The Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) executive board has voted to lift the Scouts’ national ban on gay adult leaders and employees – a move Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd said may hasten the exodus of Southern Baptists from Scouting.
“Sadly and regrettably, I believe churches who stand on the biblical ethic of sexuality will have to cease their sponsorship and involvement in the Boy Scouts of America,” Floyd told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments. “I also believe it is important that everyone understands that in reality, it is the Boy Scouts of America that is walking away from their historic heritage that has been embraced by the vast majority of Americans.”
The BSA executive board approved the policy change, which is effective immediately, by a 79-percent majority, the Scouts’ website reported. The vote occurred during a July 27 conference call. The BSA will continue to allow troops chartered by religious organizations to exclude gays from volunteer leadership positions if homosexual behavior is incompatible with chartering organizations’ religious beliefs.
One Baptist leader told The Washington Post that concession may only be temporary, and churches could be forced eventually to accept homosexual leaders. “The next step, which may be a year or two down the road, seems obvious to us,” said Roger S. Oldham, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee’s (EC) vice president for convention communications and relations. Groups with Christian convictions, Oldham told the Post, “are being put into a situation where they have to either compromise their conviction or choose to leave. And for those for whom biblical sexual morality is a conviction, they have no alternative.”
Legal analysts disagree on whether church-chartered troops could be liable to discrimination lawsuits for denying leadership positions to open homosexuals, Religion News Service reported.
EC President Frank S. Page told BP the Scouts’ latest decision represents a disappointing turn from their heritage of character and faith.
“The Boy Scouts used to instill principled courage and resolute character in its members,” Page said in written comments. “Under pressure to conform to political correctness, courage withered. It deeply saddens us to see the white flag of surrender flapping in the morning breeze.”
Ernest Easley, professor of evangelism at Union University, told BP churches that still sponsor Boy Scout troops should cease their sponsorship in light of the BSA’s acceptance of homosexual adult leaders. The Georgia church where Easley formerly served as pastor broke its relationship with the Scouts in 2013, when the BSA lifted its ban on openly gay youth participants. At that time, USA Today reported that Southern Baptists sponsored more than 3,900 Boy Scout troops.
“The Supreme Court’s recent ruling on same-sex marriage played right into the hands of the Boy Scouts as they take … yet another step away from their own pledge of being ‘morally straight.’ I suppose it’s time to change the pledge,” Easley said in written comments. “The Bible says in Proverbs 14:12, ‘There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.’ I hope churches that still sponsor troops, that were reluctant to end their sponsorship earlier, will now decide to cut their ties with the Scouts and find other ways (such as RAs) to invest in the lives of young boys.”
RAs is short for Royal Ambassadors, the Southern Baptist missions organization for boys in grades 1-6. The tandem Southern Baptist program Challengers engages young men in grades 7-12 in missions education. Both programs have been suggested as Scouting alternatives for Southern Baptist churches along with Trail Life USA, a boys organization which requires adult leaders to sign a statement of faith and requires both boys and leaders to live by a code of conduct that defines “any sexual activity outside the context of the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman” as “sinful” and “inconsistent with the values and principles of the program.”
The Los Angeles Times reported a 13 percent decline in Scouting enrollment since 2013, when the BSA began loosening its policies regarding homosexual membership. The Mormon Church, which sponsors more Boy Scout troops than any other organization, issued a July 27 statement saying its leaders were “deeply troubled” and might leave the BSA, The New York Times reported. Mormon-sponsored troops accounted for 17 percent of all Boy Scout and Cub Scout units in 2013, according to the Times.
Oldham, of the SBC EC, called the decline in Scouting enrollment predictable.
Southern Baptists, Oldham said in written comments, “predicted in 2013 that the Scouts would see an immediate loss in membership, with continual attrition over time, something their 2014 and 2015 annual reports clearly demonstrate. We also predicted that the 2013 decision was merely the first step toward achieving the goals the BSA’s executive committee announced in January of that year. This decision [to permit homosexual leaders] shows that to be an accurate assessment.”
BSA National President Robert Gates said in a statement that permitting gay adult leaders will save the Scouts time and money while not compromising their mission or values.
“As I said during our national annual meeting in May, due to the social, political and legal changes taking place in our country and in our movement, I did not believe the adult leadership policy could be sustained,” Gates said. “Any effort to do so was inevitably going to result in simultaneous legal battles in multiple jurisdictions and at staggering cost. The best way to allow the BSA to continue to focus on its mission and preserve its core values was to address the issue and set our own course. And that’s what we’ve done.”
Despite the Scouts’ loosening standards of sexual morality, some Baptists urged churches and individuals to continue their involvement with the BSA. The Association of Baptists for Scouting released a statement lamenting that “cultural shifts and the legal landscape” have “forced” the BSA to lift its ban on homosexual adult leaders.
“We urge Baptist churches to start or continue Scouting programs,” the Association of Baptists for Scouting said, “and to have them led by adults who are faithful to the moral beliefs of that congregation, thereby aiding in the spiritual development of our youth. We believe conditions resulting in this policy change by the BSA provide clear evidence of the increasing need for current and future moral champions in our society.”
Chip Turner, a Southern Baptist who chairs the BSA National Religious Relationships Committee, told BP that Scouting is still a viable ministry outlet for Southern Baptist churches.
“At no time in the history of the Boy Scouts of America has there been a greater opportunity to give voice to the Scripture on sexual conduct as well as doing one’s duty to God,” Turner said in written comments. “Having a Scouting ministry in local churches also provides Baptists unparalleled opportunities to reach children, youth and families for Christ.
“It is important to note that Baptist Scouts and leaders have [comprised] and continue to comprise sizable portions of the membership of units provided by churches of other faiths,” Turner said. “Thus, Baptists continue to have a large population in Scouting. Commitment to the spiritual well-being of these Baptists as well as the unreached should remain strong.”
In 2013, 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.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)