HOUSTON -- The Southern Baptist Convention on Wednesday called for the removal of some of the Boy Scouts’ leadership after the organization voted to allow gay youth to join, but did not ask its affiliated churches to pull their sponsorship of Scouting.
The convention approved the call in a resolution crafted by a committee at the group’s annual meeting in Houston. It comes three weeks after the Boy Scouts of America voted in an historic ballot to allow gay youth to join after the issue of LGBT membership had roiled the youth organization for years.
“Bapists didn't put this on the agenda. The Boy Scouts of America put this on the agenda. This was something to which we had to respond,” said Russell Moore, president of the convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee.
“The purpose of this resolution is not to call down fire from heaven on the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America,” he added. “It's to seek to persuade, to seek to engage in a conversation.”
The resolution doesn't name specific Boy Scouts leaders, but noted it believed some in executive and board positions had tried to enact the membership change earlier this year without first getting input from “the full range of the Scouting family” and asked for the BSA to “remove” them.
Deron Smith, a spokesman for the BSA, responded by email, saying that the organization “has some of the finest volunteer leaders in the world. We are thankful for their tireless commitment to serving the youth of this nation and investing in its future.”
Allowing openly gay youth in Scouting, according to the Baptists resolution, "has the potential to complicate basic understandings of male friendships, needlessly politicize human sexuality, and heighten sexual tensions within the Boy Scouts."
Though gay adults are still banned, the Southern Baptists feel their inclusion is just a matter of time – a worry expressed by other conservative religious sponsors of the Boy Scouts.
“We express our well-founded concern that the current executive leadership of the BSA, along with certain board members, may utilize this membership policy change as merely the first step toward future approval of homosexual leaders in the Scouts,” the resolution said.
The resolution, however, did not go as far as recommending that Southern Baptist-affiliated churches leave the Boy Scouts.
But it asked those churches and families that planned to stay to “work toward the reversal of this new membership policy and to advocate against any future change in leadership and membership policy that normalizes sexual conduct opposed to the biblical standard."
For those that leave, as some have done, the convention asked them to explore a faith-based alternative, the Royal Ambassadors.
The impact of the vote is not clear. Though Baptist churches sponsor nearly 4,000 units consisting of more than 108,000 youth, the number of SBC-affiliated churches is unknown, according to the BSA, the SBC and the Association of Baptists for Scouting.
The SBC-affiliated churches are autonomous and can handle the SBC resolutions however they choose, according to Steve Lemke, chairman of the resolutions committee that drafted the resolution.
“At most, we could have expressed a stronger statement that we urged Southern Baptist congregations to withdraw from Scouts ... we stopped short of that,” said Lemke.
“I think we've maybe given some ammunition to both sides for the local churches to prayerfully make a decision. But our main concern is that they not abandon the ministry of boys,” he added.
The Boy Scouts have reached out to the religious institutions, which make up more than 70 percent of the organization’s charter partners and play a key role in the viability of Scouting units, to encourage them to stick with one of the nation’s most popular youth programs.
The BSA has maintained that the change, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2014, is consistent with Scouting’s values.
“Scouting’s youth member policy is not about the BSA endorsing homosexuality, or forcing its chartered organizations to do the same. This change allows Scouting to be more compassionate in its response to a young person who expresses a same sex attraction, but is not engaging in sexual activity, by no longer calling for their automatic removal from the program,” BSA spokesman, Deron Smith, said in an email.
“We believe the BSA policy is fully consistent with how Southern Baptist Churches respond to young people in their congregations and allows them to maintain their beliefs about homosexuality and minister to children who are still learning and developing,” he added. Since the membership change by the BSA’s National Council in late May, religious institutions have formulated their responses to the decision, issuing them over the last few weeks.
Some of the biggest BSA partners, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the United Methodist Men and Catholics (the National Catholic Committee on Scouting), have encouraged their members to stay with the Boy Scouts in statements of support. A statement from the Mormon church was read at religious services last week.
Still, some Baptist families have contacted NBC News, telling them that their church Scouting sponsor would be walking away, such as that for Pack 215 in Harrison, Ark. Other Christian conservative families have sought out faith-based alternatives, which another Boy Scouts charter partner – the Assemblies of God -- has urged them to consider.
But some in the Baptist family have encouraged churches to continue to offer the program, too.
A.J. Smith, president of the Baptist Scouting association, said he had received assurances from the Boy Scouts that charter partners could craft their own codes of conduct on the boys, which he believed would be sufficient to keep sexuality – a key issue for a number of Scouting families – out of the program.
“…I believe that it is possible, even desirable, for Baptist churches to continue to utilize Scouting as an outreach ministry of the church. How it is done, however, must change," he wrote in a statement dated June 7. "No longer can a church simply give meeting space to the Scouts. Churches must take a proactive approach to Scouting and involve members of the local congregation alongside Scout parents as leaders, set expectations for leaders consistent with the values of the church.
“In this way churches can turn what looks like a negative into a positive, having an influence in shaping the values of another generation, and even reach youth that might not otherwise be reached with the gospel,” he added.
Carol Gilley, a member of an SBC-affiliated church whose pastor has said will drop its charter of her Pack 215, said she and her family would find a way to keep the program going locally. She has two sons in the Boy Scouts, too, and believes homosexuality is wrong.
"I'm not changing. I mean, my kids love what they do. We love what we do and we're just going to stick with it," she said of Scouting.
“Are they going to be harmed? Or are they going to be bad because they decided to stick with it? Heck no. No, they're not. ... It's almost like I'm defending homosexuality, and I'm not. It's just, it's there, it's there, and we have to deal with it."
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