The Role of God in Church Oriented Groups

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In 2015, the Boy Scouts of America lifted the ban on allowing openly gay members to be troop leaders. Thus, meaning that the national organization will no longer discriminate against its paid workers and will allow gay members to be leaders once again. This was a big step for America, because around this same time the United States also recognized gay marriage. However, even though this was a big step forward for the LGBTQ community, there was still unnoticed notions that allowed local faith based troops and councils to decide on their own whom they will allow to be in their troops and who can be troop leaders. Upon reading this, I found this information to be very interesting because even though as a program The Boys Scouts of America (BSA) allowed openly gay leaders, to ensure they did not lose the support of the Mormon church, they compromised and allowed for local troops and councils to decide if they would like to follow this lifted ban, based off their own personalized beliefs.

With this information, I will go more in depth on the troops and councils in America and how many of these groups actually allowed openly gay leader’s – and on the contrary, how many of those local groups decided against it. I will also discuss the reactions of the public and whether they praised or discouraged the BSA to move forward with these changes.

From our class discussions, I have found that the book that relates the most to these issues within the BSA is The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth. In this book, the main character Cameron Post is sent to a conversion therapy camp called “God’s Promise” where she is taught how to not be a lesbian anymore through the work of God. I found the BSA and The Miseducation of Cameron Post to be the most similar, because while the BSA does not “teach” young boys to not be gay, they do follow the religious belief that homosexuality is a sin and both of them are mainly focused around a religious group. The main idea I will be tackling is how and why do churches hold so much power over specific groups when determining whether homosexuality is acceptable?

Before we are able to discuss the research I found, one must know about the history of the BSA. William D. Boyce founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910 when he took a trip to England, became lost in the city and a young by called “a scout” helped him find his way back. When the boy refused a tip from Boyce, the boy stated he was just doing “is daily good turn”. From this, Boyce became inspired and brought the idea of the BSA back to America and started his own organization in 1909. It was later turned over to the YMCA for further development in April of 1910 and during this time the YMCA was an early promoter of reforms for young men with a focus on “social welfare and programs of mental, physical, social and religious development”. Currently the BSA is one of the largest scouting and youth organizations in the United States with about 2.4 million members, and in total there has been over 110 million Americans that have participated in the BSA program.

The BSA mission statement is one that has been followed for many years, “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”. The overall idea of the BSA is to train scouts in leadership, responsible citizenship, character development and self-reliance through the participation in outdoor activities and educational programs. Since the BSA is a heavily religious organization and mainly funded by the Mormon, Catholic, Southern Baptist and Muslim churches, the organization had to follow a list of restrictions that they were allowed and not allowed to do, based on the religious tendencies of these churches. Within the last decade however, the BSA have made a lot of changes within the restrictions they have and the policies they must commit to.

In 2000, the supreme court ruled in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale that the Boy Scouts, and all similar private voluntary organizations, have the constitutionally protected right under the First Amendment of freedom association to set membership standards. Thus meaning, that under this ruling if the BSA did not want to allow homosexuals to be members, or more specifically troop leaders, they had the protected right to do so. Following that, in 2004 the BSA adopted a new policy statement including a “Youth Leadership” policy that disallowed members to continue in leadership positions if they were to hold themselves out as “openly and avowed homosexuals”. With this new policy, this is where the BSA began to discriminate against those of the LGBTQ community. There were members of the BSA who were leaders during this time and since they had come out as openly gay previously they were no longer allowed to be leaders within the BSA program and because of this many of them left the program entirely and did not return.

Eight years later, in 2012, one leader of the BSA committee board presented a resolution to no longer allowing openly gay members to be leaders and this leaders resolution “would allow individual units to accept gays as adult leaders”. But, in July of 2012 an eleven-person committee voted against the idea and voted to keep the current policy that did not allow openly gay members to be leaders. Though not too long after that, in 2013, the BSA announced they were considering lifting the ban on homosexuals, allowing chartered organizations to determine to determine local policies – meaning that the organization as a whole would allow homosexuals as members but, the local groups could still decide on their own if they wanted to lift that ban.

However, in May of 2013, the BSA National Council voted to remove the restrictions that denied youth on the basis of sexual orientation to join the BSA program, while also emphasizing that any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual is not allowed. While this was a major step forward for the BSA program and all of the young LGBTQ boys, the BSA still announced that while LGBTQ males would be accepted into the BSA program, scout leaders who were “open and avowed homosexuals” were still prohibited from joining and being leaders. But, finally in 2015 the BSA president Robert Gates said it was time to end the ban on gay leaders, saying it “cannot be sustained” any longer, and on July 27th, 2015 the BSA National executive board voted to lift the ban on openly gay leaders and employees. Though, the local chartering organizations still had the power to set their own standards based on religious principles for selecting the adult volunteers for their units.

