- The Washington Times - Monday, July 27, 2015

Adult homosexuals can now participate as Boy Scouts of America leaders, volunteers and employees, and the question now becomes: Can churches be part of Scouting too?

The policy, ratified Monday evening by a 79 percent majority of the BSA’s national executive board, is intended to make the 105-year-old organization more inclusive and “preserve” it from expensive anti-discrimination lawsuits, the BSA said in background materials.

“This vote marks the beginning of a new chapter for the Boy Scouts of America,” said Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for Equality, who sought to open the BSA so lesbian mothers, like his, could participate in Scouting.

“As of this vote, the Boy Scouts of America is an organization that is looking forward, not back,” said Mr. Wahls, an Eagle Scout.

But a spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of the largest sponsors of Scout troops in the country, said “the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America.”

Mormon leaders will meet on the issue in August, the church said.

Monday’s vote was held after a private, daylong meeting and teleconference of some 70 board members in Irving, Texas. The policy took effect immediately upon approval.

Acceptance of the policy was expected: It had been unanimously approved July 10 by the BSA’s 17-member National Executive Committee.

Weeks earlier, BSA National President Robert Gates laid the groundwork for the change, saying the BSA’s long-standing policy — which disallows open or avowed homosexual adults to join Scouting — was “unsustainable,” given social trends and anti-discrimination laws.

Mr. Gates’ view stemmed from advocacy from groups such as Scouts for Equality and Human Rights Campaign, the loss of some corporate sponsors over the BSA’s ban on adult homosexuals as leaders, and the potential for lawsuits because of city and state nondiscrimination laws in hiring.

However, some observers saw the policy as a sad departure from Lord Baden-Powell’s founding vision of a “paternal, masculine, traditional” organization, in which religiously devout men use nature to train boys to become strong, virtuous, godly men.

The BSA “is becoming completely different in its focus. They never mention their actual mission, which is to teach morals and values to young men,” said John Stemberger, chairman of the board of Trail Life USA and a former BSA leader.

The new BSA policy says adults who apply for BSA membership or employment, who otherwise meet BSA adult qualifications, cannot be rejected solely “on the basis of sexual orientation.”

The policy also affirms each chartering organization’s right to “select adult leaders” who “will best inculcate the organization’s values through the Scouting program,” said a BSA legal paper, which added that churches are backed by the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom.

Outside the BSA, though, a legal analysis from a former BSA attorney is advising tradition-minded churches that they will be at “greater legal risk” of maintaining their own views of human sexuality in Scouting, despite what the BSA says about its new policy.

The church-chartered troop “will likely be sued the moment it tries to revoke the membership of the homosexual member who wears his uniform to the Gay Pride Parade, revokes or denies membership to an adult who publicly gets married to someone of the same sex, or denied membership to the girl who believes she is actually a male,” Richard John Mathews, former legal counsel to the BSA and now general counsel of Trail Life USA, wrote in a July 22 legal memorandum.

Despite BSA assertions, Mr. Mathews wrote, “a church that chooses to maintain ties with BSA could very well lose the ability to teach biblical principles of sexual morality to its Scouts and to require them to adhere to those principles.”

[Updated] The National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS) said in a statement Monday night that it had “strong concern” about how the policy “would work in practice,” what is meant by “sexual orientation,” and that it “does not make clear that sexual activity should be reserved to a husband and wife in marriage.”

Still, the policy respects the rights of religious chartering organizations to select their leaders, the NCCS said. “Catholic Scouters like you are still very much needed,” it said to its members. “Let’s continue this important journey together and pray for the future of Scouting!”

The Southern Baptist Convention may find the policy a bridge too far.

“At every point, the Scout leadership tells us that they will go this far and no farther, but here we are again. So it’s hard for me to believe, in the long term, that the Boy Scouts will allow religious groups to have the freedom to choose their own leaders,” Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press earlier this month.

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