By Chris Iosso and Patrick Heery
We write in response to the recent news that the Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America is poised to lift the national ban on gay scouts. We, as Eagle Scouts, stand in support of this change in policy.
We know that this change will be disturbing to some, even though troops will remain able to make their own policies on this matter locally.
We write to urge your congregations and your troops to continue with Scouting (as Girl Scout sponsors have generally done), and encourage you to consider welcoming all responsible scouts and adult volunteers into the programs you sponsor.
We both remember with pleasure the adventure, learning, and friendships that were part of our scouting years. But we do think our experience in scouting is entirely consistent with this proposed new policy.
Writing first with memories from the 1960s and ‘70s, I (Chris) remember scouting as a great opportunity to learn about the woods that remained at the edges of our growing New Jersey suburb. We learned self-reliance along with woodcraft, canoeing, camping, hiking… and how leaders protect those in their charge. I learned to march, to teach, and to organize younger scouts, not to bully or exclude them. I also remember the generous men of my church and neighborhood who volunteered their time, even after their own sons had graduated high school. It is this understanding of leadership as generative giving that marks my view of scouting. On the matter of accepting any boy of any race, background, or orientation, I see this as the Scouts reclaiming some of their leadership role in society and I welcome it.
From the years 1996–2003, I (Patrick) joined a hundred or so other scouts every Tuesday evening in a Cincinnati, Ohio, church basement: the same church that had baptized me. After six years of speech therapy and bullying, I was extremely quiet when I first started Scouting. And yet it was my Scoutmaster who encouraged this shy boy to become the Chaplain’s Aide. And it was my Scoutmaster who, after I nervously gave a public prayer before Scout campers and their families, told me how well I had spoken and what courage it took to speak before so many people—a moment that, unbeknownst to me, would be the beginning of my calling to ministry. No one had ever praised me for speaking before. No one had ever called me brave before.
In Scouts, I could hike and be outdoors; I could pray and worship; I could learn and think creatively about the conservation of God’s earth. Scouting for me fused spirituality, love of nature, and civic responsibility. Scouting was about breaking free of old constraints, whether speech impediments or prejudices. And so, when I went before the committee that was to examine my qualifications for becoming an Eagle Scout, I told them that I vehemently objected to the Boy Scout policy of exclusion of gay scouts and that, in becoming an Eagle Scout, I would work for the change of that policy. This was not courage on my part; this was just me doing what Boy Scouts do.
So please understand this: WE are Eagle Scouts. We are Christians. We are ministers ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). And we support the full inclusion of gay, bisexual, and transgender boys in the Boy Scouts of America. For us, there is no contradiction. There is no way for us to be true to our oath as Eagle Scouts without affirming the dignity and inclusion of all God’s children. We do not set aside our morality in making this decision; we embrace it. This is a moral choice.
Some have lamented what they believe to be the end of the Boy Scout legacy of creating great leaders who stand firm in the face of adversity. But that is not only a legacy; it is a present reality. And while many of us would like to see a stronger policy guaranteeing protection for gay Scouts, the truth is that the lifting of this ban will provide an opportunity for Scouts all over this great nation to discuss and wrestle with these questions—to do so bravely and openly as leaders for today.
We welcome correspondence with others in our church on this matter, and will share our letter with the Executive Board as a witness to how some churches are maintaining, even amplifying, their support for scouting under this new policy.
– Rev. Dr. Chris Iosso, Eagle Scout (1972)
– Rev. Patrick Heery, Eagle Scout (2002), Order of the Arrow