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Boy Scouts’ decision on gays tests loyalty of members
For Dennis Ebersole, the fallout from the Boy Scouts of America's decision to change a century of policy and allow openly gay Scouts to participate wasn't long in coming.
"Within 12 hours of the announcement that the membership standards resolution had passed, I was contacted by five other members in my pack leadership committee, questioning whether they were going to continue Scouting," said Mr. Ebersole, a den leader with Cub Scout Pack 282 in South Riding, Va.
The reaction was equally quick for Gary Hiden, an assistant scoutmaster of Troop 268 in New Market, Md., who has been involved with the Boy Scouts of America his whole life. He was a Boy Scout, and his mother served as a den mother and his father as a scoutmaster. Now, both his sons are Scouts. But the family plans to quit the Boy Scouts once the new policy takes effect Jan. 1.
"I'm very sad, because it's a part of me and a part of my family. We have so much invested in Boy Scouting," Mr. Hiden said. "But we don't believe that the new policy is consistent with our beliefs."
Mr. Hiden's troop is chartered by a Brethren church, and he identifies himself as a Christian. He said his elder son, who is 15, is just shy of becoming an Eagle. "Hopefully, he'll be able to be an Eagle Scout by Jan. 1," he said — before the policy comes into force.
The dust is settling two weeks after the Boy Scouts of America's national council adopted the policy accepting openly gay Scouts but retaining a ban on gay adult Scout leaders.
Hopes of some officials that the compromise would put the controversy to rest do not appear to be panning out.
Many faith-based organizations that sponsor Scout troops and activities are still struggling over whether to remain in Scouting, while parents are debating whether to pull their sons out of the organization.
Churches of various faith denominations in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Idaho and other states have ended Scouting programs because the policy goes against church teachings, although the Mormon Church, the nation's largest sponsor of Scouting troops serving some 430,000 boys, has said it 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 sharply questioned the move. A Catholic pastor in Bremerton, Wash., the Rev. Derek Lappe of Our Lady Star of the Sea, wrote an open letter to his parishioners announcing that the parish would cut its ties with the Scouts and develop youth programs of its own.
"I am very aware that my objection to the change is increasingly considered bigoted and backward," Father Lappe wrote, according to The Associated Press. "But I won't put public opinion ahead of the good of the boys and young men in my parish."
Baptist leaders reportedly will encourage the denomination's nearly 46,000 U.S. churches to stop sponsoring Scout troops at the annual Southern Baptist Convention starting Tuesday, while top officials at the Assemblies of God denomination are predicting a "mass exodus" from Scouting and have formed Royal Rangers, a group for boys "that operates with values consistent to that of the BSA prior to today's change."
While sponsoring organizations come to terms with the change, the dilemma faced by individual parents and adults long active in Scouting has been even more pointed.
"I find the whole thing extremely confusing," said Maryland mother Janet Gorden, whose two sons are involved with the Boy Scouts. "I think either it's acceptable or it's not. If I was a homosexual person, I would find it insulting to have it be OK at 18 and not OK at 19. I think there's something wrong with that."
Ms. Gorden said she and her husband, the den leader for Cub Scouts pack 287 in Frederick, are planning to pull their sons out of the Boy Scouts after this summer.
"We feel very strongly that homosexuality is a sin. We just don't want that taught to our son, especially at the age that he is," she said.
"The decision has people divided," said Ron Fong, scoutmaster of Troop 111 in Fremont, Calif., noting the sharp division between the San Francisco Bay Area's large liberal population and more conservative communities and Scout troops in the state.
As the father of an Eagle Scout, Mr. Fong has been involved with the Boy Scouts for 15 years. While hesitant to comment on the divisive issue, he said he has talked with many people who support the decision and think it's "just the right amount of compromise."
Bill Bylund, a physician in Virginia Beach, was an Eagle Scout as a boy and attained Scouting's highest honor with the Methodist-sponsored Troop 673 in Great Falls, Va.
"It was an awesome experience. I've been Scouting for a long time and really enjoyed it and felt like it contributed greatly to my childhood experience," said the former assistant Scout leader. "It's [helped shape] my morals and some of the basic life skills that I have today."
However, Dr. Bylund said he is upset that Boy Scout officials insist they are trying to be inclusive but are still indirectly promoting homosexuality.
"I don't want to segregate against my [gay] friends. I want to support them," he said. "But that doesn't mean we should change what we see as truth, as Christians."
For others, the policy change is irrelevant. Patrick Merkle, scoutmaster for St. Peter's Boy Scout Troop 380 in the District, said the only difference with the policy is that it makes gay Scouts feel safer.
Scouts ultimately are punished for behavior, not sexual orientation, he said.
"It's kind of like 'don't ask don't tell,' but if we find out, you're still OK," he said. "If I start running into problems because I have same-sex attraction boys [who] want to engage in sexual activity, the policy is going to be the same now as it has been forever — you're out of here."
Mr. Merkle also said it is none of the Boy Scouts' business to be making a national political statement. The organization shouldn't take one side or the other, he said.
"Our job is to teach these kids respect and love and confidence and to instill leadership skills. I don't want to have to teach boys how to be chaste. That should be something they learn at home and enforce in Scouting," said the scoutmaster.
Aaron Chusid, communications director of the Boy Scouts of America's National Capital Area Council, said troops in the region have not experienced any changes so far in reaction to the move.
"For now, it's back to business as usual. We're gearing up to camping season and making plans for our fall membership drive and our popcorn sale," he said.
Mr. Chusid thinks the policy change still should be acceptable to religious groups who are wary of the decision.
"It's asserting our duty to God, asserting that sexuality doesn't belong in scouting, period," he said. "Our mission is to serve all youth who want to benefit from the Scouting program and I think that's something most people can get behind."
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