By Mark Tooley (@MarkDTooley)
A group of mostly Protestant and evangelical church leaders, representing churches with over 20 million members, are asking the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) National Council meeting this week to retain the current BSA stance on sexuality. The May 22-24 meeting will consider a proposal to prohibit “discrimination” based on “sexual orientation or preference,” while leaving in place the current prohibition on openly homosexual Scout leaders.
Signers of the appeal to BSA include Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod President Matthew Harrison, Assemblies of God General Superintendent George Wood, Church of God General (Cleveland, TN) Overseer Mark Williams, and Archbishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Church in North America, as well as theologians like Southern Baptist Albert Mohler, United Methodist Thomas Oden, and Presbyterian Luder Whitlock.
Here is their statement, which attracted about fifty prominent signers:
“We strongly support the Boy Scouts of America current prohibition on open homosexuality and retaining it without revision. Nearly 70 percent of BSA troops are hosted by churches and religious institutions. Upholding traditional morality is vital for sustaining this partnership, for protecting Scout members, and for ensuring BSA has a strong future. A proposal from the BSA board to prohibit “discrimination” based on “sexual orientation or preference” for BSA members potentially would open the Scouts to a wide range of open sexual expressions. In our current culture, it is more important than ever for our churches to protect and provide moral nurture for young people and for the Scouts. We implore members of the upcoming BSA Council to affirm the BSA’s present policy, which the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed, and which has served BSA well.”
In his own preamble to the statement, Rev. Harrison of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod warned the “proposed change will highlight sexuality, which has not been and should not be a matter of focus for Scouts.” And he suspects “it will make it more challenging to care for young people struggling with same-sex attraction and perhaps open our churches to legal action.” He also said the policy would supersede pastoral authority in churches with Scout units and could cause a “crisis of conscience for our church leaders, pastors, parents and congregations.” Harrison noted that “for more than a century, scouting has sought to uphold moral values at a level greater than that of general society,” and the “capitulation now to societal pressures would mar the long and honorable history of the Boy Scouts to honor the natural law of God, which at least for now, is still reflected in the current scouting membership policy.”
Richard Land, in his own separate May 15 letter to the Boy Scout leadership, warned that the proposed new policy would “cause many Southern Baptist churches, as well as many churches from other denominations, to withdraw their sponsorship rather than compromise their convictions.” He also said he was “perplexed” that the BSA “would abandon a century-old membership policy” less than a year after a 2 year study reaffirmed that policy “remains in the best interest of Scouting.”
In their own statement, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting cited Roman Catholicism’s teaching on chastity, and said the Church “reserves the right to seek to place those who live by its teachings in leadership positions that serve our youth, as well as the right to continue to call our young people to live by the teachings of our faith and by moral truth which can be known by all.”
Catholics are the third largest religious group involved in Scouting. Mormons are the most numerous, and their church effectively abstained from a public stance on the proposed new policy. United Methodists are the second most numerous, and their leaders in February asked BSA to defer any shift in policy until participating churches could review in a “thoughtful and prayerful manner.”
If the BSA National Council changes the membership policy, it will almost certainly create tensions between BSA and many of its participating religious congregations. Some may withdraw from BSA altogether and support religiously-based alternatives to Scouting. Meanwhile, many critics will not relent until BSA altogether abandons any restrictions on open sexual expression for members and leaders. The days of BSA as a culturally unifying icon are over, and BSA sadly will have to choose sides in the culture wars.
This blog post originally appeared on the First Things website as an article.