(UMNS) — Boy Scouts of America leaders voted by a substantial margin May 23 to lift the organization’s longstanding ban on openly gay youth in the Scouting movement.
After months of debate and surveys of leaders, Scouting officials recommended allowing openly gay scouts but retaining the prohibition on gay adult leaders.
In a secret ballot, more than 1,400 volunteer local leaders in the group’s National Council accepted the proposal by a vote of 61%.
The approved resolution says: "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone."
Re-energize longtime debate
The change could affect ministries at 6,700 United Methodist churches in the United States. The discussion also has helped re-energize a longtime debate about human sexuality within the denomination.
Larry Coppock, United Methodist Men’s national director of Scouting ministries, was among those at the Boy Scouts’ gathering in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Grapevine. The Commission on United Methodist Men oversees Scouting ministries and civic youth-serving agencies across the denomination.
The United Methodist Church … did not have a vote in this matter, nor did other faith groups that serve as chartering organizations of the Boy Scouts of America.
“The United Methodist Church, and specifically the General Commission on United Methodist Men, did not have a vote in this matter, nor did other faith groups that serve as chartering organizations of the Boy Scouts of America. The change in membership standards was initiated by BSA,” United Methodist Men said in a statement.
“It is our hope and prayer that future membership-standard considerations will begin with BSA’s Religious Relationship Task Force, a committee composed of representatives from various faith groups that represent 70% of BSA’s units and 62% of its membership.”
Gil Hanke, top executive of the Commission on United Methodist Men, said ahead of the vote, that his agency joined in others in praying for those who would make the decision.
Varying religious perspectives
Various religious groups had weighed in on the proposal in advance of the Boy Scouts’ annual National Council meeting.
United Methodist congregations and individuals have advocated both for eliminating the ban and keeping it.
Kessler Park United Methodist Church in Dallas’ Oak Cliff community, for example, posted a statement on its Facebook page earlier this week urging Boy Scouts of America leadership to adopt the resolution.
The church, which hosts Boy Scouts Troop 5 and Venturing Crew 5 in Dallas, also urged Boy Scouts leadership “to draft a subsequent resolution eliminating heterosexuality as a requirement for an adult’s participation in Scouting.”
“We believe that Christ’s teachings, as well as the Scout Oath and Law which flow from Christ’s words, call us to welcome all persons of good will in the training of children to become wholesome adults,” Kessler Park UMC said in its statement. “As a practical matter, we witness on a daily basis the contributions that gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered individuals make to our community.”
Do not revise stance
At the same time, a group of Protestant leaders and advocates, including at least five United Methodists, signed a statement released May 20 calling on Boy Scouts not to revise the group’s current stance.
“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,” said the statement, which first appeared on the Touchstone blog. “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.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is the Boy Scouts’ largest charter partner, has offered tacit approval of a change in policy to allow gay teens but not gay adult leaders.
“The current BSA proposal constructively addresses a number of important issues that have been part of the ongoing dialogue, including consistent standards for all BSA partners, recognition that Scouting exists to serve and benefit youths rather than Scout leaders, a single standard of moral purity for youths in the program, and a renewed emphasis for Scouts to honor their duty to God,” Mormon leaders said in an April 25 statement.
United Methodist Men
Leaders of United Methodist Men, however, did not issue an official statement on the specific proposal ahead of the vote. But they did send a letter dated Feb. 19 to Boy Scouts of America urging the group to delay any proposed change to its ban on gay members and leaders. The letter did not specify how long such a delay should last.
More than 70% of Scout units are chartered to religiously affiliated groups, reports Boy Scouts of America. Those charters comprise 62% of the group’s 2.7 million youth members.
The United Methodist Church is second only to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the number of congregations that host Boy Scouts of America groups. The United Methodist Church hosts more Cub Scout packs than any other religious group.
As of 2012, 6,700 United Methodist congregations served 363,876 young people through 10,868 Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops and Venturing crews. Venturing crews are open to both young men and women, ages 14 to 20.
In addition to Boy Scouts-affiliated groups, United Methodist Men promotes other youth organizations including Girl Scouts of the USA, Big Brothers Big Sisters Amachi Partnership, Camp Fire USA and 4-H.
Varying policies on sexual orientation
Those groups have varied policies regarding sexual orientation. For example, Girl Scouts of the USA has a policy that states its local councils and troops do not discriminate or recruit on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, national origin or physical or developmental disability.
The Girl Scouts’ rationale is that “sexual orientation is a private matter for girls and their families to address.”
“Girl Scouts has established standards that do not permit the advocacy or promotion of a personal lifestyle or sexual orientation,” says Girl Scouts policy. “Adults working with girls must adhere to these standards.”
Months of feedback
Boy Scouts of America announced Jan. 28 that it was considering leaving the question of whether to have gay leaders and members up to its local charter organizations. On Feb. 6, Boy Scouts of America’s national board decided to “further engage with representatives of Scouting’s membership” and postponed any decision until this month’s meeting.
Hanke first released a statement on Jan. 29 affirming how the Boy Scouts’ proposed changes would be implemented. In that statement, he said, “the proposed changes are actually more consistent with the current Book of Discipline,” the United Methodist law book.
While stating that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” the denomination proclaims a commitment “to be in ministry for and with all persons.”
That statement also noted that Hanke and Coppock “were consulted by the leadership at the highest levels of BSA prior to the proposal to change membership requirements.”
Elaborated on position
After hearing from leaders threatening to quit over the proposed change, Hanke elaborated in a statement Jan. 31, saying that what he endorsed was moving the responsibility for selecting leaders and members to the local-church level.
The second statement also emphasized that United Methodist Men played no part in helping Boy Scouts of America formulate the proposed changes. The agency was only informed of the proposal.
“The reason we endorsed this model of implementation is because it allows your local church to continue to operate exactly like it is operating today,” Hanke said in the Jan. 31 statement. “You choose the leaders, you recruit the Scouts; the leadership of your troop and pack reflects the traditions and values of your faith community.”
But in February, citing “overwhelmingly” negative feedback, leaders of United Methodist Men asked Boy Scouts of America to delay any possible change.
“A few have told us they support this proposed change by BSA; however, overall, the responses have been overwhelmingly against the proposed change,” said the letter signed by Hanke and Mississippi Area Bishop James Swanson Sr., United Methodist Men’s commission president.