A Southern Baptist congregation in Georgia that has sponsored a Boy Scout troop for 68 years is one of many that already have decided to part ways with the iconic youth organization after its national council decided to allow boys who identify as homosexual to join their ranks.
Ernest Easley, senior pastor of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., northwest of Atlanta, told WND his church’s decision to sever sponsorship of Troop 204 must be seen in the larger context of the moral decay of civil institutions in America.
“I’m more concerned about the direction of our country,” he said shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court announced two major rulings that will help advance same-sex marriage.
“The church is going to be forced to take more of these stands in the days to come,” he said. “The Boy Scouts issue is a minor one compared to some of the decisions and stands that churches are going to be forced to take,” the pastor said.
“So I’m just electing to stand now, and I’m going to stand then, and I’m going to keep standing for truth.”
Easley said he’s concerned about the witness of a Christian church having a formal affiliation with an outside group that affirms and accepts a homosexual lifestyle.
“We’re not going to sponsor Planned Parenthood either, because we don’t believe what they believe,” he explained.
The Boy Scouts, he said, are a separate organization that the church has chosen to support because of the Scouts’ moral convictions.
“They’re trying to build character and morals into these young men, and historically it’s been easy to put an arm around them and say we will sponsor a troop,” he said.
“But the second that they decided to violate their own moral code and to violate what we believe to be biblical, as an outside group, we’re not going to have a formal relationship with them,” Easley said.
Bringing in a ‘sexual dimension’
At the Southern Baptists’ annual meeting in Houston last month, the denomination’s leadership voted overwhelmingly to oppose BSA’s membership decision, which stopped short of allowing adult homosexual scoutmasters.
The resolution by the Southern Baptists, who emphasize the autonomy of the local church, did not require churches to sever ties with the Scouts, but declared that homosexual conduct is contrary to a Scout’s oath to do his duty to God.
Some 4,000 Baptist churches sponsor 108,000 troops, according to the Boy Scouts website.
Without naming Boy Scouts leaders, the Southern Baptist Convention resolution urged the removal of some in BSA executive and board positions who had tried to change the policy earlier this year without input from “the full range of the Scouting family.”
A policy change considered by the BSA executive committee in January would have given local Boy Scout councils the option of whether or not to accept both boys and adult leaders who identify as homosexual. But the board decided to hand off the decision to the 1,400 member national council, which passed, with a 61 percent vote, a compromise resolution removing the local option and allowing only homosexual scouts.
Steve Lemke, provost of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and chairman of Southern Baptist Convention Resolutions Committee argued at the Houston meeting that the new BSA policy “politicizes the membership, and it also brings a sexual dimension that wasn’t there before.”
But some SBC pastors insist that a boy who claims to be homosexual needs the love and guidance a church can provide.
“So let’s bring him in and show him what real biblical manhood is about,” said Charlie Dale, pastor of Indian Springs First Baptist Church in Alabama.
Meanwhile, the three largest religious sponsors of Scout troops – the SBC is fourth – are encouraging their members to continue sponsoring BSA troops: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, the United Methodist Men and the National Catholic Committee on Scouting.
Religious institutions comprise more than 70 percent of the organization’s charter partners.
The Mormons insisted the recent membership decision enforced some of the Boy Scouts century-old values, pointing out that the Boy Scout Oath requires boys pledge “to do my duty to God.”
The Southern Baptists, in contrast, state in their resolution that the membership change “has the potential to complicate basic understandings of male friendships, needlessly politicize human sexuality, and heighten sexual tensions within the Boy Scouts.”
The BSA argues the resolution Scout leaders passed May 23 “reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.”
The next step
Easley has given Troop 204 until the end of the year to vacate his church building. The Scouts’ policy change is effective Jan. 1, 2014, the BSA says, “allowing the transition time needed to communicate and implement this policy to its approximately 116,000 Scouting units.”
Easley said he has a question for churches that have decided to continue sponsoring a troop: “How how far do the Scouts have to go before you will sever it?”
The next step, he said, will be allowing homosexual Scout leaders.
“When that happens, will that be enough to cross the line for you as a parent, as a pastor?” Easley asked.
