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May 18, 1999: Open Letter from Rev. John A. Buehrens

What has happened to Boy Scout honor?

The Boy Scouts of America have sent the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) yet another letter. This one rescinds the decision to reinstate Boy Scouts of America (BSA) recognition of our Religion and Life Award for UU scouts. Moreover, they have taken the initiative to contact the press on the matter. Both steps seem to me astonishing. I have tried consistently to be cooperative with the BSA, while staying true to Unitarian Universalist principles. On receiving the letter, my first reaction was that there must be a lack of internal coordination within the Boy Scouts or a misunderstanding of our intentions. Those intentions were explained to representatives of the Boy Scouts last September and were fully agreed to. It was agreed that the UUA would issue a new edition of the Religion and Life manual; that the manual would contain nothing objectionable to the BSA; and that the UUA would then make available, along with the manual, some separate materials that would be helpful to our young people and their advisers, showing forth our religious principles in relation to the issues that have been part of this controversy. Unitarian Universalism has long been a strong supporter of equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, and we have a responsibility to our young people to instruct them in the religious values which underlie our commitment to this struggle.

This is all we have done. We have prepared a new manual, which they have accepted and which we will publish. We have also prepared some materials aimed at advising young people whose religion teaches "the worth and dignity of every person" how they might want to respond to slurs aimed at another person's, or their own, sexuality, or supposed sexuality. These materials are coordinated with our comprehensive new curriculum on human sexuality, Our Whole Lives.

I have personally written a short pamphlet, When Others (or You) Say 'God', designed to help young people from a pluralistic religious tradition understand some of the multiple ways in which the word 'God' is or can be understood. It seems to me that UU youth who choose to take the Scout oath need this because in the oath a scout promises "to do my duty to God..."

In the course of this controversy I learned that the BSA actually knows that what it is doing in response to the so-called 'gay' issue has more to do with politics than with children's safety. The BSA knows the difference between pedophilia and homosexuality. It does training on the subject. Yet they continue to practice arbitrary discrimination. Ignorance is one thing. Knuckling under to anti-gay pressure groups is quite different, and entirely unworthy.

The UUA will continue to teach its religious principles and to help its young people to apply them. This is our religious duty. My question is this: does the BSA really mean to say that our teaching must stop where it makes them uncomfortable? That we cannot provide religious materials along with Scout materials? If so, what other faith groups will suffer from Boy Scout discrimination? After all, prejudice, once it takes hold in one's soul and is rationalized against one group can easily spread to include other objects of prejudice. Evidently Unitarian Universalists have now become such objects for the BSA. No wonder they have not been honorable in their dealings with us.

Rev. John Buehrens
President, UUA

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Last updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.

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