Conservative white evangelicals credited with helping to elect Donald Trump as president oppose his pick for secretary of state not because of his cozy ties with Russia but for his role in leading the Boy Scouts of America to drop their policy of excluding youth who are openly gay.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who is also currently filling in as interim pastor of Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Greenwell Springs, La., said Trump’s choice of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson “is upsetting at best” because of his role in the Boy Scouts decision to change its membership policy in 2013. And it was followed two years later by an amendment to leadership policies removing a national restriction on openly gay leaders and employees.
Tillerson, a Distinguished Eagle Scout served as national president of the Boy Scouts of America from 2010 to 2012 before remaining on the organization’s executive board. Tillerson and another Boy Scouts official met three years ago with Southern Baptist Convention leader Frank Page after the SBC Executive Committee passed a rare resolution warning the then-proposed policy changes would make the BSA “an organization that would no longer complement but rather contradict our belief in God and his moral precepts that serve as the basis for our Christian faith.”
Page, the Executive Committee’s president and CEO, tweeted later in the day, “Met today with one of the most powerful personalities I’ve ever met. He did not budge 1 inch. Nor did I.”
An observer who described the gathering later to Baptist Press termed it a “cordial” meeting, where Page warned the Boy Scouts would lose members and the support of faith-based organizations if leaders changed the group’s policy on homosexuality.
“Tillerson, a professing Christian, shared with Page his faith testimony,” according to the account related through Baptist Press. “He also explained why he believes the policy should be overturned. There are changing cultural winds on the issue of homosexuality, Tillerson said. Local Scouting organizations would retain control over their local leadership, he said, and national gatherings of Scouts would accommodate troops who don’t have gay leaders.”
When Tillerson asked Page to support the Boy Scouts whatever the decision coming up the following May, “Page said he could not do that,” the story said, because “God’s truth is abiding” and “principles should not be subject to the changing tide of human opinion.”
“Scripture, not opinion polls, should provide the basis for leadership,” the witness quoted the denominational leader.
While discussions leading to the policy change were held in private, a source familiar with the proceedings said Tillerson was instrumental in lobbying the Scouts’ board to accept openly gay youths.
“I can’t get into the intimacy of these conversations, but he agonized over this,” John Hamre, president of the Washington think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Dallas Morning News in 2014. “He prayed on it, and ultimately he came to the conclusion the only thing that can guide him here is what’s best for the young boys.”
“I think he became a key leader in helping the group come to a consensus,” Hamre said.
Less than 24 hours after the vote to change the BSA’s membership policy for youth, Tillerson addressed a room full of Scouting volunteers and professionals at the closing general session of the BSA’s National Annual Meeting.
“I understand people feel like there’s winners and losers,” Tillerson said. “The reality is there are neither winners or losers. What is left after we made the decision to change is the mission, and the mission has not changed.”
Tillerson is described as a devout Christian who attends church weekly and teaches Bible study. He apparently hasn’t said on the record which church he attends, but in the past he has donated money to the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches, a group of about 400 churches historically linked to the Puritan pilgrims in the early 1600s founded by clergy and laypeople opposed to a merger of two denominations to form the United Church of Christ in 1957.
The 64-year-old outgoing Exxon Mobil chief reportedly owns company stock worth $151 million and earned a compensation package of $27.2 million in 2015.
Perkins, who supported Trump prior to the election and said it was “unbiblical” for evangelicals to criticize his candidacy if they were not involved in the political process, said the organization he leads “knows Tillerson all too well, having worked for years to put the brakes on his reckless agenda for a scouting organization that was already dealing with staggering numbers of sexual abuse cases.”
Perkins also criticized Exxon Mobil for donating money to Planned Parenthood. Exxon Mobil said while its employees donate to Planned Parenthood in part with company money, the company itself doesn’t endorse the organization.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America voiced “alarm” at Tiller’s nomination as secretary of state because of his “international track record of putting corporate profit over the fundamental rights of people.”
“As an advocate not just for women and girls in the U.S., but around the globe, Planned Parenthood sees firsthand the impact that the U.S. Secretary of State can have in advancing gender equality and human rights worldwide,” said Latanya Mapp Frett, executive director of Planned Parenthood Global. “Should Tillerson be confirmed, Planned Parenthood hopes he will help continue America’s role as a leader for women’s rights internationally.”