Some old fashioned institutions fear new learning. Although I was a Boy Scout for only a couple of years, I grew up in Cub Scouts and Webelos and had a pretty good idea what boys talked about when they were together. It would’ve shocked me at the time to learn that some Scouts were gay, but then, I was young and most new things shocked me. I later came to learn that not only some Scouts, but also many of the guys I knew from conference-wide church groups were gay. It wasn’t so much that they were in the closet as the rest of the world was. Society wasn’t ready to admit anything that challenged male patriarchy (this was the 60s and that was beginning to shift), and homosexuality did challenge that hierarchy. The Bible could be used to back a husband’s superiority over his wife, but if two men formed a couple—as B-movie computers used to say—”that does not compute.” A society that declared sex had one purpose only—procreation—was already deep in denial about the symbolic power that sexual relations inherently possess, something even the ancient Greeks knew about. How could a culture that out of sync with nature come to embrace true equality?
In the socially conservative icebox of the fin de siècle nouveau (pardon my French), evangelical forces began to declare the Bible as the basis for defining marriage. The problem is that the Bible doesn’t do such a good job of it. Marriage is far from a sacrament, and its main purpose seems to have been to make sure men were kept accountable for the children they sired. After all, they could have as many wives as they could afford, eh, Solomon? The Boy Scouts, so loyal to God and country, preferred not to admit what was already part of their culture. You isolate a bunch of boys together in a cabin in the woods, and what happens? The old myth of Platonic hero-and-sidekick pairs with nary a thought of the pounding chorus of hormones surging through the atmosphere held up remarkably well, considering.
We like to think we live in a more enlightened age. Sexologists tell us that mating is hardly just for reproduction—the natural world belies that. The Bible says little about its purpose, not being of a scientific bent. And yet the Boy Scouts hold up three fingers and go beyond don’t ask, don’t tell. I’m glad to see that they are again considering a look at the obvious. In the Bible that cotton-poly blend you’re wearing is mentioned as evil just a few verses away from one of the few passages that says the same thing about homosexuality (and even that is an overstatement). The Bible was a product of its time, just as the Boy Scouts were a product of theirs. If they want to honor their pledge about keeping morally straight, the Boy Scouts need to consider morality in the light of what we know and open the closet doors to what society has been keeping hidden all along.