BoyScoutLogoScouting was a meaningful activity of my youth. I advanced all the way to Eagle Scout and have always been proud of that accomplishment. I still hold scouting in high regard and hope that my sons will be interested in it when they get older.

I’ve been quite interested, then, in the ongoing debate/controversy about open LGBT people being involved in Boy Scouts.

As readers of this blog will know, I am a pastor committed to acceptance and inclusion of the LGBT community. I do not find homosexuality to be in conflict with the gospel.

As an Eagle Scout, I believe that the Boy Scouts of American should also be an open, welcoming, and accepting community. It is naive to think that there have not already been many gay scouts and leaders throughout the years, and their sexual orientation does not in any way invalidate their contributions to scouting.

Today I received an online survey through which BSA is polling its community as it discerns how to move forward. It begins by asking whether you agree or disagree with the current prohibition of openly gay people from participating in scouting. It then presents a series of scenarios and asks you to indicate whether you find each totally acceptable, somewhat acceptable, neither acceptable or unacceptable, somewhat unacceptable, or totally unacceptable. After you have considered these scenarios, the survey asks again whether you agree or disagree with the LGBT prohibition.

Here are the scenarios and my reponses:

A gay male troop leader, along with another adult leader, is taking a group of boys on a camping trip following the youth protection guidelines of two-deep leadership. Is it acceptable or unacceptable for the gay adult leader to take adolescent boys on an overnight camping trip? Totally Acceptable


Bob is 15 years old, and the only openly gay Scout in a Boy Scout troop. Is it acceptable or unacceptable for the troop leader to allow Bob to tent with a heterosexual boy on an overnight camping trip? Totally Acceptable


A troop is chartered by an organization that does not believe homosexuality is wrong and allows gays to be ministers. The youth minister traditionally serves as the Scoutmaster for the troop. The congregation hires a youth minister who is gay. Is it acceptable or unacceptable for this youth minister to serve as the Scoutmaster? Totally Acceptable


Johnny, a first grade boy, has joined Tiger Cubs with his friends. Johnny’s friends and their parents unanimously nominate Johnny’s mom, who is known by them to be lesbian, to be the den leader. Johnny’s pack is chartered to a church where the doctrine of that faith does not teach that homosexuality is wrong. Is it acceptable or unacceptable for his mother to serve as a den leader for his Cub Scout den? Totally Acceptable


Tom started in the program as a Tiger Cub, and finished every requirement for the Eagle Scout Award at 16 years of age. At his board of review Tom reveals that he is gay. Is it acceptable or unacceptable for the review board to deny his Eagle Scout award based on that admission? Totally Unacceptable


David, a Boy Scout, believes that homosexuality is wrong. His troop is chartered to a church where the doctrine of that faith also teaches that homosexuality is wrong. Steve, an openly gay youth, applies to be a member in the troop and is denied membership. Is it acceptable or unacceptable for this troop to deny Steve membership in their troop? Totally Acceptable

I think that this is a good approach to this debate. Providing concrete examples will help community members discern what they really think. It’s akin to what happens in churches when they move from supporting LGBT inclusion to actually hiring an LGBT pastor or youth worker.

This survey helped me clarify my position on LGBT people in scouting. Scout troops are chartered by organizations, many (if not most) of which are churches. Clearly churches are divided on this issue and have a variety of beliefs and opinions regarding human sexuality. And at some level, Boy Scouts is a faith-based organization. So, in the same way that I am comfortable with faith communities holding beliefs about sexuality that I do not agree with and acting on those beliefs, I think that each Boy Scout troop should have the autonomy—in collaboration with its chartering organization—to determine whether or not it will welcome LGBT scouts and leaders. Just like there are some churches that accept and include LGBT people and some that do not, there can be some Boy Scout troops that accept and include LGBT people and some that do not. I wish that all troops would be open and affirming, just as I wish the same for all churches, but I recognize the freedom of each community to make these determinations for themselves.

Similar to discussions of this issue within churches, BSA is wrestling with the question of different standards among its member organizations. In the Presbyterian Church (USA) this is known as “local option.” Here is the relevant question from the survey:

Different organizations that charter Boy Scout troops have different positions on the morality of homosexuality.  Do you support or oppose allowing charter organizations to follow their own beliefs when selecting Boy Scout members and adult leaders, if that means there will be different standards from one organization to the next?

I don’t have a problem with this. While our culture is wrestling with questions of sexuality, I believe that this kind of diversity is what it looks like to live in a pluralistic and democratic society. Uniformity in such matters is an anachronism that is no longer possible.

What do you think?

John W. Vest

John is a "church hacker" attempting to overcome the limitations of church as we know it. To connect with him and learn more about his work, please visit

Reader Interactions


  1. I believe LGBT individuals are born the way they are. God granted them the life they have and so, just like no one would support ANY charter of Boy Scouts discriminating against those because of their race, I don’t believe LGBT people should ever be discriminated against either.

    There is a bigger problem though as I see it. Kids don’t choose where they live and so, they don’t really have a choice to join a more progressively charted Boy Scout Troop than another. If I had a son who was GT or B, I would NEVER want them denied of the right to participate in Boy Scouts because of who he is and just because he happens to live in a (to be nice) less than open-minded community. Just as I would never want them denied of things because they will be Hispanic. Discrimination has horrible ramifications and when suicide rates are going up among our young people, I think we need to stop and ask ourselves what we (as a society) may be doing to contribute to their lack of hope and love of themselves.

    • In a pluralistic democracy, I don’t think we can stop voluntary organizations from discriminating against others. An organization that people choose to be a part of (like a church or a Boy Scout troop) should have the right to discriminate if they want to. I don’t agree with it, but it is their right.

      If the Boy Scouts were to have rules such that each troop has the option to act as they please with regard to this issue, the solution to a troop that won’t allow LGBT boys or leaders is to start a new troop that does. (The same goes for churches, by the way.)


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