My sons were involved in the Boy Scouts of America a bit as they were growing up, especially my middle kid. We had fun: camping, making campfires, running around in the woods, setting things on fire, archery, making even bigger campfires, etc., all that important stuff. But it also made me uneasy, because the Boy Scouts of America was an awful organization. We had to keep our lack of religious belief quiet, and as more and more horrible information about their policies towards gay kids emerged, it became increasingly uncomfortable. But hey, we were straight white people who could pass for Lutherans, we didn’t have to worry about those other people, and I wasn’t aware of all the bias built into the system. What’s really a shame is that at the time my kids were into it, we lived in Philadelphia…and I didn’t know Margaret Downey, nemesis of the BSA then, and I’m proud now to know her now and her fight against their discriminatory practices.
I was kind of relieved when the kids lost interest. It’s really hard to stand up for principle and what is right when it might make your own children unhappy. If I were to do it all over again, with the knowledge I have now, I’d try to discourage them from even starting up. And I’d refuse to participate myself at all, but at the same time I wouldn’t go all Christian on them and say I’d disown them if they didn’t follow my moral principles. It’s a tough gig, having to deal with other people.
But still, the BSA is a poisonously evil organization.
And now James Croft joins in the battle, in a very good post in which he scorns the BSA and their “Declaration of Religious Principle” (you have to sign a loyalty oath to a god to join), but also the fact that the Unitarian Universalist Association has re-affiliated themselves with the scouts.
Last week the Unitarian Universalist Association – the national organization which represents all Unitarian Universalist churches in the USA, some of which are Humanist congregations, and many of which include significant numbers of Humanists – renewed ties with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), praising the recent changes they have made to policies regarding gay boy scouts and scout leaders. As I’ve written before, those changes don’t go nearly far enough: the BSA still allows local troops to discriminate against gay people, and until that policy is totally overthrown, I would be against re-affiliation. Allowing your member organizations to engage in homophobic discrimination is to be party to homophobic discrimination, and the UUA should not re-affiliate for that reason alone. Furthermore, trans boys are still not fully included in scouting, and this movement to re-affiliate by the UUA is part of a long history of trans people’s dignity being shoved aside once gay people have got what they wanted. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
But Unitarian Universalism now? The UUs have always bugged me a bit, too — you’re a religion, and you can’t even bring yourself to a specific conclusion about deities? — but I’ve been accepting because the spirit of freethought isn’t specifically about being an atheist, but about rejecting organized religion and being tolerant of other people’s ideas, but if they’re happily joining up with an intolerant organization, I can’t give them the benefit of the doubt anymore.
The Unitarian Universalist Association is the national representative of a religious movement which prides itself on radical religious inclusivity, and the BSA is manifestly not a “radically inclusive” organization. It goes out of its way to actively insult people who don’t believe in god – which includes many members of UU congregations and a number of respected UU clergy. Imagine the outcry if the UUA had re-affiliated with an organization which said similar things about Jewish people, Muslims, or Pagans: no re-affiliation would have been possible or acceptable to the UUA under such circumstances, and they certainly would not have considered such a move without consulting UU representatives of those faith traditions.
This is betrayal. There’s no other word for it. The UUA has decided which of its members are important and which are not, and atheists, agnostics, and Humanists have been unceremoniously dumped as the UUA gets back into bed with an organization which practices religious discrimination and spiritual coercion of children. There are many wonderfully affirming and inclusive Unitarian Universalist churches and clergy who are fully accepting of and welcoming to Humanists. But to those Humanist members of UU churches who reach out to me frequently to express their despair that the Unitarian Universalist Association doesn’t seem to care about them or want them, I now have only one message: you’re right.
We keep hacking these deep rifts, but it’s necessary — the guiding principle should be based on humanist ideals, not simply atheism or anti-theism, and organizations that can’t support those ideals are not allies.