I  'm forced to go way back in my memory banks to write this. It's a far trip. Fifty years, at least.

I've been thinking a lot lately about my years in the Boy Scouts. I don't recall exactly how many years it was, but say three or four years as a Cub Scout, another five or so as a Boy Scout and then a short time as an Explorer. It was a huge part of my life between the ages of about 7 and 17.

So about 10 years altogether, I guess.

And it played a significant role in my becoming -- for better or worse -- the person I am today.

It doesn't get all the credit (or blame), but it gets its fair share.

Boy Scout Troop 149, sponsored by St. Paul Lutheran Church on Trinity Road west of York, was my scouting base of operations. Being sponsored by a church, the troop clearly had a religious connection. We wore our uniforms to church services on special occasions.

We said the Lord's Prayer at the start of every meeting. We held most of our meetings at the church. Most, if not all, of the adult leaders were church members. And most, though not all, of the Scouts attended the church.

Yet not once in the 10 years I participated in the Boy Scouts program did I ever hear anyone say anything even remotely disparaging about gays or homosexuals. It just never came up.

Were any of our adult leaders gay? I don't think so, but I could be wrong about that I guess. Were any of the 25-or-so boys in the troop gay? Or did they become gay later on? I don't think so. But they could have been.

And if they had been, I don't think it would have mattered. It certainly would not have mattered to me.

In my day -- I know, it was 50 years ago -- scouting was about preparing young men for life after scouting.

It was about camping and learning to tie knots and hiking and identifying leaves and trees and building bridges across creeks and campfires and cooking on an open fire and performing good deeds and watching out for each other.

We were an active troop, one that frequently went camping for weekends or a week at a time. We participated in the camping jamboree every year on the property of Col. Mahlon N. Haines -- the shoe wizard -- east of York. We went to Camp Tuckahoe. We hiked the Appalachian Trail. We built a full-sized log cabin from scratch, as far as I know the only troop in America to have done that.

So we were busy. We didn't waste our time poking our noses where they weren't invited and didn't belong.

So when I read -- and I've been reading it a lot the last year or so -- about the Boy Scouts of America having an issue with allowing gays in their program, as adult leaders or as Boy Scouts, I'm somewhat taken aback.

This is not the Scouts I knew. Here in York County, about four months ago, the United Way informed the local Boy Scouts' New Birth of Freedom Council that it would lose its United Way funding if it didn't change its policy banning openly gay youth or adults.

The conflict arose because the United Way has a policy against discrimination for sexual orientation.

The local Scout council takes its marching orders from the national executive board, which early last week said it was working on a possible change in its membership policy in favor of permitting gays to participate in scouting.

The proposal it was considering would allow the religious and civic groups that sponsor troops to decide for themselves whether to continue banning gays or offering them memberships.

Then, in a matter of a few days, it said it would delay a decision until May.

The Boy Scouts of America's National Executive Board released a statement saying that due to the complexity of the issue, the organization needed more time to make a more deliberate review of its membership policy.

Hogwash.

All of a sudden, hostility toward gays and homosexuals has become a rite of passage for Boy Scouts.

And I don't get it.

After all these years, I still remember the Boy Scout slogan: "Do a good turn daily."

I also recall the Boy Scout motto: "Be Prepared."

I always considered Boy Scouts, an organization with 2.7 million youth members and another one million adult volunteer leaders, to be all about values and preparing youth to make ethical and moral decisions throughout their lifetimes.

That was the mission of Boy Scout Troop 149, say about 50 years ago.

I know that because I lived it.

Preparing young men for life after scouting. Preparing them to live in the real world with all sorts of people, people who have made life choices different from ours. And do it without discrimination.

And if you truly believe homosexuality is an abomination to God, then doesn't it make sense that you should make an effort to invite gays and lesbians into the fold -- remember most Boy Scout troops have a religious affiliation -- not cast them out?

Because churches, and Boy Scout troops by extension, must be a place where sinners -- if you think that's what gays and lesbians are -- should be welcomed. I can't help but think that's what God would want.

The Scout Oath hasn't changed in 50 years, has it? In my day it went like this: "On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight."

It doesn't get much more ethical or moral than this.

Because discrimination, for any reason, is wrong -- and we all know it.

If a Boy Scout learns anything, he should learn that much.

Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhicks@yorkdispatch.com.