HOUSTON – Southern Baptists expressed their “opposition to and disappointment in” the membership policy of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) but affirmed the freedom of local churches to determine their own relationships with the national Scouting organization.
The action came in a resolution drafted by the convention’s Resolutions Committee and approved by messengers June 12 during the SBC’s annual meeting in Houston. Southern Baptists have tracked the BSA membership controversy closely in recent months, as many churches either sponsor or are affiliated with local Scouting troops.
Steve Lemke, provost at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary who chaired the Resolutions Committee, said the committee felt compelled to address the matter.
“We think we did so in a balanced way,” Lemke said.
The lengthy resolution detailed the sequence of events that led to the BSA’s May 23 vote to approve new membership guidelines stating that “no youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”
The resolution says the Boy Scouts decision is “viewed by many homosexual activists as merely the first step in a process that will fundamentally change the BSA,” putting “the Scouts at odds with a consistent biblical worldview on matters of human sexuality.” It further says the decision “has the potential to complicate basic understandings of male friendships, needlessly politicize human sexuality, and heighten sexual tensions within the Boy Scouts.”
The Southern Baptist Convention’s statement of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, states that “Christians should oppose … all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography,” the resolution noted, adding that Southern Baptists “consistently have expressed their opposition to the normalization of homosexual behavior in American culture through more than a dozen resolutions over the past thirty years.”
In their resolution, Southern Baptists expressed continued opposition to the policy change and gratitude for the thousands within the Scouting family and the broader culture who voiced opposition to the BSA executive leadership’s intent to change its membership and leadership policies.
The resolution voiced gratitude “to each voting member of the National Council who voted in opposition to the policy change for membership” and expressed a “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.” Messengers called on the Boy Scouts to remove from executive and board leadership those who sought to change the organization’s membership and leadership policies.
Photo by Thomas Graham
Messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention cast votes to approve a resolution on the Boy Scouts that expresses “opposition to and disappointment in the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to change its membership policy” to allow homosexual members. The resolution does not take a position as to whether churches should disassociate with the Scouts, but it does urge churches that do sever ties “not to abandon their ministry to boys but consider expanding their Royal Ambassadors ministry.”
In addressing how local Baptist churches respond to the policy changes, messengers declined to encourage either a withdrawal from the Boy Scouts or a continued commitment to the organization. The convention instead opted to “affirm the right of all families and churches prayerfully to assess their continued relationship with the BSA, expressing our support for those churches and families that as a matter of conscience can no longer be part of the Scouting family.”
Churches that make such a decision to sever ties with the Boy Scouts should not abandon their ministry to boys, the resolution states, but should consider expanding their Royal Ambassadors ministry (www.wmu.com/ra), “a distinctively Southern Baptist missions organization to develop godly young men.”
As originally worded, the resolution encouraged “churches and families that choose to remain in relationship with the Boy Scouts” to work toward the policy’s reversal. An amendment from the floor, however, effectively struck the reference to churches and families remaining in relationship to the organization. An additional amendment passed that encouraged churches who do remain involved with the Boy Scouts to do so with the express purpose of sharing the gospel with boys.
The resolution concluded: “… we declare our love in Christ for all young people regardless of their perceived sexual orientation, praying that God will bring all youth into a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Messengers rejected an amendment that would have removed any references to churches making their own decisions about the nature of their relationship with BSA, in addition to an amendment that would have changed “perceived sexual orientation” to “sexual preference.”
Wes Taylor, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Palatka, Fla., and an Eagle Scout, spoke in favor of the resolution, arguing that homosexuality is directly opposed to everything Scouting stands for and that BSA is moving away from its founding principles.
Charlie Dale, pastor of First Baptist Church in Indian Springs, Ala., however, said the resolution wouldn’t help the cause of Christ because BSA has said it’s against the sexual activity of any boy. A church wouldn’t kick a 12-year-old boy who says he’s gay out of Sunday School, Dale said, so the resolution in effect was holding BSA to a standard different from churches.
In a news conference following the convention’s adoption of the resolution, Lemke emphasized that the resolution was not against boys, but was intended to express concern with the direction of the Boy Scouts.
“Frankly, we feel like the membership decision is a first step, because they’ve already announced their interest in having leadership in that direction,” Lemke said. “Our concern is about the direction and the orientation, the trajectory of the Boy Scouts. They seem to be going in a way that politicizes the whole membership question. It also brings a sexual dimension that wasn’t there before.”
The Boy Scouts were a popular topic among Southern Baptists during their Houston meeting. A motion made from the floor on Tuesday requesting that the SBC Executive Committee appoint a task force to look into alternative or substitute programs for the Boy Scouts was referred to the Executive Committee for consideration.
Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the Boy Scouts made a decision they believed to be “some sort of compromise that has really pleased no one in any place in American culture.”
“I don’t think it’s going to stay there,” Moore said about the policy decision. “I think instead what you are going to see is a further evolution into another step, and congregations are going to have to be ready to address that.”
Moore emphasized that Southern Baptist churches are not saying that the Boy Scouts should exclude boys with same-sex attractions. “That was never the case before. We’re not saying that should be the case going forward,” Moore said.
