How Many Churches Will Leave Boy Scouts?
By Mike McManus
June 13, 2013
Last February Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, asserted that if the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) voted to allow gay boys to become Scouts, "It would be a catastrophe for Boy Scouts, 1.1 million of whom are sponsored by Mormons, Roman Catholics and Baptists who are overwhelmingly opposed to this change."
This week Southern Baptists meeting in Houston overwhelmingly voted to oppose the Boy Scout's decision to admit gay members, declaring that homosexual conduct is contrary to a Scout's oath to do his duty to God.
However, the resolution allows member churches to individually decide whether to stop sponsoring Scout troops. There are 4,000 Baptist churches that sponsor 108,000 troops.
During the debate, Wes Taylor, pastor at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Newport News, VA, said it is "ungodly and unacceptable" for young boys to be exposed to homosexuality.
"I am very sad to say that it seems as though (Boy Scouts) are moving away from the principles they were founded upon."
Others argued that the denomination should embrace gay members of scouting and seek to guide them toward a more Christian life.
One pastor stated that a young boy who claims to be gay is most likely the victim of abuse or otherwise needs guidance, and that the church or Scouts should not abandon them.
"Such a boy needs our love," asserted Charlie Dale, pastor of Indian Springs (AL) First Baptist Church.
"So let's bring him in and show him what real biblical manhood is about."
The Baptist resolution calls on churches that decide to sever ties with the Boy Scouts, not to abandon their ministry to young boys and to consider expanding a "Royal Ambassador" ministry designed to develop "Godly young men."
By contrast, the Mormon Church, the largest sponsor of Scouting nationwide, with 430,000 youth members, expressed support for permitting gay Scouts.
Michael Otterson, public affairs director of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said that "BSA in reality reintroduced and reinforced some of its century-old core values and nailed those colors firmly to the mast in an unmistakable message."
What were those principles? A few hours after 1,400 BSA delegates voted to allow gay Scouts but not gay Scoutmasters, Gary E. Stevenson, Presiding Bishop of The Church Latter-day Saints, noted that the Boy Scout Oath has boys pledge "to do my duty to God."
"If boys truly understand what their duty to God entails and lived it, they would grow safely into manhood... It is this belief in duty to God that has forged the iron-strong connection with Boy Scouts of America" and Mormons.
Otterson noted one key line in the BSA resolution: "Any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of scouting age is contrary to the virtues of scouting."
By contrast, Catholic Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington, VA, blasted BSA "for caving in at the cost of its moral integrity."
He felt the Scouts' traditional stand of denying membership to gay Scouts demonstrated "principled and steadfast resolve."
On the other hand, the U.S. Catholic Church's top liaison to the Boy Scouts says the BSA's new policy welcoming gay Scouts "is not in conflict with Catholic teaching," and urged local churches sponsoring troops to continue their support.
"Scouting is still the best youth-serving program available to all youth," said Edward P. Martin, chairman of the National Catholic Conference on Scouting in a letter to "fellow Catholic Scouters."
Catholic Bishop Robert Guglielmone, the hierarchy's official advisor to NCCS, said after the BSA meeting that while he was "not particularly encouraged" by the vote "we can live with it."
About a tenth of the 2.6 million Boy Scouts are in troops sponsored by Catholic congregations. Some led by Knights of Columbus have announced they will encourage troops to affiliate with their Columbian Squires youth groups.
The much smaller Assemblies of God predicted the new BSA stand "will lead to a mass exodus from the Boy Scout program."
BSA conducted a poll before it voted by a 61% margin to allow gay youth, and estimated that 100,000 to 350,000 troops would leave. That's a low estimate.
Ten years after Canada took this step it lost more than half of its members.
But where would they go? John Stemberger, an Eagle Scout who leads the Florida Family Policy Council, is organizing a meeting of denominational leaders and decorated veterans of BSA to create a national alternative to the Boy Scouts this month.
He told me, "We will provide some liberty for churches opposed to allowing open and avowed homosexuals" to proselytize among impressionable boys.
May that alternative to the Boy Scouts emerge and prosper.
Michael J. McManus is President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated c olumnist.
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