The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) should end its ban on gay adult leaders, BSA President Robert Gates said May 21, lending credence to the concern expressed in a 2013 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) resolution that opening the group’s membership to homosexual youth was “merely the first step toward future approval of homosexual adult leaders in the Scouts.”
A policy allowing gay Scout leaders “was a matter of time,” said Ernest Easley, who was chairman of the SBC Executive Committee (EC) in 2013. “Back when they changed their thinking regarding the boys themselves, I knew that within a year or so they would reverse their stand with the leadership. And frankly, I think it was the plan to begin with: Start with the kids. We get that done. Then we come back later with the adults.”
Gates, a former C.I.A. director and U.S. secretary of defense, told attendees of the BSA annual meeting in Atlanta he is not asking the national board to change the leadership policy immediately. But he said the Scouts must voluntarily accept gay leaders before a court forces them to do so.
“Between internal challenges and potential legal conflicts, the BSA finds itself in an unsustainable position,” Gates said according to a copy of his prepared remarks, “a position that makes us vulnerable to the possibility the courts simply will order us at some point to change our membership policy. We must all understand that this probably will happen sooner rather than later.”
A new leadership policy should, Gates said, “allow all churches, which sponsor some 70 percent of our Scout units, to establish leadership standards consistent with their faith. We must, at all costs, preserve the religious freedom of our church partners to do this.”
Easley, pastor of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., questioned whether the BSA can truly protect religious liberty for churches with Scout troops.
“Our religious liberties are being stripped away state by state,” said Easley. “And depending on what the Supreme Court does in the next month or so, it may be the end of religious liberty as this nation has known it historically. So I don’t think religious liberty is even going to be an issue much anymore.”
In 2013, the BSA voted to approve new membership guidelines stating, “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.” Previously, a Boy Scouts policy stated, “Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed.”
Initially, BSA executive leadership planned to change Scouts policies to allow avowed homosexuals to become members and hold leadership positions. But following an outcry from Scouts, their families, sponsoring organizations and the American public, the BSA board took additional time to review the policy and recommended changing only the membership standards.
Less than a month after the change of policy, messengers to the SBC annual meeting in Houston adopted a resolution expressing “continued opposition to and disappointment in the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to change its membership policy.”
The resolution said the Scouts’ decision was “viewed by many homosexual activists as merely the first step in the process that will fundamentally change the BSA,” putting “the Scouts at odds with a consistent biblical worldview on matters of human sexuality.” The resolution added that the decision had “the potential to complicate basic understandings of male friendships, needlessly politicize human sexuality, and heighten sexual tensions within the Boy Scouts.”
At the time, Southern Baptist leaders echoed the resolution’s prediction the Scouts would eventually drop their ban on gay leaders. Among the leaders voicing that opinion were Steve Lemke of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Russell Moore of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Roger S. Oldham of the EC.
“We grieve that the Scouts have planted the seed of their eventual destruction,” Oldham, EC vice president for convention communications and relations, said at the time. “It won’t happen overnight, but the course has been set.”
In related news, the Girl Scouts of the United States of America has reaffirmed its policy of accepting transgendered persons into membership. The reaffirmation came in response to objections by conservative organizations, including the American Family Association, to allowing boys “who are confused” to join, CNN reported May 20.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)