Boy Scouts dilemma isn’t a win-or-lose proposition

They used to be America’s darlings, no question about it. Dressed in sharp, camp uniforms dotted with pins and medals, these boys represented everything good about America. Now, it seems people either love the Boys Scouts or hate them.

In an effort to make a political and moral statement about the Boy Scouts’ decision barring gay men from serving as Scout masters, some people on both sides of the controversial issue may be tempted to use United Way as a tool in their tug-of-war. Such efforts would be futile and actually self-defeating.

Enough with the anger, paranoia and threats. It’s time for both sides to step back from the situation and look at it from a different perspective.

One thing is certain: There is little, if any common ground. One side will not be swayed to join the other.

At the Snohomish County United Way the calls have been divided about evenly, said President Brent Stewart. "It’s something that’s on the minds of everyone in the community," Stewart said, adding that he and his co-workers even get stopped in public by people who know them and want to throw in their two-cents.

Stewart looks at the calls as showing how concerned residents are about their community — how much they care.

But the biggest concern is that all that care will become politicized and hurt less recognized agencies under the United Way umbrella. If people on either side of the matter decide to punish United Way by withdrawing their generous donations, they will really hurt the people in their own community. And for what? United Way is very flexible about how people can give money. In fact, they’re about as flexible as you can get. People can give money any which way they want. They can give directly to United Way’s general pot and let the agency allocate it. Or they can designate which agencies they’d like to give to. They can even give to agencies that aren’t client organizations of United Way. Or they can do a little bit of everything.

If you want to give to United Way, but you don’t want the Boy Scouts to benefit from your donation, just say so. If you want to give just to the Boy Scouts, United Way workers will make sure the Scouts get the money.

Remember the heated debate about 10 years ago when people protested Planned Parenthood being a member of United Way of King County? Planned Parenthood was dropped as a member. But it actually worked to Planned Parenthood’s advantage. It now collects twice as much money through designated donations than it ever did as a client organization. If the Boy Scouts end up in the same position, it certainly won’t be the end of the world.

At least for now, the Snohomish County United Way will continue to keep the Boy Scouts Mount Baker Council as a client member. But that could change.

"What our board is grappling with is what is the organization’s values as it relates to discrimination," Stewart said. "Do we need to expand that description or hold on to what have now? We’re looking at it at a higher level. What are our values?"

The council scout executive for the Boy Scouts’ Mount Baker Council, Duane Rhodes, understands that. While expressing some disappointment that United Way didn’t stick by its current policy and just leave it at that, Rhodes said he knows that the charity must look at everyone’s viewpoint. If only we could all be as mature about this at Stewart and Rhodes appear to be.

Whatever decision the United Way board comes to, it makes sense for the organization to review its own policies and values. Any decision is not meant to punish the Scouts or teach them a lesson. That’s not United Way’s job or role in our community. And no one should force that upon them.


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