By Bob Allen
What opponents to the Boy Scouts of American dropping its ban on gay youth warned would be mass exodus is underway, as churches across the country are ending sponsorship of troops because they regard the new, inclusive membership policy immoral.
Mike Shaw, pastor of First Baptist Church of Pelham, Ala., and former president of the Alabama Baptist Convention, told the Birmingham News that his church will no longer sponsor Troop 404 as of Jan. 1, when the new policy takes effect.
“We don’t hate anybody,” Shaw said. “We’re not doing it out of hatred. The teachings of the Scripture are very clear on this. We’re doing it because it violates the clear teaching of Scripture.”
Ernest Easley, pastor of Roswell Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., advised in his Sunday sermon that parents of Boy Scouts should remove their children from the organization and that Troop 204’s affiliation with the Atlanta-area congregation would end.
Easley told ABC News the tie between Roswell Street Baptist Church and Troop 204 dates back to 1945, but with the May 23 vote to overturn the organization’s 22-year-old ban on openly gay Scouts, he believes children are now at risk.
“My greatest concern is the protection of boys,” Easley said. “This decision opens the floodgate for a potential increase in sexual abuse of children.”
Easley is current chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. In February that group adopted a rare resolution between annual SBC meetings urging the Boy Scouts to keep the ban on both gay Scouts and youth leaders in place. The 61 percent favorable vote by the organization’s national council May 23 still doesn’t permit gay leaders but allows openly gay youth to join.
Frank Page, the Executive Committee’s president and CEO, told ABC News the SBC will likely recommend that its 47,000 U.S. churches pull away from the Boy Scouts of America at the upcoming annual convention meeting in Houston.
Page blogged May 29 that in several meetings leading up to the policy change, BSA leaders sought to reassure him that while they were compromising in one area they would never waver in the area of a Scout’s reverence or devotion to God. He said his response was the fact they were having the discussion did not give him great confidence in their ability to stay resolute on moral ground.
“One of the big issues here is whether or not to allow a private organization such as Scouts to remain resolute and strong in that which they believe,” Page said. “We are in a society now that truly seems to attack anybody who points out a difference that might make some people feel that what they are doing might be morally incorrect.”
Page beseeched for God’s help as Baptists move into a century “where not only is everything tolerated, but where those who choose to hold to biblical morality are singled out for active persecution.”
J. Smith, president of the Association of Baptists for Scouting, said in a statement prior to the vote that dropping the ban could “precipitate a major crisis in how Baptists relate to the Boy Scouts of America.”
“This really isn’t about having a place for homosexuals or atheists to benefit from Scouting,” Smith said. “There are Scouting alternatives to serve people who hold those practices and beliefs. This is about a concerted effort to bring down a cultural icon.”
The Boy Scouts number more than 100,000 troops across the country, with more than a million adult leaders and 2.7 million boys. About 70 percent of troops are sponsored by religious organizations.
Chip Turner, chairman of the BSA Religious Relationships Task Force and past president of the Association of Baptists for Scouting, acknowledged in an open letter that the membership vote “was not what many Baptist denominations and others wanted to see transpire.”
Before reacting in haste, however, Turner encouraged Baptists to “prayerfully consider” the lost evangelism and family ministry opportunities now afforded to sponsoring congregations.
“There are many fine children and youth programs in our churches, which primarily address those already in the church family,” said Turner, a former employee of the SBC Radio and Television Commission and communications director at the Louisiana Baptist Convention for 16 years. “However, what about the unchurched and unreached?”
“Plus, consider the people in your church family who are better members, parents, leaders and citizens because they had the Scouting experience delivered by godly men and women,” Turner admonished.