Churches Reconsider Sponsoring Boy Scout Troops

Some churches have said they will end their affiliation with the Boy Scouts after its decision to allow openly gay members to join. Others, including Southern Baptists, are considering their next move. Another group plans to hold a meeting in Louisville later this month with parents who say they want a more Christian organization for their children.

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Ever since national leaders of the Boy Scouts of America voted to change their rules to allow openly gay youth to participate in scouting, the response has been intense. The Southern Baptist Convention, which lobbied against including gay scouts, starts its annual meeting in Houston today. As NPR's Kathy Lohr reports, some churches have already decided to end their affiliation with the 103-year-old scouting movement.

KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: In Marietta, Georgia, pastor of Roswell Street Baptist Church, Dr. Ernest Easley, recently preached about the book of Nehemiah. He told his members that the story is about people who promised to dedicate themselves to God's laws but failed to follow through.

DR. ERNEST EASLEY: And it all started with one step of compromise away from the word of God. They compromised in their leadership, their stewardship, and yes, even in their relationship.

LOHR: This church has been affiliated with the Boy Scouts since 1945.

EASLEY: It's sad and yet it's a simple decision for us.

LOHR: Pastor Easley says the church will end its long-time sponsorship of Boy Scout Troop 204.

EASLEY: For us it would be a compromise of God's word, and I cannot imagine membership of our church wanting us to violate the very principles that we live and what we believe by.

LOHR: Another pastor in the Atlanta area, Reverend Bryant Wright with Johnson Ferry Baptist, said in a video statement that his church will also discontinue its association with scouting.

REVEREND BRYANT WRIGHT: We didn't pick this controversy and we're deeply saddened by it, but we cannot compromise what God has called us to do in obedience to Him.

LOHR: Both churches are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, a network of more than 45,000 churches that lobbied to keep gay members out of scouting. Convention spokesman Roger Oldham says there's still time for affiliates to figure out how they want to proceed.

ROGER OLDHAM: They can begin to make other plans, sort of slowly coming to a stop and then making that decision to divest themselves of that relationship and perhaps looking for other organizations they would step into to continue providing the same kind of character development that the Boy Scouts has provided.

LOHR: At the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting this week, a resolution on whether churches should continue to support troops is likely to come up. About 70 percent of troops are sponsored by religious organizations. Kent Barnett is with the members of Churches of Christ for Scouting. His members sponsor more than 500 Boy Scout units involving 15,000 youth.

KENT BARNETT: And many are asking, is there an alternative?

LOHR: Barnett says he has received dozens of phone calls, emails and text messages from parents asking about a new boys' group that's in the planning stages.

BARNETT: They're fed up with the Boy Scouts of America, and they feel the next step will be allowing homosexual leaders in scouting.

LOHR: Efforts to start a new group were announced in Texas just after Boy Scout leaders voted. Here's John Stemberger with the Florida Family Policy Council.

JOHN STEMBERGER: We will host and facilitate a national coalition meeting of former Boy Scout parents and other youth leaders who wish to return to the truly timeless values that once made the Boy Scouts of America great.

LOHR: The group has started a website called FaithBasedBoys.org. Some parents say it may pattern itself after American Heritage Girls, a Christian group based in Cincinnati. That group was formed by disgruntled Girl Scout parents in the 1990s and claims more than 20,000 members. The Boy Scouts did not respond to a request for comment on this new group or on the churches that say they're dropping out. While some are troubled by the Scouts' new policy, other continue to encourage participation. Bishop David Choby is with the diocese of Nashville, which includes 54 parishes.

DAVID CHOBY: As of this moment, you know, I'm comfortable with seeing that the program continues in our parishes.

LOHR: He says he's confident that scouting will not allow sexual activity of any kind but will remain focused on building confidence and leadership skills.

CHOBY: It's brought into their lives a sense of direction, a sense of responsibility and their ability to give their gifts, you know, back to society.

LOHR: Every diocese will issue its own response. In a statement, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting said people who experience a homosexual inclination are to be treated with respect, and the committee said there's time to study the effects of the policy before it takes effect in January. Later this month, those trying to form their own Christian boys group plan to meet in Louisville. Kathy Lohr, NPR News.

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