Despite debate, churches and Boy Scouts will continue together

Published 8:06pm Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Tukabatchee Council, the council region for the Boy Scouts of America in Central Alabama, said the last four months have been divisive ones among the national scouting family. 

The BSA national council voted to in favor to rule that no youth can be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.

“The past four months in Scouting nationwide was a time of significant divisiveness among the national scout family,” a statement by the Tukabatchee Council read. “Locally, divisiveness also existed as the BSA debated and on May 23rd changed membership policies of BSA for youths.”

The reaction to the ruling has been just as divisive in churches and in scouting troops on the local level.

Those in the Southern Baptist denomination, a denomination that has historically taken a stand against homosexual marriage and relationships, had to make a decision at their national convention in June regarding the Boy Scouts, because the church has deep roots with Boy Scout troops across the South.

Baptist churches often play host to Boy Scout troops and some Baptist ministers are severing ties with the organization because of the national BSA decision regarding homosexuality.

In Selma, neither of the two Baptist churches who host Troops said they will drop the Boy Scouts.

Cory Horton, pastor of Elkdale Baptist Church, which hosts troop 30 in Selma, said his church has not yet made a decision in reaction to the Boy Scouts allowing gay youths to be involved in the troop.

“We are still praying about how we can be the salt and the light to the community and also how we can not budge in our beliefs,” Horton said. “We are still praying about our association with the Boy Scouts and haven’t yet sat down and had conversations with our local Boy Scout leaders.”

Horton said this issue, for his church, is personal as the leader of the troop that meets at Elkdale is also a deacon and the senior district executive for the Crane District of the Tukabatchee Area Council.

“It’s not just that we are going to take a stand and throw people out,” Horton said. “We have a man in our church who loves the Lord and loves what he does for these children. This is personal for us.”

Steve Stephens, with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said there are, in general, two opinions in the Southern Baptist community regarding the decision — the Baptists should stand on scripture and remove themselves from the BSA organization, the other is the church should not sever ties because it will allow the church to continue outreach and ministry to those youth that have sinned in anyway, including youth involved in homosexuality.

“At the Southern Baptist Convention, they had to make a statement that [the BSA decision] is wrong, but they did not make a decision for the churches individually,” Stephens said. “[The convention] would encourage churches to continue to minister to the scouts and churches can make their own decision about their relationships with the troops.”

But Stephens said there is an alternative. As someone who directs outreach and missions for Alabama Southern Baptist churches and programs, he heads Royal Ambassadors — a program very similar to scouting but with a church mission and curriculum.

“The differences are in the two programs that they do more camping and outdoor living skills than we do, but we have that in our curriculum. We have that as an option. We are more missions and mission project-oriented. They have service projects but they don’t do them to the point that we do them,” Stephens said.

Though Royal Ambassador programs are available in Selma, local Boy Scout leaders do not see their organization changing drastically with the new ruling and want churches to better understand what was decided.

“I guess it is to be seen, but I don’t see [local scouting] looking a lot different,” Leith Wilson, Crane District Executive said. “We still have the same standards for scouting based on living the scout oath and scout law.”

No churches have yet to discontinue their relationship with local troops, but Wilson said some donors to the program have made statements about stopping contributions.

“I’m sure this will affect us,” Wilson said about the potential loss in funding. “It will affect the youth in our community.”

He said he has no idea how much funding they will lose from the several donors.

“I think there is still a need for scouting,” Wilson said. “The opportunity to still work with scouts and make a difference in their lives is still there and I see it as a mission.”

Wilson said there are many misconceptions about the new membership policies in place, but said misbehavior has always been a driving factor for terminating membership of a scout — and that will not change.

“The membership of the BSA has always been following scout law and oath and the behavior is a key part of a person being a member or not,” Wilson explained, “Bad behavior is not tolerated in the scouting units.”

The Tukabatchee Area Council addressed the policy change in a statement following the BSA decision.

“For 100 years, behavior has been a determining requisite for Scout membership. This will not change,” the statement said. “Inappropriate behavior at any level of Scouting and by any member of Scouting that distracts from the delivery of a quality scouting experience is unacceptable. This standard of membership will be applied universally throughout the Tukabatchee Area Council.

“As we go forward in the second century of Scouting we enlist your continued support not for the sake of Scouting, but for the sake of the youths we serve.”

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