SBC's Page urges Scouts not to change policy on gay leaders
NASHVILLE (BP) -- Southern Baptist leader Frank Page took part in a conference call Monday (Jan. 28) with Boy Scout leaders and urged the organization not to change its policy on homosexuality, days ahead of a vote on the proposal that has led to significant pushback from the Scouts' base of support.
Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, took part in the conference call which included Wayne Brock, chief executive of the Boy Scouts of America (B.S.A.); Wayne Perry, president of the B.S.A.; and Tiko Perez, national commissioner of the B.S.A. Roger S. "Sing" Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee, also took part in the call and gave Baptist Press a summary of the conversation.
The Boy Scout leaders said during the conference call they are facing pressure -- both internally and externally -- to change the policy, which prohibits open homosexuals from leadership positions. Page, though, told them that pressure should never trump principle, and he added that he could no longer laud the Scouts for standing on principle.
Just six months ago, the Boy Scouts released a statement standing by the ban, saying a "majority of our membership" agrees with the policy and that the "vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their rights to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers, and at the appropriate time and in the right setting."
The Boy Scouts released a new statement Monday describing the proposal, saying that the national policy would be rescinded in favor of a policy allowing local councils to determine their own policy. That means that in each city, one council might allow gay leaders and another might not. The Boy Scouts board is expected to vote on the proposal next week.
Page told the Scout leaders that although the new policy might allow the sponsoring organization to set local policy, such autonomy would disappear when there is a national or even regional meeting.
"National policy will always trump local autonomy" in such situations, Page said. "I believe this will be a death blow to Scouting. ... I think this is a self-inflicted wound."
Perry told Page that the Scouts are facing a "civil war" on the issue and that the proposal is the best solution. Page responded that the leaders did not allow time for the millions who support the current policy to speak out. About 70 percent of all Scouting units are owned and operated by faith-based organizations. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leads all faith-based organizations with 38,000 units (and 420,000 participating youth), followed by the United Methodists (11,000 units; 371,000 youth) and the Catholic Church (8,570; 283,000). Baptists are sixth (4,100; 109,000).
Meanwhile, the president of Association of Baptists for Scouting -- A.J. Smith -- says passage of the proposed policy "will likely be viewed as an affront by most Baptist church leaders." He also is urging people to voice their position to the national Boy Scouts office (see below).
"Such a move may result in a loss of units chartered through Baptist churches as well as a loss of Baptist youth currently registered through other charter organizations," Smith said. "It will, no doubt, be argued that under the proposed new guidelines the charter organization will have greater liberty in determining membership standards, and that would be true. Some Baptists will be more agreeable to that, certainly. Still, the move opens the door for hiring practices at council and national camps that would allow homosexuals in those settings. The BSA will have no legal recourse to prevent such applicants from filing discrimination suits if their applications are denied. In light of that, many Baptist charter organizations and Baptist parents will decide not to send their youth to such camps for fear of them being exposed to persons advocating a homosexual lifestyle. In short, from a Baptist perspective, such a move is fraught with danger and is an affront to their core convictions on human sexuality."
Many people, Smith said, will wonder if current Boy Scouts leaders "are truly committed to the principles and values of Scouting as envisioned" by Scouting founder Lord Baden-Powell.
"The goal or aim of Scouting is to instill in youth the ability to make moral and ethical decisions over a lifetime by a careful application of the Scout Oath and Law. However, this move appears to fly in the face of both the Scout Oath and Law."
The Scouting oath begins by saying, "On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country" and concludes with a pledge to stay "morally straight."
"Baptists will not respond favorably to this shift in membership standards by the national council, if approved," Smith concluded. "The Association of Baptists for Scouting will have to give very careful consideration to the matter before coming to a definitive decision on how to respond to the matter."
Smith urged those concerned about the change to express "their views and/or concerns" by sending an email at the Scout website -- http://www.scouting.org/ContactUs.aspx. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins urged people to call the Scouts organization directly: 972-580-2000.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).