Overall, those are the most recent laws and bans that the BSA have permitted and lifted over the passed decade. Clearly, there was a lot of back and forth upon the issue of allowing or not allowing people of the LGBTQ community to be able to become members or leaders within the BSA program. Much like in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, there is a lot of back and forth on whether or not the conversion therapy camp, God’s Promise, is a group that is working towards “helping” these kids with their homosexuality or programming them to hate themselves. The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a coming of age book on the importance and acceptance for people of the LGBTQ community. The book begins with the main character Cameron Post, a 12-year-old girl who is discovering her sexuality, while her parents die in a car crash. She is then forced to live with her heavily conservative aunt, Ruth and after her family finds out that she is lesbian she is sent off to God’s Promise to be “cured” of her confused homosexual tendencies.

As a much older teenager now, Cameron is adjusting to her new life at God’s Promise and the rules she must obtain to, to please her “saviors” Lydia and Rick, whom are the individuals who will save Cameron from her homosexual sins. Religion does play a very key role in this book, as God’s Promise is a predominately Christian run facility and the idea behind the book is to “save” these kids souls from no longer being homosexual and finding God within themselves and letting God guide them to a heterosexual life. There is no physical abuse at God’s Promise that is noticeable because the kids are fed, watered and kept in shaped with “Blessercise” and the occasional Christian rock dance party. For the most part, everyone in the book states to have the “kids best interest in mind” when diminishing their moral being, but it is Lydia who is coined the closest thing to a monster. She’s a true believer and it is her mission to help these kids find God, if it’s the last thing she does, even if it means shaving off a student’s hair because “there is no hiding from God”. While the religious tendencies are not heavily pressed upon the reader and God’s Promise leaders, Lydia and Rick are not “attacking” the children in a way of physical abusing them, they are still emotionally abusing them to a level of self harm.

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In a specific scene in the book, one individual who is a member at God’s Promise cannot handle the stress of pleasing God, himself, and his family to the point where he breaks and severely self harms himself with a razor to his penis. This is a significant part in the book as this is the first significant example of the severity of the emotional abuse that these kids are being exposed to. The amount of pressure there is to please God and to not live in sin any longer, to reassure their parents that they are doing good at this facility and they are really working hard to not be homosexual any longer – all while trying to find it within themselves that riding themselves of their true identity and claiming that it is the only thing that will save them in the eyes of God, severely damages their mental health that they already are trying so hard to accept.

For the church involvement for the BSA program, the church heavily runs, funds and is the determining factor on what policies should be allowed and what should be not. Overall, the Catholic, Mormon, Southern Baptists and the Muslim churches run about 70% of the BSA. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church) was the first partner to sponsor scouting in the United States, adopting the BSA program in 1913 as part of its Mutual Improvement Association program for young men. While numerous different churches and religions run the BSA, the Mormon Church is the main funding supply the BSA program has. With the Mormon Church being such a large contributor the teaching of gay relationships and being a homosexual as sinful was a major role in why the BSA stood against allowing people of the LGBTQ community to be member or leaders for such a long period of time.

If the BSA ever decided to go against those policies and allowing people of the LGBTQ community to become members and leaders then the Mormon Church would no longer support the BSA program, due to conflicting beliefs. So when the BSA lifted the ban on allowing openly gay individuals to become members and leaders of the program, the churches that sponsor the BSA were not pleased and threatened to cut their funding to all BSA programs. Because the BSA program was mainly funded by the Mormon Church and the other churches involved, they did not want to lose their funding so instead, this is where the BSA program compromised with these churches and allowed for local charters to make their own decision on this new policy based on their religious views. So, while as an entire organization, the BSA program stated they allow openly gay members to become leaders; on a smaller local basis, those small BSA programs also had the protected right to not follow this policy if they did not want to allow openly gay individuals to become members or leaders.

However, it wasn’t until a few years later, in 2017 the BSA announced transgender boys would be allowed to enroll in boys-only programs effective immediately. And then in 2018 the BSA program started allowing girls to become Cub Scouts and fully be apart of the Scouts BSA program starting in 2019. When the BSA started lifting a lot of its bans allowing more people of the LGBTQ community and girls to become members, the Mormon Church was not too thrilled. Because of this, in May of 2018, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced it would no longer sponsor scouting unites with the Boys Scouts of America effective at the end of 2019.

There were a multitude of reactions when the BSA announced all of the LGBTQ positive law changes and bans being removed. Overall, the public’s reaction was very positive and the BSA was praised for being nondiscriminatory towards the LGBTQ community. However, while the general public has had many positive reactions to these changes, the BSA is still receiving a decline in numbers when it comes to enrollment. At its peak five decades ago, the BSA boasted a membership of 4 million boys ages from 11 to 17. As of May 2018, the membership stood at 2.3 million, down from 2.6 million only five years ago.

With the decision of the Mormon Church to sever all ties with the BSA, enrollment did significantly drop with many members of the church not pleased with the recent decisions the BSA had been making. Though, now that the BSA is allowing girls, transgender and other members of the LGBTQ community to have access to enroll in the BSA, the program has seen a increase in numbers from those dated in 2018.

