The BSA Executive Board was expected to consider eliminating its long-standing ban during a three-day meeting in Irving, Texas.
Multiple media outlets, including CNN, reported that a decision expected to be made Wednesday, Feb. 6 instead was delayed until the BSA’s national meeting in May when a resolution for the organization’s 1,400 voting members will be considered in Grapevine, Texas.
The board released the following statement regarding the decision to postpone action on the matter: “After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the Scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy.”
The Rev. Jeff Winter, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Haines City, Fla., said the decision should be one that is clear-cut.
“I think if they are strong in what they believe, then there never would be this debate. They should have said ‘no’ (to lifting the ban) right from the get-go,” he said. “I personally don’t think they need any other input. (Members of the BSA Executive Board) should have said ‘no’ if they had enough courage and backbone. But if they are seeking more input, I’m trusting there will be enough people share reasons why they should not change (the current ban).”
Neal Humphrey, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Fruit Heights, Utah, is an Eagle Scout who has been involved in Scouting since 1954 and serves as a member of the National Eagle Scout Association. He also is a member of the executive board of the eighth largest Scout council in the nation. Like Winter, he feels there is no need for a delay on the decision.
“They should have voted ‘no,’” Humphrey wrote in an emailed response to The Layman. “If Scouting is to survive, they must affirm the current policy. They have kicked the can down the road because the notion to balkanize Scouting into units with different policies concerning people with alternate sexual lifestyles has started a wildfire.”
The Rev. Dr. Chris Iosso, coordinator for the Presbyterian Church (USA) Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, has supported lifting the ban on gay Scout members and leaders. He said the decision to postpone action is a good thing at this time.
“This should not be taken lightly,” Iosso said. “The decision should not be reached in haste. I’m sympathetic with those disappointed with the delay, but I think this allows for a broader, more careful discussion across Scouting. It’s not an easy question, so I think a delay will help with the deliberation.”
Many Scouting units are affiliated with faith-based organizations. Nearly 70 percent of them are chartered to faith-based groups. The bulk of those (nearly 40 percent) are associated with the Mormon Church, the United Methodist Church and the Catholic Church.
Presbyterian and other Reformed bodies are the fourth-largest sponsors of Boy Scout troops.
The issue features a proposal that would allow local units to decide on admitting gay Scouts and leaders.
Gene Foley, president of the National Association of Presbyterian Scouting and a member of the BSA’s Religious Relationships Task Force, said his organization recognizes its members vary in their views and has not taken a stance on the matter, though he certainly acknowledged the widespread opinions generated.
“In no way is this a move to remove our rights to choose our members and leaders,” he said. “It allows us to continue to ban homosexuals in those roles if the charter group feels that is an important aspect of membership or leadership. It also allows those charter groups with varying points of view to do the same.”
The issue has drawn praise and criticism from those in support of lifting the ban and those who remain against such action.
Conservative and religious groups arguing against lifting the ban say such action would taint the Boy Scout message of morality and go against the Scout oath. Gay rights groups and other activists in support of eliminating the ban have indicated the BSA should not support such discrimination, adding that allowing local units to make the decision on admission of gay members /leaders still would lead to unequal treatment.
Iosso and the Rev. Patrick Heery, members of the Presbyterian clergy who participated in the Boy Scouts and earned the rank of Eagle Scout, jointly penned an opinion piece published on the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) web site expressing support for lifting the ban.
Iosso and Heery, also a staff member of the PCUSA Advisory Committee on Social Witness, wrote, “WE are Eagle Scouts. We are Christians. We are ministers ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA). And we support the full inclusion of gay, bisexual, and transgender boys in the Boy Scouts of America. There is no way for us to be true to our oath as Eagle Scouts without affirming the dignity and inclusion of all God’s children. We do not set aside our morality in making decisions; we embrace it. This is a moral choice.”
Iosso, who emphasized the piece to be the sole views of its authors and not a claim of General Assembly policy, said lifting the ban shows tolerance.
“There is a real stewardship and truth Scouts have built up over time,” he said. “There always has been a danger of child molestation and abuse that we don’t want, and we have to be very careful. But we see this as a move of freedom as well as tolerance. What it does is open a door to help our society figure out how to deal with those struggles that we didn’t used to accept.”
Winter, also an Eagle Scout, is in total agreement with the ban and thinks it should stand.
“There should be no change in the policy,” he said adamantly. “No homosexually-identified person should be a leader with the Boy Scouts. I say that because I believe it is wrong and does not come from God. As an Eagle Scout and pastor of a church a with a Scout troop, if the ban is lifted, I would turn in my Eagle Scout pin and walk away from Scouting. I feel like such a decision abandons the decades-long view of homosexuality, and I would walk away completely.”
“I take this issue personally, theologically and Scripturally.”
Likewise, Humphrey is firm in his beliefs that the ban should remain intact.
“The BSA shouldn’t even be discussing the issue,” Humphrey pointed out. “The purpose of Scouting is to change culture by instilling constructive values in one young man or woman at a time so they can live their lives as fully functional adults. It is contrary to the mission of Scouting to allow a tiny and radical faction to change Scouting.”
“Every religious institution that has allowed debate on accepting alternative sexual lifestyles, let alone embracing those lifestyles, are institutions in atrophy and decline. There is something inherently toxic about both the debate and the decision to depart from Biblical teachings. Scouting risks joining the implosion of oldline, mainline Protestant denominations.”
President Barack Obama is in support of lifting the ban. In an interview with CBS, Obama said, “My attitude is that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does in every institution and walk of life.”
Obama also has backed the right for same-sex couples to marry.
Texas, Gov. Rick Perry, an Eagle Scout himself, thinks the ban should be upheld.
“I think most people see absolutely no reason to change the position, and neither do I,” Perry said.
Former Scout leaders and activists delivered a petition with 1.4 million signatures to the BSA headquarters in Irving prior to the start of the three-day meeting. The petition urged the board to lift the ban, previously upheld by a 2000 Supreme Court decision.
However, the BSA has seen its numbers start to wane and faced the loss of corporate support because of its anti-gay stance. According to Reuters, youth membership in the Boy Scouts has dropped 21 percent since 2000, and adult membership has decreased by 14 percent. The number of Scouting units has fallen by 12.6 percent.
Because of the recent recession, membership declines and the withdrawal of corporate support, the BSA has suffered some financial hardships. The WORLD news magazine reported that pro-homosexual groups blame the Scouts’ problems on the “anti-homosexual” policy. Canada experienced a different reality. After the Boy Scouts of Canada allowed homosexual leaders in 1999, membership in the organization dropped by 36 percent during the next five years, from about 200,000 to approximately 122,000. Membership in Canada has continued to fall and now stands at less than 100,000.