WHEELING - Since its inception in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America has endeavored to be a positive, educational and fun program for the male youth of America.
While always stressing traditional values, the BSA took a momentous step recently when it announced it was looking into heading in a new direction by relaxing its prohibition against allowing gay individuals to participate as members and adult leaders and leave it to the discretion of local units and sponsoring institutions.
The Scouts' original founders developed rules based on long-held religious and moral standards, military codes of ethics, good citizenship, outdoor activities and Native American traditions. The Scout Oath and Law exemplify these standards. The organization has always excluded both gays and atheists from its leadership ranks.
More than 300 boys and adult leaders from the Ohio River Valley Council take part in the annual Klondike Derby at Fort Steuben Scout Reservation, near Deersville in Harrison County. The event requires boys to pull a sled to various stations around the camp, where they perform different Scout skills and various other tasks.
Photo by Art Limann
Recent developments show an understanding by national Scout leadership that these long-held, traditional values are changing in the country, and the scouting program must change with the times.
Scout spokesman Deron Smith said, "The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members or parents," referring to making the issue a local matter.
Scout leaders initially planned to deal with the matter earlier this month, but decided to delay the decision.
"After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America's National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy," a statement from the national council read. "To that end, the executive board directed its committees to further engage representatives of scouting's membership and listen to their perspectives and concerns. This will assist the officers' work on a resolution on membership standards. The approximately 1,400 voting members of the national council will take action on the resolution at the national meeting in May 2013."
Smith also noted that a change in the policy toward atheists was not being considered, and the BSA continued to view "Duty to God" as one of its basic principles.
Local Ohio River Valley Council Scout Executive Bob Drury addressed the matter in a letter he sent to sponsoring institutions and local leaders. "The only thing I can say with absolute certainty is the mission of the Ohio River Valley Council ... is the same today as it was last week. Our mission is to provide the youth of our community the opportunity to participate in a quality character development program.
"The values in society have changed. In as much as I would like to see this be over, I think the decision to delay is the right one to get a good cross-section from across the country. The larger group of people will represent councils from all over the country. It's really the only way to do it."
The Ohio River Valley Council will be sending three voting representatives to the May meeting and is currently inviting input from local scouters and sponsoring institutional representatives.
Other aspects of the scouting program, Drury said, are always evolving as well. He pointed to the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) initiative, which encourages the natural curiosity of youth members and their sense of wonder about these fields through programs such as archery and welding.
It has led to the development of merit badges such as robotics, computer, and chess, which Drury said is aimed at developing and teaching active thinking skills. There also have been changes in uniform design, and regular updates in the Boy Scout Handbook, rank requirements and the admission of women as scoutmasters and in other leadership positions.
As far as the future, Drury noted, "Kids today are different from what they were. This is forcing the Boy Scouts to change as well. It has tried to address some of these things to give kids life skills that will be critical to them in the future.
"It wasn't too long ago I could take an educated guess and tell you what things would be like in 10 years, and be pretty close. Now, it would be hard for me to predict what things will be like in 18 months."
He stressed that the core values and program as a whole, while changing with the times, will never change locally or on the national level.