By Bob Allen
A former denominational worker who now represents the Boy Scouts of America said a former Southern Baptist Convention president is mistaken about the BSA’s new policy ending a membership ban on Scouts who are openly gay.
Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., and SBC president from 2010 till 2012, said in an Internet video that his church will be cutting ties with the troop it sponsors in light of the new policy.
“When a young boy is struggling with sexual identify or feels like he is gay comes to his Scout leader for counseling and advice, we are committed to pray with that young man and urge him to live a life of sexual purity consistent with God’s word,” Wright explained. “Obviously he would not be expelled from our troop as would be the case with a young man struggling with alcohol abuse, and he comes to his Scoutmaster for counseling and help.”
“But if the young man is engaging in alcohol abuse and has no desire to change, then he would be expelled from the Scouts,” Wright continued. “And if a young man feels he is gay and is unwilling to lead a life of sexual purity according to Scripture, then he would be expelled.”
Chip Turner, chairman of the BSA Religious Relationships Task Force and former employee of both the SBC Radio and Television Commission and Louisiana Baptist Convention, said there’s a problem with the illustration: the new policy does not force a church or any other entity to accept a youth who is sexually active, whether gay or straight.
Turner said Wright’s video actually makes the very point that Scouting is trying to convey.
“You have the right to expel sexually active youth,” Turner said. “You simply cannot refuse to allow someone to join the unit who feels he may be gay — has same-sex attractions. Once he acts upon it, there’s grounds for dismissal.”
Wayne Brock, chief Scout executive for the Boy Scouts of America, recently sent an open letter to chartered organization representatives explaining the new policy, which takes effect Jan. 1. Brock said despite some perceptions to the contrary, the BSA is not endorsing homosexuality but rather recognizing that “there is a difference between kids and adults” when it comes to upholding Scouting values.
“Youth are still developing, learning about themselves and who they are, developing their sense of right and wrong, and understanding their duty to God to live a moral life,” Brock said. “Accordingly, a youth member simply stating he or she is attracted to the same sex, but not engaging in sexual activity, does not make them ineligible for membership.”
Some prominent Baptist churches have cut Boy Scout ties since the new policy was adopted in May, but to date the response is nothing of the mass exodus that Southern Baptist leaders predicted before the change. Both sponsoring congregations and the media are tuning in to this week’s SBC annual meeting to see whether the convention, as expected, will pass a resolution criticizing the new policy and urging members and churches to withdraw.
A.J. Smith, president of the Association of Baptists for Scouting, said last week that after reviewing what the policy says, he no longer believes a resolution is necessary or desirable.
Roger “Sing” Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations for the SBC Executive Committee, described appeals by both Smith and Turner as “persuasively crafted,” but added that “many see this policy change for what it is — the first step toward the ultimate goal of bringing the Scouts into line with the prevailing culture on the issue of homosexual identity and conduct.”
“We grieve that the Scouts have planted the seed of their eventual destruction,” Oldham told Baptist Press. “It won’t happen overnight, but the course has been set.”