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'Nasty internal fight' or 'strategic pause': Boy Scouts supporters weigh delay on gays

Darrell Byers / Reuters

A crowd of Scouts, parents and supporters gather during a prayer vigil at the Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Irving, Texas, February 6, 2013.

Since the Boy Scouts of America announced last week that it may end its ban on gay Scouts and leaders, NBC News has received hundreds of emails from Scoutmasters, parents, Scouts and various church representatives sounding off on the issue. Some rejected lifting the exclusion of gays, others welcomed it and yet others called for more time to deliberate on the matter.

When the BSA said Wednesday that it would take more time to decide the issue, holding a vote on it in May, NBC received more email, as passionate as always, on one of America's most popular private youth organizations. A selection of the reader responses is included below:

“I am grateful that the Boy Scouts Executive Board had decided to take time to more carefully consider the future of the BSA and to facilitate a discussion with the National Council in May. I am still greatly concerned that an unyielding outside group is determined to force their views not only on BSA National but to bully their opinions over my and many other BSA chartering organizations 1st Amendment rights. The single minded agenda to have Scouting conform to their view or destroy it even when churches like mine have been very active in building, supporting and sustaining Scouting for 100 years is more than frustrating and feels more like I’m being persecuted for my beliefs. It is my hope that peace will be restored and that a different ‘Scouting’ organization can be organized so the Scouting program I have been part of for 14 years and has contributed so much good to this country can continue.”

-- Tristam Harrington, 50, Okemos, Mich. He is involved in Scouting through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Courtesy of Nate Harrington

Tristam Harrington and his son, Nate, when he received his Life Scout rank in 2009.

“In the Scout Oath, every Scout promises to act with integrity -- that's what it means to be ‘morally straight.’ The Boy Scouts of America has a similar obligation to stay true to itself and its mission to help boys become honorable men. Although I think the compromise they suggested is a reasonable one, I don't begrudge BSA National taking extra time to make sure they are doing the right thing for Scouting.”

-- Karen Harrington, 54, wife of Tristam. Their son is an Eagle Scout

“Calming words from our council exec notwithstanding, this is already starting to look like a good old bare knuckles bar room brawl. In their attempt to appear reasonable, and attempt to dodge the bullet, our national executive board didn't realize they had opened Pandora's box.  To put it mildly, this will put a serious strain on the institution. At worst, it will tear it so badly it may be the end of it … People think Boy Scouting, at only 2.7 million Scouts, somehow will continue to hold the mantle of our nation's boy-led, character building, outdoor loving, you name it, youth organization. At some point, the need for same will simply overtake the current institution, as a new one grows and ends up totally eclipsing them. Heaven help BSA if it validates the current policy in May. That'll be the end of 'Boy Scouts', at least until their new competitor drives them into bankruptcy and then quite possibly assumes the name again … They could have avoided this nasty internal fight, already taking place all the way down to the unit level, simply by making a principled stand for the future of Scouting.  Alas, their courage escaped them.”

-- Steve Gates, Taos, N.M., Scoutmaster Troop 98


Jim Grace Photography

Steve Gates, Scoutmaster of Troop 98 in Taos, N.M., rowing a cataraft on a Scout trip.

“The strategic pause just announced by the National Committee is absolutely the right thing to do. Many of us volunteers were caught off guard by the sudden announcement of a vote on an issue this important to the core organization. Something of this significant a change calls for careful reflection and a thorough discussion with the membership and the chartering organizations … If the scouts were to lift the ban and incorporate this change, it should be done because it is the right thing to do.  The core lesson we teach the youth in the Scouting program is that there is a creator, that the creator put us on the planet for a purpose, and that there is a moral compass that we should utilize to govern our lives.  That moral compass is more important than money or peer pressure.  I would strongly suggest that that moral compass should be applied to this forth-coming discussion and decision. If we make any changes to the core values of Scouting because of head-count pressure or corporate donors, than we are making this change for the wrong reasons. And we will have invalidated the message I have been espousing for ten years … We need to allow everyone the opportunity to participate.”