“What we’re saying is that the Boy Scouts previously had an understanding of sexuality that was geared toward expression in marriage,” Moore continued. “That has changed, and that is a momentous change. This isn’t an organization like any other community organization. It’s an organization that says, ‘We’re teaching and training boys what it means to be men and what it means to live virtuous lives.’
“Once you take sexuality and the expression of sexuality and politicize it in the way the Boy Scouts have done, you change the nature of that moral education in a way that Southern Baptists, most of us, have grave concerns about.”
In the wake of the Boy Scouts’ membership policy change, some Southern Baptist congregations moved immediately to sever their ties with the organization. Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, the Atlanta-area church led by former SBC President Bryant Wright, was one of those churches.
“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 said. “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 Christians and other churches may have a different view about whether to break relations now or to continue their partnerships and see what direction the Boy Scouts organization 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.
The Association of Baptists for Scouting issued a statement asking churches to stay involved with their Boy Scout troops, arguing that churches would retain the power to enforce a code of conduct on their local chapters.
While Roger S. Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations at the SBC’s Executive Committee, called such appeals “persuasively crafted,” he said many Southern Baptists “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,” Oldham said. “It won’t happen overnight, but the course has been set.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth is director of media relations with Union University in Jackson, Tenn. Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode contributed to this article.)
Full text of the resolution follows:
ON THE CHANGE OF MEMBERSHIP POLICY OF THE BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA
WHEREAS, For more than a century, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has been a values-based boys organization designed to “prepare young people for a lifetime of character and leadership,” equipping them “to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law”; and
WHEREAS, The Scout Oath contains language that is consistent with belief in God and biblical precepts that serve as the basis for Christian faith: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight”; and
WHEREAS, The leadership of the Boy Scouts throughout its history has restricted from membership and leadership those persons who would affect the group’s ability to advocate its viewpoints in regard to belief in God and His moral precepts; and
WHEREAS, In 1992, and again in 2000, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted resolutions affirming the Boy Scouts in their stand that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations of the Scout Oath, encouraging the BSA “to maintain its historic commitments” (1992) and “to hold fast to its traditional ideals” (2000); and
WHEREAS, The United States Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the constitutional right to freedom of association allows a private organization, as part of its “expressive message,” to exclude a person from membership when “the presence of that person affects in a significant way the group’s ability to advocate public or private viewpoints” and that allowing homosexuals as adult leaders would interfere with that message (Boy Scouts of America et al. v. Dale); and
WHEREAS, In 2004, the Boy Scouts adopted a policy statement that said, in part, “Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed”; and
WHEREAS, In 2012, an eleven-person committee appointed by the National Council of the Boy Scouts completed a two-year study and reported its unanimous decision that the Boy Scouts retain the current policy as outlined above; and
WHEREAS, NBC News reported in breaking news on January 28, 2013, that the BSA executive leadership, in concert with certain members of the BSA board of directors, was poised to change the Scouts’ historic policy at its February 4-5 board meeting the following week to allow avowed homosexuals into membership and leadership positions within the Boy Scouts of America; and
WHEREAS, During the week between when news broke of this proposed policy change and the February board meeting, the Boy Scouts received an outpouring of feedback from Scouts, Scouting families, sponsoring organizations, and the American public; and
WHEREAS, On February 6, 2013, the BSA board determined that, “due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a deliberate review of its membership policy”; and
WHEREAS, The National Council of the Boy Scouts voted on May 23, 2013, to approve new membership guidelines that state, “no youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone”; and basic understandings of male friendships, needlessly politicize human sexuality, and heighten sexual tensions within the Boy Scouts; and
WHEREAS, Many Southern Baptist churches sponsor Boy Scout troops and many Southern Baptists are involved in Scouting; and
WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith and Message states that “Christians should oppose . . . all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography,” and Southern Baptists consistently have expressed their opposition to the normalization of homosexual behavior in American culture through more than a dozen resolutions over the past thirty years; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Houston, Texas, June 11-12, 2013, express our continued opposition to and disappointment in the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to change its membership policy; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we express our gratitude for the thousands of individuals within the Scouting family and the culture at large who expressed their opposition to the BSA executive leadership’s intent to change its membership and leadership policies in regard to homosexuality, leading to the compromise recommendation it presented to the BSA National Council; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we express our gratitude to each voting member of the National Council who voted in opposition to the policy change for membership; and be it further
RESOLVED, That 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; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we call on the Boy Scouts to remove from executive and board leadership those individuals who, earlier this year, sought to change both the membership and leadership policy of the Scouts without seeking input from the full range of the Scouting family; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we affirm the right of all families and churches prayerfully to assess their continued relationship with the BSA, expressing our support for those churches and families that as a matter of conscience can no longer be part of the Scouting family; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we encourage churches and families that remain in the Boy Scouts to seek to impact as many boys as possible with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ, 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;
RESOLVED, That we encourage churches that choose to sever ties with the Boy Scouts not to abandon their ministry to boys but consider expanding their Royal Ambassadors ministry, a distinctively Southern Baptist missions organization to develop godly young men; and be it finally
RESOLVED, That we declare our love in Christ for all young people regardless of their perceived sexual orientation, praying that God will bring all youth into a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.