Pastors respond to Boy Scouts decision

For now, local congregations that sponsor troops have control over troop leadership

With Thursday’s decision to open Boy Scouts of America membership to homosexual boys, the 70,000 faith-based organizations, including many churches, that have championed the virtues of “duty to God” and moral straightness by sponsoring local troops must decide whether to cut ties with the Scouts or continue their association with evangelistic outreach in mind.

Two Texas pastors represent the decisions that will be made in conservative churches across the nation. 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. But despite the moral conflict raised by the passage of the membership policy, SBC leaders said the decision of affiliation with the Boy Scouts of America 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 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 avowed homosexual adult leaders.

For five years Church at the Cross has chartered Troop #4. Though he could not speak for his congregation, 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, according to Ben Wright, associate pastor at High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin. But the vote is not necessarily a “deal breaker” for his church. However, progression toward acceptance of homosexual leaders would warrant another review of the relationship, he 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 would inevitably lead to the acceptance of homosexual leaders. That change will come from within the organization or be foisted upon it by a lawsuit, he contends.

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 a whole host of sexual expressions outside of heterosexuality are simply a matter of natural proclivities, not behaviors that should come under moral scrutiny. With their carefully chosen words, Wright said the BSA Executive Committee ironically embraced a social agenda, which would be a violation of the Scout guidebook for Scouts or Scout leaders.

Both pastors said their churches welcome the opportunity to minister to youth or adults who struggle with same-sex attraction and would not expel someone from their midst for experiencing those impulses.

“People who experience same-sex attraction are welcome in our churches if they are fighting that sin, if they are depending on the Holy Spirit,” Wright said.

But membership to the church depends on an individual’s trust in the gospel and desire to live according to biblical standards, Simmons said.

Responses from other church groups were mixed.

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.

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.”

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.

The past few months should act as a teaching moment for Southern Baptists, Turner said. Every chartering organization can choose to have as much or as little influence over the Scout troop they sponsor as they wish. A church “owns” the troop and can, under the current policy, establish leadership exclusively from within the church.

The more invested a congregation is in the life of a troop the greater impact they can have on the boys and their families, Turner said. Churches that act as little more than landlords for troops squander their opportunity to influence their communities and the national leadership, he added.

In the end, Simmons said, “The biggest losers are the boys. And that’s sad to me.”

 

TEXAN Correspondent
Bonnie Pritchett
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