Of the 100,000 chartered Scouting units in the United States, 70 percent are sponsored by faith-based organizations. Some took decisive stands against loosening membership standards, while leadership from other church groups voiced murkier positions. Numerous Southern Baptist leaders voiced opposition to the policy change.
Church leaders said the decision of affiliation with the Boy Scouts would be made at the local level.
"We're going to have a long, hard discussion of our support for our local troop," said Gregg Simmons, pastor of the Dallas-area Church at the Cross in Grapevine. The new membership policy, approved by 61 percent of voting delegates, admits openly homosexual youth into its ranks but maintains the prohibition on openly homosexual adult leaders.
For five years Church at the Cross has chartered Troop No. 4. Though he could not speak for the congregation at large, Simmons said it would be difficult for him in good conscience to continue sponsoring an organization that holds unbiblical views.
The new policy is rife with moral confusion and legal ambiguity, said Ben Wright, associate pastor at High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, but he said the vote is not necessarily a "deal breaker" for High Pointe. However, progression toward acceptance of homosexual leaders would warrant another review of the relationship, Wright said.
Wright noted Boy Scout guidelines prohibit the promotion of social and political agendas within the organization but "this resolution steps right into that." Discussion with High Pointe Church elders, Wright said, led to the conclusion that the new policy inevitably will lead to the acceptance of homosexual leaders. That change will come from within the organization or be foisted upon it by a lawsuit, he predicted.
Simmons said by giving tacit approval of homosexuality the organization loses its moral bearings.
"How will they maintain 'morally straight'? They have stripped that statement of all meaning," he said, referring to the Scout Oath. "You're not just teaching young men how to build campfires."
Wright said the wording is troubling, leaving the policy open to a myriad of interpretations. The phrases "sexual orientation" and "sexual preference" remove the essential moral fiber from the language.
The phrases imply that a whole host of sexual expressions outside of heterosexuality are simply a matter of natural proclivities, not behaviors that should come under moral scrutiny, Wright said. With their carefully chosen words, the BSA Executive Committee ironically embraced a social agenda, which would be a violation of the Scout guidebook for Scouts or Scout leaders, he said.
Both pastors said their churches welcome the opportunity to minister to youth or adults who struggle with same-sex attraction.
But membership in the church depends on an individual's trust in the Gospel and desire to live according to biblical standards, Simmons said.
Several Southern Baptist leaders, including Frank Page, Richard Land, Russell Moore and SBC President Fred Luter, have been critical of the Scouts' new policy.
Page, president of the SBC's Executive Committee, said the vote "ushers in a sea-change in the credibility of the Boy Scouts of America as a viable boys' organization for millions of Americans who believe strongly in the principles of biblical morality. To claim that the Boys Scouts is the nation's foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training suddenly rings hollow."
Land, outgoing president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, advised Southern Baptist churches to withdraw their support of Scout troops and support the Royal Ambassadors ministry to boys.
Luter said, "My prayers go out to the parents and churches who have been forced to make decisions about being a part of the Boy Scouts organization. As Southern Baptists, our commitment to the Word of God and Christian values must take priority over what is 'politically correct.'"
R. Chip Turner, chairman of the BSA Religious Relationships Committee and former president of the Association of Baptists for Scouting, admitted the language of the new policy is problematic. Turner called the potentially broad interpretation of the statement "scary." But so, too, is the thought of Southern Baptist churches withdrawing from Scouting and the ministry opportunities it presents, even to young boys struggling with same-sex attraction, he said. Turner wrote an "open letter to Southern Baptists" asking them not to abandon Scouting.
"Are the evangelism and family ministry opportunities now lessened in the church's Scout unit(s)?" he asked. "Are the lost and un-enlisted any less our responsibility now? I respectfully remind us that the Great Commission remains unchanged and no vote can alter this reality. The local church still owns its Scout units and is responsible for selecting the leadership. As 'fishers of men,' are we not to go where the fish are located?"
Moore, president-elect of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission told Baptist Press at the time the decision was announced, "Few, if any, are suggesting the Boy Scouts kick out boys based on their particular temptations. We don't, and shouldn't do that in our churches, much less in the Scouts. But this change is more than this. It doesn't speak in terms of temptations but in terms of the claiming of a sexually politicized identity as morally neutral."
The revision of the membership policy "highlights how important it is for churches to speak clearly of both our love for all people, including our gay and lesbian neighbors, and the importance of God's design for human sexuality for human flourishing," Moore said. "The Gospel doesn't define us, as the culture does, in terms of our wants and desires. The Gospel addresses us, all of us, as sinners and calls us to a life of freedom and cross-bearing sacrifice."
Commenting on Turner's open letter, Roger S. Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee, said, "It is disappointing, but not surprising, that Turner's letter repeats the BSA party line -- we've changed; but don't leave us!
"The Boy Scouts have planted the seed of their own destruction. It may take a while for the seed to germinate fully, but when it does, its flower will not bear the pleasant aroma of the Gospel. As 'fishers of men,' we are to rescue men and women and boys and girls from the destructive consequences of sin, not subject them to it."
Responses from other church groups varied.
The Assemblies of God criticized passage of the resolution, noting in a statement, "We believe that the BSA policy change will lead to a mass exodus from the Boy Scout program, as Assemblies of God and many other churches can no longer support groups that are part of an organization allowing members who are openly homosexual," an Assemblies of God statement read. "In the fractured family and culture today, we recognize that many youth are struggling with sexual identity and behavior. Our Assemblies of God churches seek to help these young people experience sexual purity in their lives, and remain virgins until married to a person of the opposite sex."
Matthew Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), a conservative Lutheran denomination, sent a letter to BSA "imploring its leadership not to make the proposed policy change." In an additional letter signed by 25 Protestant leaders, Harrison used biblical mandates to outline why the proposed policy should be rejected.
Prior to the vote Vicki Biggs, director of LCMS Integrated Communications, said in an email, "We desire to maintain a relationship with BSA, but cannot compromise integrity to our religious beliefs. We will make a determination about our support and relationship with the organization after we've had time to review whatever final determination BSA arrives at regarding a change in its policies."
Rich Peck, communications director for the General Commission on United Methodist Men, said the organization would continue its affiliation with BSA. But local churches, some of which have voiced disapproval of the policy change, may choose to end their charters. The group had issued a statement in February asking the BSA Executive Board to delay the vote in order to give them more time to consider its implications.
Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, online at www.TexanOnline.net. Michael Foust and Art Toalston of Baptist Press contributed to this article.
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