What my Catholic son has learned from the Boy Scouts—and what President Trump misses
When I heard President Trump’s address to the Boy Scout Jamboree last night, I was appalled. It was not just his politicizing of the address that bothered me, although he broke with tradition by doing so. What bothered me chiefly was the way in which he distorted the purpose of the Boy Scouts for his own ends.
Two years ago, my 12-year-old son became a Boy Scout. We found an active troop, which has boys of all ages and is led by a dedicated group of parents and volunteers. The troop is sponsored by a synagogue, and non-Jewish troop participants are encouraged to understand a faith tradition other than their own and, in the process, are led to understand more thoroughly their own faith traditions.
When I heard President Trump’s address to the Boy Scout Jamboree last night, I was appalled.
My son found a home in this troop. He made friends, learned new skills and accomplished new tasks. As he participated in monthly camping outings and in summer camp, we noticed him becoming more independent and resourceful. And as he grew in solidarity with his fellow Boy Scouts, we noticed how he embodied the Scout Law, particularly the law’s exhortation to be loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind and reverent.
All of this was especially apparent when tragedy struck the troop last year. On one of the monthly outings, a freak accident resulted in the death of a young scout. When the accident happened, the adult leaders along with Boy Scouts did everything they could to save the boy’s life.
What my son experienced was the kind of generous love that is at the heart of our own eucharistic communion as Catholics.
At the funeral Mass, scouts throughout the city created an honor guard and prayed for this boy, together entrusting him to the love and mercy of God. While his death shook the troop and shook my son, the tragedy also led scouts, leaders and parents to grow in their love for one another and to recognize more fully their responsibility to and for one another.
What my son experienced, in other words, was the kind of generous love that is at the heart of our own eucharistic communion as Catholics and that is extended to our brothers and sisters of any and no faith.
This was the Boy Scouts at its finest.
Whereas I have witnessed scouting foster love, solidarity and care for the suffering, Mr. Trump inflicted his vision of division, individualism and American exceptionalism on a group of Boy Scouts. He insulted the “fake media,” Hillary Clinton and President Obama. He bragged about his electoral victory and the size of the crowd. On top of that, he claimed his hyper-partisan message was rooted in the values of scouting itself. And while I was disturbed by the favorable reaction of some scouts to the president’s message (cheers and boos erupted on cue), I am encouraged by the response of other scouts and parents who, like me, understand scouting to offer values very much different than those presented by the president last night and who have vocalized their opposition to his speech.
Next week I will take my son to his troop meeting, and I will likely have a long conversation with the troopmaster and with the other adult leaders who were present at the Jamboree. I expect that their reaction to the president’s speech will be similar to my own. And when the boys recite the Scout Oath and Law, I am sure my son will recognize in those words scouting as it really is and not the distorted picture painted by the president.