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April 28, 1999: Open Letter from Rev. John Buehrens

Dear Friends:

As you know, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has been involved in discussions with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) regarding the status of our Religion in Life award. In May, 1998, the BSA informed us that, due to certain language in the Religion in Life manual, we could not award the Religion in Life emblem to our scouts. We strongly protested this decision. It pleases me to tell you that this conflict has been resolved: the UUA has revised its Religion in Life manual to the satisfaction of the BSA without abandoning the UU values at its core. I want to share with you a portion of the letter dated April 23 which I received from Thomas Deimler, Director of the Relationships Division of the Boy Scouts of America. The letter reads, in part:

"Many thanks for your early response to matters concerning the revision of the Religion in Life booklet. . . I am very happy to report that the committee has unanimously expressed their endorsement of this new material. They are most complimentary of the willingness of you and your staff to work closely with us in this endeavor. Thus the Boy Scouts of America now reauthorizes the awarding of the Religion in Life emblem [by the UUA] to Scouts and the wearing of that emblem on a Scout uniform. . . . . Best wishes to you."

The UUA will now begin discussions with the Boy Scouts about possible service on the BSA Religious Relationships Committee. We would like to do this for three reasons.

First, many of the values of scouting are congruent with our UU principles. I myself became a Life Scout, and other UU ministers are Eagle Scouts. Scouting has played a significant role in the lives of many young UUs, no small number of whom are members of scout troops sponsored by their own UU congregations.

Second, the BSA bylaws contain a statement about the nature of God which many good people in many traditions would find impossible to accept. The BSA is already being challenged on issues of religious discrimination. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the public schools of Chicago, for example, over sponsoring Scout units which require a particular form of religious belief. If the BSA is going to adapt successfully to the religious pluralism of the 21st century, they will need counsel from groups like the UUA—not just from religious conservatives.

Third, we believe that the BSA can and should adopt new policies with regard to volunteers, to membership and to homophobia. Along with many UUs involved in Scouting, it is our position that local parents, Scout Councils, and troop sponsors should assume a great role in volunteer and membership issues. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation should not be allowed to continue as a national policy of the BSA. It will ruin the organization, costing them the support of millions of people, of foundations, and of the United Way in many areas.

Congregations and denominations that oppose homosexuality may have some right to influence the selection of leaders in troops which serve their own youth, but they should not prevent congregations and denominations like the UUA and the United Church of Christ (UCC) from conducting themselves in a way that represents our own religious values. For us, this will include an emphasis on comprehensive sexuality education and efforts to reduce homophobia.

The new edition of Religion in Life will be available from the UUA Bookstore this summer. Along with each copy, the Association will separately provide a letter from me, along with resources appropriate to dealing with issues of homophobia and religious discrimination.

It is still not clear to me that the BSA can be redirected from patterns that in the long run will be institutionally self-destructive. I am very pleased, however, that we have been able to resolve any implication that they wish to practice an added discrimination toward Unitarian Universalists simply because we support the belief that it is not homosexuality but homophobia which is a sin.

Yours faithfully,
John A. Buehrens

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Last updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.

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