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Alabama Baptist churches react to recent Boy Scouts policy changecomment (0)

June 13, 2013

By Julie Payne

Alabama Baptist churches are among churches nationwide determining their response to the May 23 Boy Scouts of America (BSA) decision to allow gay youth Scouting members beginning Jan. 1, 2014. 

First Baptist Church, Pelham, will dissolve its relationship with Troop 404 as of Jan. 1, according to Pastor Mike Shaw.

The church’s decision to disaffiliate is not about hate and is based on the fact that the new policy “violates clear teaching of Scripture,” he said. “We have no alternative but to withdraw from Scouting. 

“It breaks my heart,” Shaw noted. “I was a Boy Scout. My boys were involved in Scouting for a short time … and we’ve had some wonderful Scouts come through our program.

“If they had left things alone, we wouldn’t be having this discussion right now,” he said, noting he holds no ill will against the organization and is more than willing for another church to pick up the unit. 

Westwood Baptist Church, Alabaster, is ending its affiliation with the Scouts when its charter of Troop 220 expires July 31. 

“We had a great working relationship with the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts at our campus … we’re talking many, many years that we’ve had a wonderful relationship with that organization,” said executive pastor Rick Swing. “When the BSA made their decision to change their policy to allow homosexuals in their rank and file, as a church we knew we needed to sever ties. We can’t embrace what they’re doing at (the) national level.”

Greg Walker, pastor of First Baptist Church, Helena, also reported his church will no longer host Troop 2 but will allow the unit time to look for a new meeting place.

With about 4,000 Scouting units in Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches, it is a discussion that could severely impact BSA. Predictions at press time indicated messengers attending the SBC annual meeting in Houston June 11–12 would vote on a resolution urging SBC churches to disaffiliate with the BSA.

Ernest Easley, pastor of Roswell Baptist Church, Marietta, Ga., and current chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, is urging parents of Boy Scouts to take their children out of the organization and that Troop 204’s affiliation with his congregation would end, according to Associated Baptist Press. 

This is an opportunity to strengthen current Royal Ambassador (RA) programs (or start new ones) “and to get the boys in a program where they’re going to be protected, where there’s a high moral standard and where they will have an opportunity to learn about camping, missions [and] evangelism in the local church,” Easley said, according to a CNN report. 

There’s also FaithBasedBoys.org, a website that was recently launched to serve as a virtual gathering place for those interested in developing a Christ-centered leadership and character development organization for boys aged 5–18.

American Heritage Girls (AHG), a nonprofit founded in 1995 by a group of parents desiring a wholesome program for their daughters, has come alongside those working to build the new boys program and infrastructure “by providing best practices and counsel,” according to AHG founder and executive director Patti Garibay. 

“Thousands of families are finding respite in the thought of a program that affirms their religious beliefs while providing their sons the opportunity to grow in life skills and leadership,” Garibay said, adding the specific goals of the new program will be determined by the coalition following their end of June meeting, and dependent on the coalition and committee work, a new program may be available to families this year.

Not all Baptists are jumping ship, however. Some are looking at the BSA move as an outreach opportunity.

R. Chip Turner, national chairman of the Boy Scouts’ Religious Relationships Task Force and past national president of the Association of Baptists for Scouting, acknowledged that while the decision isn’t what many preferred, it is a time to prayerfully consider the evangelism and family ministry opportunities within the church’s Scout units. 

Turner explained that churches are not being compelled to accept homosexual leaders or the homosexual lifestyle. 

“The resolution clearly states that ‘youth are still developing, learning about themselves and who they are, developing their sense of right and wrong and understanding their duty to God to live a moral life.’ Shouldn’t Baptists be at the forefront in helping youth find answers which are biblically based?” he wrote in an open letter to Southern Baptists.

J.T. Dabbs III, Scout executive for the Greater Alabama Council of the BSA, added that  Scouting is a “great way to bring unchurched families into the church.”

“We believe no young person comes to the Scouts or to the church perfect. It is our role to model for these young people what godly living is about and remind them what values are important,” he said. “The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout oath and law. It’s hard to do that if they aren’t in our program.”

Scouting leaders also are urging Baptists to clearly understand the new policy before making a decision.

A.J. Smith, president of the Association of Baptists for Scouting, said, “I contacted the membership impact department at the national office of the Boy Scouts of America, proposing an interpretation of the changes in membership guidelines,” he said. “The response I received from the [BSA] was that this interpretation (outlined below) was correct in every point so long as a charter organization did not try to use it to exclude a boy solely on the basis of his perceived sexual orientation.”

First, the resolution clearly states that sexual activity among Scout-aged youth is contrary to Scouting virtues. So long as it is uniformly and equitably applied, a unit could have in its code of conduct a statement regarding sexual abstinence as a condition of membership.

Second, while the resolution says that youth may not be denied membership solely on the basis of the youth’s self-perceived sexual orientation, it does not say that a youth may not be denied membership if his behavior becomes a distraction to the program or the performance of the unit, or if his behavior casts a poor reflection on the reputation of the charter organization.

Third, the resolution does not require that a church-chartered unit affirm the moral acceptability of same-sex attraction where that would be contrary to values and beliefs of the charter organization.

Fourth, the resolution does not preclude the right of the church to ask adult leaders to exemplify by word and example the positive nature of traditional, heterosexual marriage as their recognized standard of what it means to be morally straight with the goal of influencing youth in the unit to appreciate and appropriate that as part of their personal values system.

“The BSA is working on a list of behavior expectations of its own, but I was also told that chartered organizations could craft their own codes of conduct and that they could be stricter than the one BSA creates, so long as it does not violate the new membership policy,” Smith added. “Given this interpretation of the situation, I believe that it is possible, even desirable, for Baptist churches to continue to utilize Scouting as an outreach ministry of the church.”

The difference is churches can no longer afford to strictly offer the Scouts a meeting place, he added, noting they must now involve members of the local congregation and set expectations for leaders consistent with the values of the church.

Among other reactions to the BSA policy change, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the top sponsor of the BSA, has indicated that it doesn’t object to the new policy. 

United Methodist Scouting officials have said they would continue to support the BSA and Roman Catholic leaders have offered mixed responses, all according to RNS news reports. 

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