Among the concerns addressed by Southern Baptist leaders are whether churches should embrace an organization that openly opposes biblical standards for morality, whether churches will be caught up in litigation resulting from the policy change and how the Scouts will protect boys from a potential increase in sexual abuse of children.
In an official statement of the Association of Baptists for Scouting released to Baptist Press June 6, A.J. Smith, the organization's president, set forth four points interpreting the change in the Boy Scouts' membership policy. National Scouting officials, he said, signed off on his interpretations.
The BSA policy change approved in May, Smith said, "clearly states that sexual activity among Scout-aged youth is contrary to Scouting virtues." Therefore, he concluded, a Scouting unit "could have in its statement a list of behavioral expectations regarding sexual abstinence as a condition of membership."
The new BSA policy "does not say that a youth may not be denied membership if his behavior becomes a distraction to the program or the performance of the unit," Smith said.
A third interpretation Smith set forth is that the new policy "does not require that a church-chartered unit affirm the moral acceptability of same-sex attraction."
Churches, Smith said, retain the right under the resolution "to ask adult leaders to exemplify by word and example the positive nature of traditional, heterosexual marriage as their recognized standard what it means to be morally straight."
Officials from the Boy Scouts of America, including their general counsel, told Smith his interpretations were correct as long as a charter organization did not try to exclude a boy solely on the basis of his perceived sexual orientation.
"In short, Baptist churches that charter Scout units have the power to enforce a code of conduct on the boys that precludes their ability to engage in any kind of sexual activity and to bring disciplinary measures to bear on youth who violate the code of conduct," Smith wrote in asking churches to continue to participate in Scouting as a way of reaching youth who might not otherwise be reached with the Gospel.
R. Chip Turner, chairman of the Boy Scouts of America Religious Relationships Task Force and a past president of the Association of Baptists for Scouting, wrote an open letter to Southern Baptists in the same spirit as Smith's statement, encouraging Baptists not to pull out of Scouting.
"As 'fishers of men,' are we not to go where the fish are located? In the case of church-based Scout units, there are unreached people already in your buildings," Turner wrote, adding that Baptists should be "at the forefront in helping youth find answers which are biblically-based."
"Shall we abandon an organization which needs our influence now more than ever?" Turner wrote.
The Atlanta-area church led by former SBC president Bryant Wright has announced an end to its affiliation with the Boy Scouts over the BSA acceptance of openly homosexual members.
"One of the reasons we've loved Boy Scouts is because so many non-Christians and unchurched people have come into our Scout troop, and then some of those -- not many, but some - do wind up not only coming to Christ, but coming into the church," Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, told Baptist Press June 10. "So it's with great grief that we've made this decision. It's frustrating to us because it's been forced upon us because of the actions of the Boy Scouts."
Wright said other churches may have a different view about whether to break relations now with the Scouts or continue their partnerships and see what direction the BSA takes in the future. While Johnson Ferry will continue to work with boys to help them finish as an Eagle Scout with the church's troop, Wright said the church decided it needed to take action now.
Wright explained the decision to Johnson Ferry members in a video posted on the church's website, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
"Unfortunately, the recent decision to affirm participation by homosexual Scouts puts Johnson Ferry in a very challenging position. And here's why: As followers of Jesus Christ, we have committed our lives to become more and more like Him...," Wright said.
Acceptance of people, Wright said, does not entail "affirmation of their sin. When a young boy, who is struggling with sexual identity or feels he is gay, comes to his Scout leader for counseling and advice, we're committed to pray with that young man and urge him to live a life of sexual purity consistent with God's Word.
"Obviously, he would not be expelled from our troop, as would be the case with a young man struggling with alcohol abuse," Wright said, "... But if the young man who is engaging in alcohol abuse has no desire to change, then he would be expelled from the Scouts. And if a young man feels he is gay and is unwilling to lead a life of sexual purity according to Scripture, then he would expelled. The key is a willingness to repent or to change."
Ernest Easley, pastor of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., which has sponsored a Scout troop since 1945, urged parents to pull their sons out of Scouting in a May 26 sermon. In a June 9 statement to Baptist Press, Easley noted that the BSA was "cautioned regarding the response of many SBC churches and their possible severing of sponsorships. Had the BSA stood true to their historic moral convictions, they would not now be pleading for SBC churches to continue their relationship." Easley is chairman of the SBC's Executive Committee.
