July 25, 2017
Mr. Michael Surbaugh, Chief Scout Executive
Boy Scouts of America
1325 West Walnut Hill Lane
Irving, TX 75015
Dear Mr. Surbaugh:
I write as a former Cub Scout, Boy Scout, and Explorer Scout. I was inducted into the Order of the Arrow as a youth. Both of my parents were active scouting leaders: My mother served as a Den Mother and my father as a Scoutmaster. The troop I belonged to was very active in our Council and sponsored a 50-mile hike every summer. I was an active and proud participant, including serving as a junior leader. I participated in an early 1960s Jamboree in Colorado Springs. My interest in a specialty Explorer Post that had a focus on Science and Engineering was the only reason I did not complete requirements to become an Eagle Scout. Later in life, as a pastor, I mentored boys as they worked for the Religion and Life award.
Scouting was important in my formation as a youth. Emphasis on helping others, honesty, and respect for the whole earth and all of its inhabitants were important ways Scouting contributed to my development. I developed leadership skills through Scouting activities. And yet, I know that religious bigotry and homophobia have deep roots in Scouting. (My father resigned as Scoutmaster in the 1930s when the troop’s sponsoring organization refused to permit participation by two boys who identified as Jewish.) I was encouraged by the relatively recent beginning steps to reduce Scouting’s systemic homophobia. I found hope that there might be an opportunity for healing the scars from some of the old misdeeds.
Now it is with heavy heart and embarrassment for Scouting that I observe President Trump’s totally inappropriate appearance this week at the Jamboree and the response of Scouts that included booing former President Obama and Senator Clinton. For Mr. Trump to use the occasion to curse, to brag, and to promote misogyny is incredibly shameful. It is hard for me to imagine a speech more disengaged from the values Scouting espouses. I wonder what you could have possibly expected that he would say and do, and why you invited him to participate. To fall back on “it’s tradition” [to invite the President to speak to the Jamboree] is nonsense — when tradition no longer serves, it ought to be readily abandoned.
I would have expected the BSA to immediately issue a statement distancing Scouting from the President’s remarks, to restate the ethics and values that form the foundation of Scouting, and to apologize publicly for the behavior of some of those present at the speech. I have searched your website (including the press section) and looked at news and social media channels in vain for such a statement. The lack of appropriate response speaks volumes by its silence.
In addition, this would be an opportune time to declare a Jamboree emergency and hold small group gatherings among the participants to discuss values, independent thinking, and appropriate reactions to disturbing rhetoric. Some public apology would be appropriate.
I have seven grandsons. The oldest are approaching the age to begin engagement with Scouting. Should their parents ask me for advice now, I would discourage them from enrolling their boys. There are other, healthier and more appropriate, ways for them to learn independence, resilience, compassion, and personal integrity while developing leadership skills. Those seem to no longer lie at the core of Scouting.
The Rev. Duane H. Fickeisen