe in a sacred force at work in the world, and call it “Love Eternal,” “Deepest Mystery,” “Wondrous Creation” or “Spirit of Life,” and the UUA respects the individual’s journey to finding and understanding their own meaning and existence of God and the sacred, and do not seek to define it for them;”

The MOU lists “Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science” as comparable to Jewish and Christian teachings as well as Earth-centered traditions. The MOU also states that there are many ways that Unitarian Universalists name what is sacred to them including “a sacred force at work in the world (love)” and that individuals should find their own meaning of God and the sacred without defining it for others. Take a look at another piece of the MOU:

“and be it further Resolved, That the BSA will respect the spiritual and moral responsibility of UUA member congregations with the understanding that there is no Boy Scout or UUA authority which supersedes the authority of the leadership of the congregation in any phase of the program affecting the spiritual welfare of those who participate; and be it further

Resolved, That it is agreed all member congregations of the UUA may rely on the stipulations in this Memorandum of Understanding in operating under any charter they sign with the Boy Scouts of America.”

As it states above, neither the BSA nor the UUA itself has authority which supersedes the authority of the individual congregation in determining the spiritual welfare of those who participate. Remember, this Memorandum of Understanding was agreed to and signed by the Boy Scouts of America! So while you might not have seen it in the news, non-theists are no longer banned from being members of the Boy Scouts of America’s traditional programs. Want to see the full UUA/BSA Memorandum of Understanding? Check it out here: Unitarian Universalist Association and BSA Memorandum of Understanding. Want to know a secret though? Atheists and agnostics have been allowed since long before March of 2016. How so? The Boy Scouts of America has had Buddhist Boy Scout troops since 1920. The BSA does not distinguish between different forms of Buddhism, including the growing number of secular Buddhists who do not believe in any god.

So what is a 21st century Scout? He is honest and can be relied upon to keep his word. She is loyal to her family, friends, and country. He helps those in need without looking for reward. She understands that she can never have enough friends and seeks to understand those who are different. He is polite to everyone regardless of their attitude or behavior. She is kind, gentle, and respects all life. He follows the rules of his family, school, and Scout leaders. She follows and respects the laws of his community and country. He works to maintain a positive outlook at all times and helps lift others’ spirits. She understands the value of pulling her own weight and protects and conserves the natural world. He faces challenges with determination and heart and stands up for what is right, even if it is unpopular. She keeps herself clean in mind and body and helps to keep her community clean. He seeks to understand the world around him and the forces that act upon it, whether natural or supernatural. Most importantly, she respects and seeks understanding of the beliefs of others, no matter how different they may be.

So…who wouldn’t want to know a 21st century Scout?