Philanthropy Journal of North Carolina – Banning gays, shunning scouts

By Todd Cohen

Sex is testing three of America’s biggest charities — and their donors.

Dismissing homosexuality as contrary to its values of brotherhood, the Boy Scouts of America have banned gays.

And rejecting charity that excludes people because of their sexual orientation, some local United Way affiliates are shunning the Scouts.

Both decisions, undoubtedly difficult to make, are rooted in strongly held principles.

Regardless of the merits of their respective positions, the Scouts and United Way each at least has had the confidence in its values to take a stand.

The same cannot be said for the Catholic Church, paralyzed by the sex-abuse epidemic it has hidden under its robes.

Instead of policing pedophile priests, the church has unleashed them on the children in its care.

Now the marketplace – in the form of donors, volunteers and members – will decide whether these three organizations should be rewarded or punished for the positions they have taken or failed to take.

Oddly, while the Scouts and United Way differ from one another on the issue of homosexuality, both groups are practicing a form of exclusionary philanthropy.

The Scouts, sadly and wrongly, seem to equate homosexuality with the pathology the Catholic Church has opted to institutionalize.

And the United Way, while justifiably upset about discrimination against gays, may be forcing its own donors to choose between it and the Scouts.

That’s a doubly tough position for the United Way, which already is grappling with an identity crisis triggered in part by demands by donors for greater choices in the charities they can support through the United Way.

So the Scouts and United Way both risk losing support because one will not abide homosexuals, and the other will not tolerate what it sees as discrimination.

The Catholic Church should be burdened by such moral dilemmas: It faces the serious prospect of vacant pews and empty collection plates, not because it took a principled stand, but because it failed to stand up for children menaced by thugs in priests’ clothing.

Charities everywhere are under fire. They’re expected to fix our toughest problems, do more with less, and be more efficient, effective and accountable for the resources entrusted to them.

Above all, they’re expected to be leaders, taking on tough social problems and serving their communities with compassion.

As always, the job of helping charities meet their challenges falls to donors, volunteers and members, who must assess charities not only for the work they do, but also for the way they go about doing it.

That job can be tough, especially in the case of these three charities: Sexuality is the fact of life that, along with death, Americans are most reluctant to confront.

So in assessing the decisions of the Scouts, United Way and Catholic Church, their supporters have a rare opportunity to think about the role that sexuality should play in an endeavor – philanthropy – rooted in “love of mankind.”

The challenge for donors, volunteers and members is to exercise leadership for the charities they care about by finding ways to support them that will help, not hurt, the very people those charities exist to serve.

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