Religious groups weigh support for Boy Scouts after vote to end ban on gay leaders

(RNS) Are the days of religious groups’ involvement in the Boy Scouts numbered or will a pending vote on gay leadership give those who oppose it a workaround?

Faith groups, some of which are key sponsors of Scouting troops, continue to mull next steps after the executive committee of the Boy Scouts of America unanimously adopted a resolution Friday (July 10) allowing its chartered organizations to choose adult gay leaders.

But the BSA also said the change in policy would permit religiously chartered organizations to continue not doing so.

Some faith leaders said their continued support for the BSA would hinge on that caveat.

“As a chartering organization, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has always had the right to select Scout leaders who adhere to moral and religious principles that are consistent with our doctrines and beliefs,” Mormon church officials stated. “Any resolution adopted by the Boy Scouts of America regarding leadership in Scouting must continue to affirm that right.”

Four members of the church’s leadership, including President Thomas S. Monson, are on the national executive board that is scheduled to vote July 27 via conference call on whether to ratify the executive committee resolution.

The LDS church has the largest Scouting youth membership of all the BSA religiously affiliated groups — 37,933 units and 437,160 youths as of 2013. All young Mormon men in the U.S. are enrolled in Scouting as part of their youth activity program, said Eric Hawkins, church spokesman.

Southern Baptist Convention ethicist Russell Moore said he’s not so sure how free faith groups will be to make leadership decisions after the upcoming vote.

“I don't believe the Boy Scouts when they say that religious groups will have freedom to choose their own leaders,” he said. “The Boy Scouts have pursued an ongoing evolution, if evolutions can happen at breakneck speed, toward the moral priorities of the sexual revolution. At every point, the Scout leadership tells us that they will go this far and no farther.”

He predicted a continuing falling away of autonomous Southern Baptist congregations from Scouting if the BSA executive committee resolution is ratified.

The BSA voted in 2013 to permit gay Scouts but said it would not permit gay Scout leaders.

“I have seen a definite cooling on the part of Baptist churches to the Scouts,” Moore said. “This will probably bring that cooling to freezing.”

Other religious groups liked the idea of dropping the ban on adult gay leaders.

The Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, the United Church of Christ’s liaison with the BSA, urged passage of the resolution by the full board, saying, “It is long past due."

And some gay rights organizations said the resolution left religious groups room to discriminate.

“(W)riting in an exemption for troops organized by religious organizations undermines the potentially historic nature" of the executive committee vote, said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “As we have said countless times, half-measures are unacceptable and discriminatory exemptions have no place in the Boy Scouts.”

R. Chip Turner, national chairman of the BSA Religious Relationships Committee, continues to hope that more faith-based groups will stay with the BSA after the July 27 vote.

“There will be some folks, I’m sure, who feel like that’s the end for them,” he said. “I certainly hope it’s not the end for Scouting and I don’t believe it will be.”

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