In addition to the decline in enrollment, there are many individuals who were once apart of the BSA as troop leaders, but when the BSA announced that all “openly and avowed homosexuals” could not longer be troop leaders these individuals were fired from their positions and were not allowed to be apart of the BSA program any longer. One individual, Brian Peffly, a 35-year-old lifetime Scout was fired in early 2015 when he was cited for violation of the ban. Peffly stated that he had mixed feelings about the potential change of now allowing openly homosexual males to become troop leaders. He stated he was glad the organization is becoming more open, but officials are making it clear that they are only making these changes because they have no other choice. “I think what they owe me is a formal apology, but I think I probably will go my entire life and they will never apologize. So what I’m thinking is, should I just wait the rest of my life, and if I don’t get one, never be involved with Scouting? I have to keep telling myself, the whole goal is to save Boy Scouts. We want to continue to exist in the future and in order to do that, people like me need to be at the table”.

The reactions to the BSA program lifting bans and making changes to their laws come in mixed waves. While the laws and bans lifted create more opportunities for those of the LGBTQ community to be apart of the BSA program, those who were once apart of the program and then exiled feel betrayed by a program that they have been apart of for so many years. It is also important to note the shift in power when it comes to who now funds and runs the BSA program. Over the past hundred years the BSA was funded and organized by mainly the Mormon Church and also by the Christian, Catholic, Muslim and Southern Baptist church, though when the BSA announced the sexual orientation and gender identity standards for the BSA some of the churches found their beliefs no longer lined up with that of the BSA program, specifically the Mormon Church. It is interesting to find that a program that was once so mainly funded and organized by the churches, is no longer in holding up to those religious standards.

Much like the BSA program breaking away from the homophobic “rules” the churches held against them, Cameron Post in The Miseducation of Cameron Post also found it in herself that she did no belong at the conversion therapy camp, God’s Promise, and her and her friends decided to escape. While a little different in term of religion to the BSA, the role of religion does play a big part in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, but it is not as hard pressed as it was for the BSA.

In the book, the iceberg is a running joke between the kids at the camp. If they properly fill out the iceberg with the reasoning’s as to why they believe they might be homosexual – bonus points from Lydia and Rick if they write “childhood trauma, absence of parenting or sports”. If they write down how they think their homosexuality happened then they will have a better understanding as to how they detoured off the “straight-path” and they could find their way back and be cured, once again. One has to wonder whether God’s Promise have thought through the iceberg metaphor, because are the kids really the iceberg or are they the large boat crashing into the iceberg?

Cameron Post had struggled with her identity, sexuality and her relationship with God for a long time. It was only until she got caught making out with Coley that she was punished for her homosexual tendencies and sent to God’s Promise to be “cured” and “saved”. God’s Promise much like the BSA, a camp of a sort to teach young kids leadership and life skills, all while making sure they know the importance of God in the process. For Cameron, she really struggled with the idea of religion, sin and sexuality all throughout the book saying, “How could I pretend to be a victim when I was so willing to sin?” This coins back to a lot of the Christian standpoints that Lydia and Rick were trying so hard to force upon the kids. Cameron began to fall into the trap of trying to be a good Christian and never sinning, all while still trying to be who she wants to be, which, in the eyes of Lydia and Rick is full of sin.

At this point in the book, Cameron felt confused because how cold she be a victim to the emotional abuse they were causing her and the other camp goers, and be a victim to the negative connotations that come with being homosexual, because if she was never a homosexual in the first place she would never be sinning and would never have to face the “consequences” that God is placing upon her. The turning point in the book when Cameron and her friends decide to leave the camp is when their friend self harms himself and a state health officer comes to the camp to ask the kids questions on their experience there. Cameron was upset because all the officer wanted to know is if Lydia and Rick were physically abusing them, but did not care or acknowledge the emotional abuse that the kids were enduring.

As I have noted multiple times, the role of religion plays a key role in both The Miseducation of Cameron Post and The Boy Scouts of America. Both are also awfully similar in terms of being surrounded by a camp full of kids longing to “better themselves”, while both camps do have different meanings of bettering themselves and teaching the acts of God, both of these groups follow the same guidelines. In terms of religion, the role of God is the main Spector and the praise of the both programs. It is evident to note, that the role of God and religion plays such a major role in determining whether homosexuality is acceptable because without religion, people believe there is no meaning in life, and to go against the words of God, is to be a sinful individual who will go to Hell. But, what those in the Boy Scouts of America and the kids at God’s Promise in The Miseducation of Cameron Post forget is that while religion is important to some people, the mental stability and acceptance for people of the LGBTQ community is more important. Thankfully, with the unbanned laws and openness for the LGBTQ community within the BSA program and the integrity and resilience of those kids at God’s Promise in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, the important conversations are being had and the acceptance and voices for those in the LGBTQ community are being heard.

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