What my Catholic son has learned from the Boy Scouts—and what President Trump misses

President Donald Trump, front left, gestures as former boys scouts, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, left, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, watch at the 2017 National Boy Scout Jamboree at the Summit in Glen Jean,W. Va., Monday, July 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

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.

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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.

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Eileen Malloy
1 year 2 months ago

I am proud of President Trump and have opposite views of this article's author. The author here is in the minority, the overwhelming response to the President's speech was applause, cheers, and thanks. Trump's cabinet is loaded with former scouts and Eagle Scouts. Trump speaks for many, and the majority, of great Scouting families nationwide. That's why the applause was so great. God Bless Donald J. Trump, who is against the evils and anti-Catholic media (I.e pushing transgenderism on innocent youth, etc). The Democrat Party removed "God" from their platform and openly supports abortion, something no caring or loving Catholic can reconcile. Trump also wants to end the wars and help the poor and underemployed get jobs back in America, and end the inner city violence which Obama did nothing to stop.

Mary Therese LEMANEK
1 year 2 months ago

this is far from a minority response to the President's comments that were completely inappropriate for the occasion and inconsistent with the stated values of the Boy Scouts. For a Cabinet "loaded with former scouts and Eagle Scouts" as well as many who identify as devoted Christians, this administration has gone out of its way to act in a way that is far afield from Matthew 5:1-7 which is pretty much the core of discipleship.

Kevin Murphy
1 year 2 months ago

And why is this piece on a Catholic website, outside of the fact that it bashes Trump? I guess that is the only reason.

MJ Painter
1 year 2 months ago

Why? "Gregory Hillis is an associate professor of theology at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky."

Jim MacGregor
1 year 2 months ago

That, of itself, is a qualification?

Kevin Murphy
1 year 2 months ago

So? Just because he's a Catholic makes it a Catholic issue?

Philip Fabiano
1 year 2 months ago

These are the Boy Scout values I remember: the duty to self, to be clean in your speech and actions, a call to be morally straight, to live your life with honesty, to be a person of strong character. 45 is no Boy Scout. Tell me what you see in this President that even remotely resembles those values? President Obama however does come to mind.

Jim MacGregor
1 year 2 months ago

As a boy, I was the only non-Jewish scout in my troop. The leaders - sponsor and scoutmasters - were Jewish. It was a wonderful experience that I shall long cherish. We learned citizenship, character, and scout skills. Our troop motto was "If you can't say something good about a person, don't say anything at all." The leaders showed me off proudly when I earned my Catholic Ad Altare Dei medal. Our sponsor took an exceptionally personal interest in us - even to maintain regular contact with out parents by telephone and neighborhood visits.

James Haraldson
1 year 2 months ago

After eight years of an administration that openly mocked, threatened, and persecuted Christians, especially pro-lifers, not only in America, but around the world, and tied foreign aid to countries mandating that they liberalize their abortion laws, I am thankful to God that we can celebrate an election on any and all occasions where we were spared the monstrous evilness of another fanatical anti-Christian bigot like Hillary Clinton from getting into the White House. Undoubtedly this disappoints the sort of Christians of “America Magazine,” always more interested in not disappointing the expectations of liberal secularists than absorbing their persecution, and who want to keep the poor forever poor, the sexually confused forever confused, and the inconvenient lives forever dead, but the rest of us can celebrate.

MJ Painter
1 year 2 months ago

Anyone who begins a speech to 12-18 year-olds with "Who the hell wants to speak about politics?" is a disgrace.—especially when he proceeds to do just that.

Frank Bergen
1 year 2 months ago

Reading the diverse comments I am reminded of a new book which I've just ordered and which perhaps everyone who bothers to comment on articles like that of Prof. Hillis should read: One Nation Undecided: Clear Thinking about Five Hard Issues That Divide Us by Schuck, P.H., published by Princeton University Press. For myself, it seems abundantly obvious that POTUS's speech as reported was bigly inappropriate for the audience.

