Troop 204 faces hard choices if Boy Scouts policy is extended to embrace gay youth
This year, the ties between the troop and church are clouded by the Boy Scouts of America's scheduled vote to allow openly homosexual youth to join Scouting.
Roswell Street began sponsoring Troop 204 at a time when, in 1945, the values of the two coincided.
Troop 204 has served as an avenue of community outreach for the Southern Baptist church, often helping connect Scouts' families with the Atlanta-area congregation in Marietta.
Now, after months of national tumult over BSA leaders' intent to open Scouting's ranks to gays, the organization has announced what it deems as a compromise for a vote by its National Council during the week of May 20 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The new proposal would lift the ban on openly gay youth members but would continue the prohibition on openly gay adult leaders.
Ernest Easley, Roswell Street Baptist's senior pastor, continues to see any such move as detrimental to Scouting.
"The proposed recommendation from the leadership of the BSA certainly weakens the credibility of their organization," Easley said. "To open the previously closed door to homosexuals certainly and clearly violates, in my estimation, the strongest language of their pledge where it speaks of being 'morally straight.'"
Like many churches and faith-based organizations across the country with a lengthy Boy Scout partnership, Roswell Street and the local troop are bracing for tough decisions stemming from the BSA's potential policy change. Churches will be forced, for example, into choosing between protecting children and continuing their troop sponsorship.
"The compromising recommendation from the BSA certainly is not a recommendation that protects children but clearly places them in potentially vulnerable positions," Easley said.
The changes not only would place pressure on the church's leadership but also on members working with the troop.
"Scripture gives very specific leadership standards which Roswell Street Baptist Church expects us to adhere to," said D. Harmon*, who is the chartered organization representative, or liaison, between the troop and the organization (Roswell Street Baptist) that chartered the troop.
Roswell Street "would be forced to choose between following biblical principles and Scouting," Harmon said.
For Harmon and other troop leaders, a split with Roswell Street Baptist would be difficult considering the influence the church has had on families with boys involved in Scouting, particularly those who may not be open to traditional church activities.
Harmon also noted that Scouts and their families hear presentations of the Gospel at chapel services during camping trips and at Scout Sunday services at the church.
Easley said the church would miss the opportunity to have the troop in their services for that special day.
"We take time during that morning worship gathering to encourage them, thank them and commend them and their leadership regarding the moral stands they have taken," the pastor said.
Donna Vinson, the troop committee chair, has seen the impact Scouting can make in both the boys and the leaders. Seeing the lives of Christian Scouts and hearing them share about their faith "is something that leads other boys to want to know more about Christ," she said.
For Vinson and others, the local troop is a family that shares their lives with each other. She noted the pride they all felt at former Scouts serving in the military and the sadness they endured after hearing of one of their own being killed in Afghanistan.
"We share concerns and the good times," Vinson said. "We laugh together. We pray together. We are a family."
While Troop 204 has had free access to Roswell Street's facilities, Easley noted that any changes could sever the relationship.
"I seriously doubt that our membership would want us to begin renting space to any outside group that was pro-gay, pro-choice or took any moral position that contradicted the Word of God," Easley said.
If the proposed change in BSA policy is approved, Easley said Royal Ambassadors, a Southern Baptist program for boys that the church already has in place, could be expanded to fill the gap left by the Scouts.
"We currently have an active RA program for younger boys," Easley said of the missions organization nationally sponsored by the SBC Woman's Missionary Union auxiliary. "If the BSA changes their position regarding membership and leadership, it could possibly strengthen our current RA program," he said.
In the meantime, Easley has encouraged Roswell Street members to contact the Boy Scouts and ask them "not to cave to the pressures they have stood against in recent years."
As a pastor of a church historically supportive of Scouting, Easley sees drastic and possibly irreversible damage coming to the BSA if a shift takes place in the policy regarding homosexuals.
"In my estimation, if the requirements are altered," Easley said, "not only will faith-based organizations be forced to sever their historical partnerships with the BSA but the landscape of the BSA will be forever altered."
"Perhaps," the pastor suggested, "it is time for the BSA to change their leadership."
Recognizing the looming dilemmas facing everyone connected with Scouting, Harmon asked that people "pray for godly wisdom for our national BSA leadership, corporate sponsors and churches and civic sponsors of local scouting units."
Easley's message to the leadership of BSA is clear: "Please do not create a new policy regarding membership or leadership that would increase the risk of sexual abuse of children."
Within his church, the pastor knows it would be difficult to be forced to cut ties with the Boy Scouts.
"The men in our fellowship that participated in the troop would be saddened and disappointed," said Easley. "They have been so proud of 'their' troop."
*Name changed. Aaron Earls is a writer based in Wake Forest, N.C.
How churches can start an RA program -- from WMU.com/RA
1. Gather support
Talk with your church leaders about your interest and form a planning team.
2. Invite leaders
Secure commitment from men in your church to serve in the RAs and provide training for them.
3. Provide resources
The WMU has bimonthly leader kits and magazines, as well as a magazine for the boys.
4. Start meeting
Gathering together will encourage both the boys and the men in their commitment to missions and godly character.
5. Register your group
This allows you as a leader to be aware of state or regional training events or activities for the boys.