-- Terry Burke, 54, Collinsville, Ill., Assistant Scoutmaster, Troop 1048

I for one am excited and happy that the gay issue with BSA has been tabled, and the scouts are safe once again, for now. I do not nor will I accept a gay leader to lead and mentor my son, anywhere. Young boys minds are very impressionable. I'm not saying that gays would touch my son physically, but could effect him mentally. The family unit is being trodden down and torn apart … I say no, a Big no. Our scout (11 yrs old) will be receiving his Arrow of Light very soon, and leaving Cub Scouts in a few weeks to go into Boy Scouts. If gays are let in, he will NOT be continuing on in his Scouting, which is sad indeed. I'm sorry about the gays missing out on Scouting, but they knew what the standards where when they joined, Morally straight! This will destroy Scouting if it is allowed, soon they will want to make lots of changes, like taking God out too. Gay is gay and straight is straight. Enough is enough.

-- Linda Bergener, 60, Havelock, N.C., parent of a Scout

My wife and I discussed this last night and we are both in continued disbelief that a decision on sanctioning discrimination ‘would require more discussion for all in Scouting.’ With that said, he (8-year-old son) is going to finish out the school year (in the Boy Scouts) and then we will reassess. I don’t think either of us feel particularly good about it or the organization as a whole, but having the discussion with our son in light of inaction on the part of the Scouts is a bit more abstract than if there had been a decision to point to. It feels like a cop-out and we are both very conflicted, but we aren’t going to do anything at this time.”

-- Zach Conen, Radnor, Penn. His son is in Wolf Den Pack 19. He has been considering removing his son over the ban.

“I earned my Eagle Scout award when I was 13 years old, though I was not openly gay at the time. I was also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which you know is one of the largest religious supporters of BSA. … I am in full support of the change to allow gay members into the Boy Scouts of America, and I am quite disappointed that it is taking BSA and the LDS Church this long to realize their foolish policies. Whether they like it or not, BSA is full of gays though they may not be 'out', so their fears of boys being attracted to other boys and leaders to leaders etc., doesn't make much sense seeing that it is happening already.”

-- Tristan Schulthies, 22, student at Southern Virginia University

“The last line in the Boy Scout Oath says that Scouts will do their best to keep themselves morally straight.  The left-leaning liberals in this world are tearing at the very moral fibers that have held this country together for nearly 250 years. Our elected leaders of late have bowed to those liberal pressures, allowing same-sex marriages and equal benefits for gays and lesbians. Morally, it’s not right and not what God intended for us. I applaud the Boy Scouts for resisting the pressure to allow gays into the program up until now.  I hope, not only for the future of the Boy Scouts, but for the future of this country, that the ban is upheld. It’s time that someone shows some backbone and agrees with that last line of the Scout Oath, to keep the organization morally straight. Otherwise, they need to drop that part out of the Scout Oath since they will no longer be supporting a morally straight organization. That’s when I, as well as many other volunteer leaders, will also drop out.”

-- Stuart Lewis, 61, Knoxville, Tenn., Assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 15 in the Toqua District

“I write to you today to discuss my feelings on the National Council's decision to postpone their vote. In a word I am, devastated. The attention that is being brought to this organization, of which I've spent the last 16 years of my life in, is in no way beneficial to the youth involved. I have been a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, a Troop leader, and a camp counselor. Yet in all of that time the subject of sexual orientation has never come up. The sexual orientation of a child, or of an adult doesn't impact their ability to teach knots, or their desire to learn outdoor skills. I am ashamed to be associated with this organization. As a child in the program my leaders taught me acceptance and tolerance, The Scout law says friendly, not homophobic or hateful. I saw other Scouts who I went to school with leading double lives. They'd be with their boyfriends at school and then at Scouts that night, telling stories of their dates that weekend but being careful to make sure all the ‘he's’ came out as ‘she's’. I have gay friends and gay co-workers who I'm embarrassed to be around. It's awful to think that because I wanted to go camping as a child, I must bear title of homophobe. I believe that the National Council is on the wrong side of history. This discussion will be looked back at the same way we look at the pictures taken outside of the University of Alabama in 1963, or of those showing segregated water fountains.”

-- Andrew Coleman, 22, Eagle Scout, Fitchburg, Mass.


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If you are a current or former member of the Boy Scouts and would like to share your thoughts on how your troop, pack or council is handling the BSA's decision on the membership policy, you can email the reporter at miranda.leitsinger@msnbc.com. We may use some comments for a follow-up story, so please specify if your remarks can be used and provide your name, hometown, age, Boy Scout affiliation and a phone number.