"We can effectively do evangelism without partnering with organizations that openly embrace what God's Word opposes," Easley said. "I encourage churches to consider starting an RA program as a biblical alternative to Scouting or to strengthen or expand their current RA program."
RAs is the Southern Baptist missions organization for boys in grades 1-6, with the tandem Challengers program engaging young men in grades 7-12 in missions education and involvement. RAs, on the Web at WMU.com/ra, is sponsored by Woman's Missionary Union.
Roger S. Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations at the SBC's Executive Committee, said the appeals by Smith and Turner are "persuasively crafted" but "many see this policy change for what it is -- the first step toward the ultimate goal of bringing the Scouts into line with the prevailing culture on the issue of homosexual identity and conduct. We grieve that the Scouts have planted the seed of their eventual destruction. It won't happen overnight, but the course has been set."
In an earlier Baptist Press story, Oldham had noted that Southern Baptists' intent "to show the love of Christ will not be hampered by choosing not to expose our children to an organization that has taken the first step toward a worldview at odds with biblical morality. ...
"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."
Easley, in an BP story May 28, said his greatest concern is the protection of boys. "This decision opens the floodgate for a potential increase in sexual abuse of children," he said. The new membership policy weakens the credibility of the Boy Scouts, Easley said, gutting the strongest language of their pledge which speaks of being "morally straight."
"We are not going to put our arms around organizations that openly oppose the moral guidelines taught in God's Word," Easley said.
Southern Baptist leaders who earlier expressed concern surrounding the vote of the Boy Scouts' national council May 23 to allow openly homosexual members included:
-- Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, who 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."
-- Russell Moore, the ERLC's new president, said the membership decision lands the "sexual revolution's onward march" squarely in the middle of Scouting. "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," Moore said. "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."
Moore added, "Our voluntary associations, even the most venerable of them, are increasingly ambiguous about what it means to live a good life rooted in the permanent things." Moore noted: "Our churches cannot, and will not, share that ambiguity."
-- David Tarkington, pastor of First Baptist Church in Orange Park, Fla., said there is a difference between lending the church's facilities to local groups and sponsoring a Boy Scouts troop.
"The difference here is that, in a very real sense, we 'own' these groups. The name of our church is printed on every Boy Scout's neckerchief. T-shirts for Pack 20 have 'First Baptist Church of Orange Park' emblazoned on them," Tarkington said. "... Even if the groups remove our name, we would still be the charter organization."
-- Bill Bunkley, president of the Florida Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and an Eagle Scout, said the decision reached beyond allowing homosexual boys to be Scouts; it was a decision to inject sex and politics into the Boy Scouts' value system.
"This was a political statement and a vote to allow open, homosexual expression and activism in the presence of kids as young as age six," Bunkley said.
-- Richard Land, immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the "supposed compromise" satisfies no one and signals the BSA will only become more inclusive of gays.
"The supposed compromise takes away their best defense. In the year 2000, the Supreme Court ruled the Boy Scouts did not have to have homosexual Scoutmasters because the homosexual lifestyle was contrary to the core values of Scouts. If you're going to allow openly gay Scouts to participate in Scouting, then it's no longer a core value," Land said. "And so what we're going to see now is a flood of litigation by pro-homosexual groups arguing that the continuing ban on gay Scoutmasters is ... prejudice and they will win. They will win, because the Boy Scouts have stripped themselves of their defense the Supreme Court used."
Land also noted, "If the BSA takes one step in compromising a long-held core value, what would prevent it from soon taking a second step to abandonment of the value altogether?" Land said.
Moore, of the ERLC, told The Oklahoman newspaper the Boy Scouts matter could come up at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston June 11-12.
"I would bet there would be a resolution expressing disappointment with the Boy Scouts' decision and calling on Southern Baptist churches to prepare for the need for alternatives," Moore said. "How quickly that happens will probably differ from congregation to congregation. I do think most Southern Baptists see the Boy Scouts moving in a direction that's not going to be consistent with our beliefs."
Such a resolution, if introduced and passed, would come 20 years after the SBC, in the 1993 annual meeting in Houston, completed a two-year process to amend the convention's constitution to decline membership to churches that affirm or condone homosexuality.
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. BP editor Art Toalston and Tim Ellsworth of Union University contributed to this article. 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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