In a letter Thursday (Jan. 31), the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission called on the Boy Scouts of America's leadership to reverse course on a proposal to lift its ban on homosexual troop leaders and members.
The Boy Scouts national board is expected to vote next week on a recommendation to enable each local Scouting unit to determine its policy on the issue of homosexual inclusion.
Such a change would not only represent a break with the moral values the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has held for more than a century, but it could have tragic consequences for troop members, Land said.
"ith the admission of homosexual Scout leaders, the BSA would place men, who by their own definition are sexually attracted to men, in close, supervisory proximity to teenage boys, which invites real human tragedies. We are not saying homosexuals are pedophiles," Land wrote. "However, how many parents would send their teenage daughters on camping trips with heterosexual male troop leaders? They would not -- not because they believe that such heterosexual men are pedophiles, but because they realize that under such close, supervisory care of men who by definition are attracted to women, human tragedies could, and inevitably would, occur."
Such a policy change would result in huge losses among Scouting units, Land predicted.
"Ultimately, this decision, if adopted, would lead to a mass exodus of traditional faith congregations from the Boy Scouts, including many Southern Baptists, who presently account for a sizeable percentage of sponsoring Scout units and members," he wrote in his letter to Wayne Brock, BSA's chief executive, and Wayne Perry, BSA's president.
About 70 percent of all Scouting units are owned and operated by faith-based organizations. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) leads all religious organizations with 38,000 units and 420,000 participating youth, followed by the United Methodists (11,000 units; 371,000 youth) and the Roman Catholic Church (8,570; 283,000). Baptists are sixth (4,100; 109,000).
Land joined other Southern Baptist leaders who had expressed disappointment with and opposition to the BSA proposal. Fred Luter, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, already had spoken out against the possible change.
Page urged Brock, Perry and another official in a Jan. 28 conference call not to change BSA's "sexual orientation" policy. "I believe this will be a death blow to Scouting.... I think this is a self-inflicted wound," Page said.
In a Jan. 30 column for Baptist Press, Page called for Southern Baptists to pray Sunday (Feb. 3) for the BSA board to defeat the recommendation. Many churches will observe Scout Sunday Feb. 3, a date established by the BSA.
"Focused prayer on Sunday; board meeting on Monday," Page wrote. "What a divine moment!"
Critics of the BSA proposal said it would be difficult for Scouting units that agree with the current national policy to maintain it for themselves.
Troops that retain the ban on homosexual leaders "would experience increasing pressure to capitulate on their convictions," Land said in his letter.
Lawyer Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., said the policy change would undermine an important victory the Boy Scouts achieved at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000. The justices ruled 5-4 against a challenge to the BSA's ban on homosexual leaders and members, based considerably on the organization's teaching that homosexual behavior violates its values, Whelan said.
"But if the national group abandons that teaching against homosexual conduct, it paves the way for activists to sue troops that adhere to the traditional policy and to threaten troop leaders with personal liability," Whelan wrote Friday (Feb. 1) in the New York Post. "Few troops could afford the expense and hassle of defending against these suits."
BSA leaders told Page in their conference call they are receiving internal and external pressure to revise the current policy -- one they affirmed only six months ago after a two-year review. The Boy Scouts have lost at least three corporate sponsors in recent months: UPS, Intel and the Merck Foundation. All cited the Scouts' policy on homosexual leaders in their decisions.
The Scout Oath includes these words: "On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country." In it, a Scout also pledges: "To keep myself ... morally straight."
In his letter, Land said, "The acceptance of open homosexuals into the Boy Scouts ranks would bring this commitment to biblical moral values into question."
In a Jan. 28 statement, the BSA said the recommendation to revise its policy "would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs."
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Michael Foust is associate editor. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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