JOE BLISS
1 year 2 months ago

I will comment on the editorial policy of America. As a long time reader (approx 50 yrs) I am disturbed by the editorial leaning of the America staff. It is definitely to the left. Your comments definitely flow in that direction. I read your magazine to obtain a Catholic position on various current events. I am disturbed by your consistent comments in one direction. I appreciate your reader's comments in all directions but please avoid your emphasis in one direction. Your emphasis gives a distorted view of Catholic opinion. It is strange that I trace my conservative views back to my Catholic education in the South Bronx. Value of the individual, responsibility for each other, acknowledgement that all our gifts and talents come from GOD. Government fills a necessary place in our lives but is not the final answer.

Frank Bergen
1 year 2 months ago

Alas, how we differ. I trace my conversion from a 16 year-old supporter of Bob Taft in 1952 to a somewhat more mature liberal by the early 1960s to three years as an undergrad at Jesuit Fairfield University and 17 years as a Jesuit. I am what I am and I agree with Joe Bliss's final two sentences. It would be hard not to. But I read America differently, finding its choice of material and its editorial content to be very careful to offer balance, sometimes so much so as to irk me. But I ask myself and any who read my comments: if it be 'left leaning' to advocate a consistent ethic of life -- no abortion, no death penalty, comprehensive health care for all, living wages, war as a very last resort, etc., etc. -- what is unCatholic about such a tilt?

Douglas Fang
1 year 2 months ago

What can you expect from a chronic and compulsive liar like Trump? I never saw anyone who lies unashamedly in my 50 years of my life. He has been lying almost every day since the beginning of the year. God, who is the Truth, does not this kind of liar to serve Him.

Here is the chronicle of his lies sine 1/1/17 -
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/23/opinion/trumps-lies.html…

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 year 2 months ago

Mr Fang
You are certainly correct that President Trump engages in chronic and seemingly compulsive behavior. But any reasonable review of the chronicle of his "lies" as compiled by the ever self absorbed New York Times demonstrates that substantially all of the subject statements are self aggrandizing ,self defensive, self importance BS.No group of people has relied on those "lies" to their detriment other than to be infuriated, exasperated , and flummoxed.
I suggest you compare the impact of those statements on the average American with the impact of President Obama's infamous statements on The Affordable Care Act: "If you like your Plan, you can keep your Plan.....If you like your Doctor you can keep your Doctor.......Your annual premium will go down byan average of $2500 per year"
The ACA could not have passed without those statements and the singular untruth contained in those statements has caused massive actual harm to millions of Americans who did lose their Plans and their Doctors and suffered enormous increases in costs and deductibles. And a cost to date of over $3 Trillion to the National Debt. Even your beloved Boswell the New York Times has documented these Obama lies and their enormous adverse effects.
So If you are appalled by Trump's thin skin and his BS "lies"/responses that have only served to enrage you , what is the proper response to a President whose lies have actually and demonstrably harmed millions?

John Walton
1 year 2 months ago

To those offended by Trumps language: You can be assured that they never heard those words in junior high school. And as Prof Hillis' son is in a pack associated with a synagogue, I am confident he has developed a bilingual ability to swear and use off color language .

Perhaps reviewing the opening scenes of "A Christmas Story" will refresh your memory of how often the typical father will fill the air with expletives. I even recall hearing them uttered at the 106dB level by a Jesuit scholastic in my high school 50 years ago.

Trump knows how to connect with an audience, it's just not Rachel Madow's audience.

Douglas Fang
1 year 2 months ago

Another 26 hours, another 29 lies/misleading claims:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2017/07/26/26-hours…

Trump is thrashing the Office of the President and turns it irrelevant. It makes the leader of the strongest country in the history of mankind a laughing stock. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”. Instead of delivery a big tax cut, big financial reform, big infrastructure spending, big wall, big repeal and replace of Obamacare, he can only deliver big lies!

Lisa Weber
1 year 2 months ago

Donald Trump is a disgrace to the presidency and the nation. What does a Catholic adolescent learn when this man was supported by some Catholic bishops?

Nicholas Clifford
1 year 2 months ago

If Hillis is posting a "minority" view, it seems curious that Mr. Trump fell quite a bit short of the majority popular vote in the election last November.
On the other hand, I was far from surprised by his speech. What on earth should anyone have expected from an insecure little man like him?

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