Southern Baptists condemn Scouts shift on gays, call for new leadership

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Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention at their annual gathering Wednesday overwhelmingly backed a resolution calling for the removal of Boy Scouts of America leaders who approved a policy shift allowing the participation of openly gay Scouts, expressing concern that this may be the first step toward “future approval of homosexual leaders” in the BSA.

The resolution, passed by the delegates gathered in Houston, expressed “continued opposition to and disappointment in” the BSA policy change approved last month that lifted the ban on openly gay Scouts, effective Jan. 1. In an attempt at compromise, BSA officials kept in place the ban on openly gay adult Scout leaders. But an effort to toughen the resolution by endorsing an outright boycott of the Boy Scouts, as some had endorsed, was rejected.

The Southern Baptist resolution expressed support for churches and families that have cut ties with the BSA, while encouraging those choosing to remain within the organization to work toward reversing the policy and to fight against any future change that may further “[normalize] sexual conduct opposed to the biblical standard.”

The nation’s largest Protestant denomination claims 16 million members, although officials recently announced that membership declined in 2012 for the sixth year in a row.

Baptist churches are the sixth-largest sponsor of the BSA, supporting almost 4,000 troops and other Scouting units serving 108,353 boys across the nation, according to BSA figures.

Arguing in favor of the resolution, the Rev. Wes Taylor said the 103-year-old national scouting organization is creating “an environment that would prove fertile for young boys to be exposed to something that is ungodly and unacceptable.”

The resolution pointed churches that break ties with the BSA toward the Baptist discipleship organization, Royal Ambassadors, while at the same time declaring love for all young people regardless of their sexual orientation.

“We’re talking about a 12-year-old boy who says he’s gay. Such a boy, at best, has been exposed to something he should not have been exposed to. At worst, he’s been abused,” said delegate Charlie Dale from Indian Springs First Baptist Church in Alabama. “I don’t think we would kick such a boy out of our Sunday schools. … I don’t think we should hold the Boy Scouts to a standard we would not put on our own churches. Such a boy needs our love.”

The Southern Baptist move is one of the most significant rejections so far of the compromise fashioned by the BSA, which has seen various denominations and churches cut ties with their chartered troops. Some 70 percent of BSA sponsoring groups are religious organizations, giving churches a major say in the organization.

The Mormon Church, the nation’s largest sponsor of Scouting troops serving some 430,000 boys, has said it supports the compromise and will continue its sponsorship. The United Methodist Churches and the Catholic Church, the next two largest sponsors, have not formally opposed the policy shift, although individual churches and dioceses have announced their withdrawal from the BSA.

While some Southern Baptist churches have announced plans to drop their Boy Scout troops, other leaders support maintaining a relationship with the BSA. In a statement last week, Association of Baptists for Scouting President A.J. Smith said the BSA policy change does not require the church or individual troops to “affirm the moral acceptability of same-sex attraction.”

“I believe that it is possible, even desirable, for Baptist churches to continue to utilize Scouting as an outreach ministry of the church,” wrote Mr. Smith, citing the possibility of units requiring general sexual abstinence as a condition of membership.

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