Some North Carolina Baptist churches plan to announce in the coming weeks how they will handle the new membership policy that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) approved May 23.
Under the new membership policy that will take effect Jan. 1, 2014, BSA will officially admit openly homosexual youth. For now, it will maintain its stand against accepting openly homosexual adult leaders. BSA delegates approved the change by a margin of 61-39 percent.
Leaders at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, which has chartered a Boy Scout troop for about 50 years, met May 29 to discuss the church’s future with BSA. The next day the church released a statement to the Biblical Recorder. According to the statement, the church will continue to review its relationship with the organization and will announce a decision in the coming weeks.
“Our goal is to partner with those organizations that support the values and outcomes of biblical faith,” the church said in the statement, “and to do so in a way that is thoughtful, moral, and grace-filled as we hold out the gospel of Jesus Christ to our community.”
Mount Pleasant Baptist Church of State Road also plans to have its deacons make a decision on the matter and present a recommendation to the congregation for a vote, said Pastor John Attaway.
Though Attaway believes the congregation will vote to cut ties with BSA, he said the church could decide not to officially do so until its charter agreement with BSA is up in March 2014.
“I feel that is the right thing to do,” said Attaway, who is an Eagle Scout. “… As a church we should honor our charter obligation.
“… There will be a period that overlaps that we’re sort of standing with an organization that we don’t agree with their moral principals. But … our local troop is not responsible for this decision. … This isn’t their fault, and they’re as much against it as we are. … In that case our charter obligation outweighs the gap between January and March when this new ruling comes into effect.”
Ultimately, the final decision will be up to the deacons and the church body, Attaway added.
“I do not see us going along with the Boy Scouts of America in their [new] configuration,” he said. “The decision is completely wrong, not only morally and spiritually, but legally. It’s going to open up more opportunities for lawsuits. And it’s inconsistent with everything [the BSA] stood for legally and morally up to this point.”
“I’ve heard from a number of the Scout leaders and some of their families, members; they’re all against this change,” he added. “Many of us fear it’s going to be the end of the Boy Scouts of America as it has ever been known.”
Across the country
Southern Baptist pastors and leaders across the country have voiced concern and opposition to the policy change. “We’re going to have a long, hard discussion of our support for our local troop,” said Gregg Simmons, pastor of the Dallas-area Church at the Cross in Grapevine.
For five years Church at the Cross has chartered Troop No. 4. Though he could not speak for the congregation at large, 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, said Ben Wright, associate pastor at High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, but he said the vote is not necessarily a “deal breaker” for High Pointe.
However, progression toward acceptance of homosexual leaders would warrant another review of the relationship, Wright 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 inevitably will lead to the acceptance of homosexual leaders. That change will come from within the organization or be foisted upon it by a lawsuit, he predicted.
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 that a whole host of sexual expressions outside of heterosexuality are simply a matter of natural proclivities, not behaviors that should come under moral scrutiny, Wright said. With their carefully chosen words, the BSA Executive Committee ironically embraced a social agenda, which would be a violation of the Scout guidebook for Scouts or Scout leaders, he said.
Both pastors said their churches welcome the opportunity to minister to youth or adults who struggle with same-sex attraction. But membership in the church depends on an individual’s trust in the Gospel and desire to live according to biblical standards, Simmons said.
Several Southern Baptist leaders have been critical of the Scouts’ new policy.
Frank Page, president of the SBC’s Executive Committee, 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. To claim that the Boy Scouts is the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training suddenly rings hollow.”
Richard Land, outgoing president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, advised Southern Baptist churches to withdraw their support of Scout troops and support the Royal Ambassadors ministry to boys.
SBC President Fred Luter said, “My prayers go out to the parents and churches who have been forced to make decisions about being a part of the Boy Scouts organization. As Southern Baptists, our commitment to the Word of God and Christian values must take priority over what is ‘politically correct.’”
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, he said. Turner wrote an “open letter to Southern Baptists” asking them not to abandon Scouting.
“Are the evangelism and family ministry opportunities now lessened in the church’s Scout unit(s)?” he asked. “Are the lost and un-enlisted any less our responsibility now? I respectfully remind us that the Great Commission remains unchanged and no vote can alter this reality. The local church still owns its Scout units and is responsible for selecting the leadership. As ‘fishers of men,’ are we not to go where the fish are located?”
Russell Moore, president-elect of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission told Baptist Press at the time the decision was announced, “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. 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.”
The revision of the membership policy “highlights how important it is for churches to speak clearly of both our love for all people, including our gay and lesbian neighbors, and the importance of God’s design for human sexuality for human flourishing,” Moore said. “The gospel doesn’t define us, as the culture does, in terms of our wants and desires. The gospel addresses us, all of us, as sinners and calls us to a life of freedom and cross-bearing sacrifice.”
Commenting on Turner’s open letter, Roger S. Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee, said, “It is disappointing, but not surprising, that Turner’s letter repeats the BSA party line – we’ve changed; but don’t leave us!
“Our ability 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,” Oldham said. “While Turner’s logic may sound reasonable on the surface, it is based in a flawed understanding of the very gospel it references.
“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.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett, a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, and Michael Foust and Art Toalston of Baptist Press contributed to this article. Shawn Hendricks, managing editor of the Biblical Recorder, also contributed.)