Earlier this week I praised a new policy from the Boy Scouts of America which allowed troops to accept homosexual leaders while also allowing troops affiliated with religious organizations to keep their status quo.
In Fargo, the Catholic Diocese which sponsors 13 troops urged its leaders to “continue to act in accordance with the Church’s teaching and select volunteers based on character and conduct consistent with those teachings.” I’m assuming that means they’ll continue to disallow gay leaders, though the diocese refused to make a definitive statement.
The Catholic Diocese in Bismarck, however, was less circumspect. “Bishop David Kagan of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bismarck has ordered parishes in western North Dakota to sever sponsorship ties with the Boy Scouts of America after the group’s decision to lift its ban on gay adult leaders,” reports the Associated Press.
Maybe I’m the wrong person to criticize this decision – I’m an atheist who was raised in a Lutheran family, and I never got past Cub Scouts – but a lot of you readers have been emailing me about it, and so I’ll weigh in.
I can say that this disappoints me.
I believe in religious freedom. I believe in association rights. I don’t think any person or group should ever be forced to associate with people they don’t want to associate with, even if I’m not in agreement with their motivations. Because that’s what that “freedom” and “liberty” stuff means.
But in this instance the Boy Scouts gave religious organizations a choice. They don’t have to change a thing about how the troops they sponsor go about their business. And while troops that still preclude homosexual involvement would no doubt be asked to mingle with more inclusive troops at jamboree events and the like, it’s hard to see that as an obstacle given that Catholics are interacting with a society that has gays in it every single day.
Bishop Kagan’s decision makes Catholics look petty and unreasonable and intransigent. I understand that Catholics have strong beliefs when it comes to homosexuality, and my disagreement with those beliefs is not a valid criticism of their actions with regard to the Boy Scouts, but I can’t see how this helps a church that is increasingly perceived by the public as being out of touch.
Ours is a diverse society, and the challenge we all face each day is how to live side by side with people holding viewpoints or living lifestyles we disagree with. It’s hard, and I’d like to think that one of the duties of religious leaders is to help us find ways to live and let live.
The example Kagan sets with his decision tells us to withdraw and isolate. That’s not a lesson anyone should be happy with.