IRVING, Texas (BP) -- The Boy Scouts of America is seriously considering lifting its ban on gay and lesbian troop leaders and could make the change official the first few days of February, a move that likely will disappoint Southern Baptist churches and many faith-based organizations that comprise a majority of all sponsors.
About 70 percent of all Boy Scout units are chartered by faith-based organizations, and the Boy Scouts national organization just six months ago reaffirmed its policy on homosexual leaders following a two-year review.
But now the national organization appears poised to change its policy under pressure from some local troops and corporations.
Boy Scouts spokesman Deron Smith told ABCNews.com in a prepared statement that the new policy would mean "there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation" and the decision on a policy would be up to each sponsoring organization. A final decision could be made at the Boy Scouts board meeting next week. In July, Bob Mazzuca, then the chief Scout executive of the Boy Scouts, said 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." That stance was applauded at the time by troop leaders who are Baptists but it now appears in serious danger.
Fred Luter, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, expressed disappointment in a potential change. He was a Cub Scout and Boy Scout as a boy, he said.
"If that is what the leadership is doing, then I think it will be a sad day in the life of the Boy Scouts of America," Luter told Baptist Press. "This is a tradition that so many of us across the country grew up in. We were in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts in elementary school, and this organization has always stood for biblical principles -- all the things that grounded our lives as a young kid growing up. To now see this organization that I thought stood on biblical principles about to give in to the politically correct thing is very disappointing."
Luter also said he believes the Boy Scouts will "lose a whole lot of our support," with Southern Baptist churches choosing instead not to sponsor a unit.
"A lot of them will just pull out," Luter said. "This is just something we don't believe in. It's unfortunate the Boy Scouts are making this decision."
The Boy Scouts have lost at least three corporate sponsors in recent months: UPS, Intel and the Merck Foundation. All cited the Scouts' policy on homosexual leaders in their decisions.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Boy Scouts' policy in a landmark decision in 2000. The court was split 5-4 and, since then, actually has become more conservative, with a conservative justice (Samuel Alito) replacing a moderate (Sandra Day O'Connor) who voted with the 2000 majority.
The Boy Scouts have a rich history of support from churches. The Scout Oath includes the sentence, "On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country."
Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, said he is "very disappointed" the Boy Scouts are considering a change. Page visited with leaders within the organization in recent days.
"I have long lauded the Scouts for their courage in standing on principle," Page said. "This action reverses the findings of a two-year study last July that affirmed their principled stand on biblical morality. From what they told me, they are wilting under pressure from some of their corporate sponsors and the fear they could lose a future court case, despite the fact that they prevailed before the Supreme Court on this very issue. That may be the bigger story here.
"[Boy Scouts Chief Scout Executive] Wayne Brock visited with me last week, signaling the possibility they would consider this proposal at their February board meeting. He specifically asked the Southern Baptist Convention not to oppose this move. Of course, I refused to make this concession.
"After consulting with the chairman of [the Executive Committee] board, our SBC president and a few others, I wrote a letter to the Scouts late last week strongly asking them to reconsider this decision."
R. Chip Turner, chairman of BSA Religious Relationships and past national president of the Association of Baptists for Scouting, said if the new policy is adopted "there will be profound disappointment among us as Southern Baptists as well as members of many other large faith-based users of the program." But Turner cautioned churches against pulling out of the Boy Scouts.
"This proposed policy does not lessen our obligation as Southern Baptists to be salt and light to the unreached children, youth and families of our nation," Turner said. "Scouting has proven to be a tremendously effective tool to achieving this commitment. And, the new proposed policy in no way inhibits our ability to choose the persons we believe best fit our definition of godly leadership. I believe it is even more important now that we continue sowing, tending and harvesting in these fields under the leadership of committed Baptist Scout leaders."
The new policy could be implemented the same week that churches around the country celebrate "Scout Sunday." Roger S. "Sing" Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee, said it is "distressing" that the Boy Scouts board "apparently intended to hide this from the public until the day after thousands of churches would have celebrated Scout Sunday."
"Churches of all faiths and denominations, including Southern Baptist churches, will be forced to reevaluate whether they can, in good conscience, continue to host Scout troops given that the Scouts appear poised to turn their backs on this clear biblical and moral issue," Oldham said. "If the Scouts adopt these changes, I anticipate the SBC Executive Committee will issue a statement at its February board meeting expressing its deep dismay at this decision of the Scouts. This move may result in a boost for the convention's Royal Ambassador program as churches scramble for an alternative boys organization that remains grounded in a consistent, biblical worldview."
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins also criticized the potential change.
"The Boy Scouts of America board would be making a serious mistake to bow to the strong-arm tactics of LGBT activists and open the organization to homosexuality," Perkins said. "What has changed in terms of the Boy Scouts' concern for the well-being of the boys under their care? Or is this not about the well-being of the Scouts, but the funding for the organization?"
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