Putting Politics Ahead of Program

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It’s no secret that we live in a highly polarized and politicized age. Even simple decisions like where we shop seem to carry more weight than usual. Based on our political leanings, we’re supposed to either boycott or patronize (buycott?) Amazon, Ben and Jerry’s, Chick-Fil-A, Hobby Lobby, L.L. Bean, Nordstrom, Starbucks, and a host of other companies. There’s even an app that lets you scan a product’s UPC code to determine whether or not you should buy it, based on how you feel about animal welfare, the environment, human rights, immigration, LGBTQ rights, social responsibility, or half a dozen other issues.

Not surprisingly, the Boy Scouts of America has gotten caught up in these political crosscurrents in recent years, mostly due to the decisions to accept gay leaders and gay and transgendered youth members. Of course, many longtime Scouters have strong feelings about these issues and have been either elated or disappointed (or something in between) as they’ve watched BSA policy change. That’s understandable. But at the same time, all sorts of groups that have probably never sponsored a unit or written a Friends of Scouting check have jumped into the fray as well.

One such group, the North Carolina Values Coalition, prompted Mark Turner, Scout executive of the Mecklenburg County Council, to write a remarkable response in the Charlotte Observer. In it, he shared a long list of local Scouting accomplishments–267 new Eagle Scouts, 7,000 active members reciting the Scout Oath and Scout Law each week, improvements in school performance among inner-city Scouts–and then he said this: “Don’t tear down the things you don’t understand and the institutions that make our country strong. Take a leap of faith and have a view of life that the glass is half full or you will surely find yourself alone and thirsty.”

When Rex Tillerson was the BSA’s national president, he often talked about keeping the Main Thing the main thing. And the Main Thing was serving more youth.

If people in your community or chartered organization are confused about what the Main Thing is–or if they think the Main Thing is co-opting Scouting to advance their own causes–perhaps you could share Mark Turner’s op-ed with them or offer your own list of the things that really matter.

Ann Landers liked to say, “Nobody can take advantage of you without your permission.” I think it’s time we as Scouters take her advice.


To celebrate the release of the second edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, I’m offering a 20% discount on all book orders through St. Patrick’s Day. Just enter the code SMOH2017 when you check out at https://www.eaglebook.com/cart/.

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