Two weeks ago, the 1,400 voting members of the BSA’s National Council approved a resolution to remove the restriction that denied membership to boys if they openly identified as gay.
National leaders said the resolution also reinforces a long-standing policy that any sexual conduct by Scouts is prohibited and remains contrary to the virtues of scouting. The council did not consider a change to policy regarding the sexual orientation of adult leaders.
Tracy Techau, Scout executive for the Atlanta Area Council, which covers 13 metro Atlanta counties including Cobb, said the local council’s priority remains the same.
“The Scouting program today has the same merit badges, campfires and great programs as it had yesterday,” Techau said. “We will continue to serve as many Atlanta Scouts as possible with the best leadership development program and once-in-a-lifetime adventures.”
Since the decision, churches and other places of worship have had to take a stance on Scouting and whether to continue a 103-year-old American tradition or to look elsewhere for youth programs.
Religious organizations sponsor about 70 percent of the 116,000 scout units in the United States, according to an Associated Press report.
Two Southern Baptist church leaders with massive congregations in the Marietta and east Cobb areas have already come forward opposing the change and vowing to disband their troops moving forward.
Jeff Fulcher, spokesman for the Atlanta Area Council, said there are 800 Scouting groups in the metro area that make up the local Scouting program and less than 5 percent have said they plan to eliminate troop activities.
“Over 95 percent of our units plan to continue delivering a quality scouting program and serving local youth,” Fulcher said. “Many other churches, places of worship and civic organizations have approached us offering to take any scouts that need a new place to meet.”
Continuing the Scouting tradition
While some churches have decided to discontinue their relationships with the Scouts once the decision goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014, others aren’t skipping a beat with continuing their programs and welcoming all Scouts with open arms.
Tom Welsh, Scouting director for east Cobb’s Transfiguration Catholic Church Troop 75, said there won’t be a change to his church’s program, which sponsors a Cub Scout Pack for 6 to 10 year olds, a Boy Scout Troop for ages 11 to 17 and a co-ed Venture program that includes young men up to age 21.
“The Boy Scouts have always been accepting of all youth and our values and leadership are eternal,” said Welsh, a Boy Scout leader for the last 11 years.
Welsh, a Marietta resident, said the Boy Scout troop he presides over includes 67 boys.
In a recent news release, Due West United Methodist Church in west Cobb said it will continue delivering Scouting programs through Troop 540, which also includes a pack, troop and Venture (also called “crew”) program. The release was co-signed by Senior Pastor Tom Davis, Chartered Organization Representative Bill Coffeen, Scoutmaster Charles Hebert and Committee Chair Chris Dupree.
“All of our volunteer adult leaders have for years undergone state/national background checks, are well-trained, and are devoted to providing the very best programs they can by carrying on a fine tradition of citizenship, character-building and leadership activities for almost 50 years,” the news release states. “We have not in the past nor will we in the future focus on the sexual orientation of our members, be they children or youth.”
One World Spiritual Center in east Cobb has only been open about a year-and-a-half and doesn’t yet sponsor a Scout troop, but leaders are hoping to do so moving forward.
The Rev. Stephanie Seigh, senor minister at the interfaith church on Shallowford Road, said she and other members of her church have been following national and local news about churches asking troops to leave following the controversial ruling.
“Our spiritual community honors all paths, and is an accepting and welcoming community that would love to support these troops,” Seigh said.
“My own children spent many happy years in the Scouts back in Pennsylvania and I want to help these troops to continue to make a difference in their children’s lives.”
Seigh said she’s trying to get the word out about her church’s policy, including scrolling a message on her church’s marquee welcoming the scouts to join her approximately 90-member congregation.
“Of course churches have the right to make that decision (about having a Boy Scout troop),” Seigh said. “But we sing a song at our church called, ‘I Am As God Created Me.’ We believe in original blessings, not in original sin.
“When we hear about people being judged and persecuted, it just makes us sad. We honor all paths to God.”
Severing ties with BSA
Some local Baptist churches won’t be continuing their relationships with the scouts, saying the new policy conflicts with the teachings of the Bible.
Senior Pastor Ernest Easley with Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta announced to his congregation the Sunday following the vote that his church would discontinue Troop 204, which has been chartered through the church since 1945.
“I’ve encouraged people to get out of the program for the sake of protecting their children and to find an alternative,” Easley said.
Easley’s preferred substitute is the Royal Ambassadors program, a Southern Baptist organization that teaches camping skills and tying knots with a focus on understanding God’s word.
As a boy, Easley said he participated in both Cub Scouts and RAs but had to decide which one to pursue as he got older.
“I chose RAs,” he said. “It’s a great organization to teach about camping, God and country. … Not every Southern Baptist Church has a program, but I’m hoping over the next 12 to 15 months a lot of our churches will consider launching or strengthening one they’ve got to provide parents an alternative.”
Easley said his church will officially sever its sponsorship of Troop 204 the day the policy goes into effect and will allow scouts to continue to finish up patches and Eagle Scout projects through the end of the year.
Other than his sermon, Easley said he’s talked about the changes with scouting leadership in the church.
“They are sad about it,” he said. “But they understand why we have to do it. Nobody’s happy about it, I’m very sad about the whole scenario.”
“We are a congregation that affirms God’s word in practice and in belief. In that sense it would be a compromise for us to throw an arm around an organization that is openly pro-gay. It is a sad decision but a simple one when you affirm God’s word as the guide for your faith in practice.”
‘Dramatic change’ to Boy Scout oath
The Rev. Bryant Wright, senior pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in east Cobb and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said through a video message on his church’s website last week he would be making the same choice despite the “rich partnership” his church has enjoyed with Scouts over the years.
In the four-minute video, Wright said he believes the decision essentially condones homosexuality as being consistent with the Boy Scout Oath of Duty and “moral uprightness.”
“This is a dramatic change in the interpretation of the Scout Oath and it deeply concerns us,” Wright said. “You see, as Bible-believing Christians, we cannot compromise God’s word, which has a clear call for people — all people young and old — to a life of sexual purity.”
Wright said members of his church who have the “desire to change” their sins, comparing the situation of a young gay man with that of a young man struggling with alcohol abuse, are following the path of Jesus, who calls individuals to become the people God wants them to be.
“When a young boy who is struggling with sexual identity or feels that he is gay comes to his scout leader for counseling and advice, we’re committed to pray with that young man and urge him to live a life of sexual purity consistent with God’s word,” he said.
Moving forward, the church will allow Scouts to continue their Eagle Scout candidacy in the short-term.
“In the long term, we will look for alternative means to preserve the spirit of scouting without causing us to compromise God’s word,” Wright said.
Key meeting for Baptists this week
The annual Southern Baptist convention will be Tuesday and Wednesday in Houston, Texas, where it’s likely Baptist leaders will be told to move forward with disbanding their respective troops.
Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter told the Southern Baptist Press the decision marks “a sad day in the history of an organization that for years stood on Christian principles, particularly for the thousands of Southern Baptists who grew up as Boy Scouts like myself.”
“My prayers go out to the parents and churches who have been forced to make decisions about being a part of the Boy Scouts.
“As Southern Baptists, our commitment to the word of God and Christian values must take priority over what is ‘politically correct,’” Luter said.