- by Rob Lee -
I can very vividly remember the time I was genuinely lost. It was at Mt. Rogers in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia. I was a young scout who was taking my time looking at all the sights and sounds when I looked up and noticed my group was gone. I was separated from my group for about an hour or so, and panic was setting in. Thankfully my Dad was on the camping trip and rounded the corner and smiled. We both knew I was safe.
Boy Scouting is one of the largest youth organizations in the United States. Based on statistics released in 2010, the hundredth anniversary of Boy Scouts in America, the group claims to have served over one hundred million young men throughout its history. Two million of those have achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. I could myself among them. My family is a family formed by Scouting. My father is an Eagle Scout, my mother is a Gold Award Girl Scout and Cub Scout leader, my brother is on his way to Eagle Scout as well. So I came to love this organization at an early age through the Cub Scouting program, from pinewood derby cars to ghost stories. These first encounters didn’t stop there, it was also the first time I met a closeted gay man.
Growing up in North Carolina you had heard of gay people, but to meet a gay person was an oddity that many people in my community hadn’t yet experienced. So to my surprise, one of the older scouts was struggling with the reality of sexuality, of questions none of our adult leaders were equipped to answer, so he remained silent. I remember the night he let me know that he was gay, shaking in fear that I might judge him, think less of him, or out him to the leaders. I couldn’t help but cry with him, knowing that he couldn’t be the person God had created him to be.
We’ve lost touch now; I don’t know where the road of life has taken my friend. The organization that I love, that helped instill not only survival skills and life skills is marred by allegations of homophobia and intolerance. Their policy against gay scouts and leaders is something of a news story now; the Huffington Post even has a newsfeed with developments. I can’t help but compare this organization to another part of my life that I love deeply.
The United Methodist Church is deeply divided over this same issue. How do we care for our baptized members, people called to ordained ministry, and countless others outside our walls that love Jesus and happen to be gay? In the same way, how does Boy Scouts of America care for young men who grew up from being Tiger Cubs in the first grade to Eagle Scouts in high school who are struggling with their sexual identity, who are afraid to come out and claim their reality for fear of persecution.
I call on Reconciling Congregations across our connection to be supportive of the movement of the Spirit not only in their churches but also in chartered organizations such as Boy Scouting. I call on Reconciling United Methodists who were once a part of Scouting or still are to be attentive to the needs of our young men who simply and directly want to be accepted. I call on Boy Scouts of America to come to the realization that you have young men amidst your ranks who are hurting because of your decision to be exclusive in membership and award status.
Even this week we’ve heard rumblings from the National Office of Boy Scouting that this policy could change that could happen within the next few days. While this is news worthy of our heralding, the work continues. Just as we changed the policy on women in ordained ministry, there are churches that have never had a woman pastor. Just as we changed the policy on people of different color worshipping together, Sunday remains the most segregated hour of our week. Just as this policy of Boy Scouts of America is changing, we will need organizations and structures to oversee the change and protect our youth.
I see this coming to fruition in the United Methodist Church as well. That day that we all long for when full inclusion will happen, the work continues. Reconciling Ministries Network, MFSA, and other organizations will help us forward into our future with God’s grace in mind. Ultimately, this is not simply a done deal once the paragraph in the Discipline changes. Policy change is imperative but it will take the work of the people.
Back to when I was lost. In Boy Scouts you are taught wilderness survival skills, how to survive amidst a sparse terrain or environment. Right now within the United Methodist Church and within Boy Scouts of America, we are in the wilderness. But soon, my friends, all of God’s children will be welcome at the table of grace, and able to pin that Eagle Scout pin on their person.
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Rob Lee, 20, is a lifelong United Methodist and member of Broad Street United Methodist Church in Statesville, North Carolina. Rob is an undergraduate religious studies major at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. Rob is an advocate within the church from a General Conference (2012 Delegate) to the local church level. Rob has a weekly column in the Statesville Record and Landmark and other North Carolina papers. Rob is a blogger who blogged and wrote stories for UMCommunications during the 2012 General Conference. Rob has plans to attend seminary, and continue to advocate for justice within the church. Rob enjoys movies, friends and hiking. He lives in Boone with his dog Rusty.