By Philip Timothy
Despite the strenuous objections of many religious organizations throughout the United States, including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Boy Scouts of America voted to end its blanket ban on gay adult leaders on the evening of July 27 but will allow church-sponsored Scout units to maintain the exclusion for religious reasons.
By a 45-12 vote during a closed-to-the-media teleconference, the BSA’s National Executive Board approved the new policy, which takes effect immediately.
In a statement on the organization’s website, the BSA said “chartered organizations will continue to select their adult leaders and religious chartered organizations may continue to use religious beliefs as criteria for selecting adult leaders, including in matters of sexuality.”
“This change allows Scouting’s members and parents to select local units, chartered to organizations with similar beliefs, that best meet the needs of their families. This change also respects the right of religious chartered organizations to choose adult volunteer leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own,” the statement read.
The message BSA’s president, former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gate,s sent may also have some who are involved in scouting getting mixed signals from the national organization because he also said religious charter organizations can “continue to use religious criteria for selecting adult leaders, including in matters of sexuality.”
The BSA’s top leaders have pledged to defend the right of any church-sponsored units to continued excluding gays as adult volunteers
But Gates stressed youth cannot be denied admission to a scout troop based on sexual orientation alone. He also said “everyone associated with scouting agrees to follow national policies and comply with BSA’s behavioral standards.”
“The decision to allow gay troop leaders by the BSA follows the predictions of so many conservative, evangelical leaders back in 2013 when Scouting opened up their policies to allow openly gay boys,” said Steve Horn, president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church, Lafayette. “Many predicted then that this was the initial step in allowing gay adults.
“This present decision should be more troubling to churches and puts churches in a precarious situation,” Horn continued. “Even with the suggestion within the policy that local troops are allowed to choose their leadership based upon their own values, troops will have to deal with openly gay leaders at joint Scouting events.
“I do not think you can have the whole Scouting experience and not participate in joint events on the state and national level. As a result, this decision further erodes the relationship of the evangelical church and Boy Scouts,” Horn added. “This is a real pity given the historical value of Boy Scouts in contributing to the development of future leaders for America.”
The stage was set for Monday’s vote back in May, when Gates, told the Scouts’ annual national meeting that the long-standing ban on participation by openly gay adults was no longer sustainable.
He said the ban “was inevitably going to result in simultaneous legal battles in multiple jurisdictions and at staggering costs which the Scouts were apt to lose.”
Which was puzzling since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 the BSA was a private association and could exclude individuals as members and leaders who did not uphold its views on homosexuality or morality.
However, Any effort to maintain the ban, he said in the video, “was inevitably going to result in simultaneous legal battles in multiple jurisdictions and at staggering costs.”
Just why that would be the case is unclear. The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the BSA was a private association and could exclude individuals as members and leaders who did not uphold its views on homosexuality or moral purity.
In 2013, after heated internal debate, the BSA decided to allow openly gay youth as scouts, but not gay adults as leaders.
Two weeks ago, the new policy was approved unanimously by the BSA’s 17-member National Executive Committee. It would allow local Scout units to select adult leaders without regard to sexual orientation — a stance that several Scout councils have already adopted in defiance of the official national policy.
Gates reiterated what he said in May in his address to the BSA’s national leadership. Then, he said the social, political and legal changes taking place in the country and in the BSA movement made the ban on adult homosexual leaders “unsustainable.”
“In recent years I have seen a definite cooling on the part of Baptist churches toward the Scouts,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “This will probably bring that cooling to a freeze.”
The BSA’s top leaders pledged to defend the right of any church-sponsored units to continue excluding gays as adult volunteers. But that assurance has not satisfied some conservative church leaders.
Horn offered this advice to Louisiana Southern Baptist Churches, “Southern Baptist churches who choose to retain their Scout group are going to have to have a compelling reason to keep that relationship,” he said.
“Churches who simply host a scout meeting, but not necessarily charter the troop, need to evaluate that relationship as well,” he said. “Church leaders should know well the Scouting leadership and make sure not to be surprised.”