“That will be a question I won’t have to answer, because we’ve already made the decision.”
He argued that as homosexual activists continue to establish special legal rights, the BSA already has removed the underpinnings of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 ruling. The court affirmed the private organization’s right to exclude homosexuals, because the behavior violated its core values.
“Now that they’ve violated their own corporate document, they don’t have any legal footing,” Easley said.
California’s state Senate has approved legislation that would use the state’s tax policy to pressure the Boy Scouts of America into also accepting homosexual adult leaders.
Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara emphasizes that the new policy is illogical, because homosexual scouts suddenly are excluded from the organization when turn 18. He will continue to push a resolution that would revoke the BSA’s tax-exempt status “to ensure that discrimination in any form does not exist – not in our state, not on our dime.”
“Equality does not have an expiration date,” he said. “Discrimination should not be subsidized.”
The homosexual-rights group GLAAD has said it and other like-minded activist groups will now encourage homosexual youth to participate in the Boy Scouts. But spokesman Ross Murray said “the ban on gay adult leaders is still a major barrier for many families and organizations.”
Some churches are making a statement while continuing their relationship with the BSA.
A Presbyterian church in Salt Lake City said it will remain a sponsor but will not abide by the policy change.
Pastor Neal Humphrey of Westminster Church announced his resignation from the executive board of the local Trapper Trails Council, the third-largest in the country, the Deseret News of Salt Lake City reported.
In his resignation, Humphrey said his church will continue as a chartered group but “will not follow the BSA, Trapper Trails Council nor Mormons in endorsing what scripture and the church of Jesus Christ through the ages has defined as sin.”
Southern Baptist pastor Tim Reed told CNN affiliate Fox 16 in Arkansas it was Scripture versus the Scouts.
“God’s word explicitly says homosexuality is a choice, a sin,” said Reed, pastor of First Baptist Church of Gravel Ridge in Jacksonville, Ark.
He said that after the May 23 vote, his church had no choice but to cut its charter with Troop 542.
“It’s not a hate thing here,” Reed said. “It’s a moral stance we must take as a Southern Baptist church.”
Easley said he blames the church for the advance of a political agenda that has now impacted the Scouts.
“What grieves me is we as the church have allowed this to happen on our watch. This didn’t happen on my father’s watch. It happened on my watch,” he said.
“I think that we owe God an apology for the lack of effectiveness in penetrating the darkness in this country,” the pastor continued.
The church, he said, needs to do “a better job of loving people and pointing people to Christ and forgiveness and salvation.”
He emphasized he’s not blaming Washington or even the Supreme Court.
“I’m blaming us, for letting this happen on our watch,” he said. “It grieves me and angers me.”
‘Not taking sides’
A church in Marietta has offered to step in and sponsor Troop 204 – the Unity North Atlanta Church – but Easley told WND the troop leadership would never accept sponsorship from a tiny congregation that “believes that everybody is going to heaven.”
“It’s not a Bible-believing church,” he said. “I can tell you the troop leadership of troop 204 would never allow that to happen.”
In neighboring Alabama, Bishop Kee Sloan, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, has posted a letter that responds to the Southern Baptist Convention’s resolution, without naming the denomination.
Sloan is urging Episcopal churches to sponsor troops as more local SBC churches, such as Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, announce plans to sever sponsorship.
The bishop wrote that he doesn’t “want to intrude into another institution’s controversies or difficulties – either that denomination’s or the Scout’s – we have enough to deal with on our own.”
“But it’s boys and young men who will be most affected by this decision, as their Boy Scout Troops might well be turned away from the local church that has been sponsoring them, and I do want for us to respond to that as appropriate,” Sloan said.
He urged the local parishes “to be mindful of the Boy Scout Troops in your community, especially those who will no longer be able to meet and have some of their activities in some of the churches.”
The bishop said he is “not at all interested in taking a side in the ongoing argument about sexuality in the Scouting movement” but wants to extend “hospitality, as one institution torn by this controversy to another, to the boys and young men of the Boy Scouts of America, and to the adults who give their time and energy to work with them.