On January 1, openly gay youths will be allowed into the ranks of the Boy Scouts of America for the first time.
The Boy Scouts of America announced the policy change in May, with 61 percent of the roughly 1,200 voting members of the organization’s national council voting in favor. Under the policy, sponsor organizations can decide to disaffiliate with a troop or pack. Dr. Alexander Hunter is an Eagle Scout and the Pastor of the First Congregational Church in Dalton, Massachusetts. It is the sponsor organization for Troop 4, which was at one time the largest troop in the nation, but now has about two dozen scouts.
“The United Church of Christ encourages all congregations to be open and affirming in welcoming people and sponsoring Boy Scout troops,” said Hunter.
Of the roughly 110,000 scout units, 70 percent are sponsored by religious organizations. A majority of sponsors have maintained their ties. The Southern Baptist Convention has more than 45,000 affiliated churches across the country. It has made clear its disappointment with the BSA’s policy, but has left the decision of whether or not to disaffiliate with troops to the individual churches. Dr. Jim Guenther is the pastor of the affiliated Open Door Church, which opened its doors in March in Lee. The church does not sponsor a troop, but Guenther says the new policy would not discourage it from doing so.
“Someone who feels that they are homosexual, that individual, we want them to know that God loves them,” Guenther said. “God loves the homosexual just like he loves everybody else. So we would not want to give the idea that we would reject somebody that God loves.”
However, the BSA still does not allow openly gay leaders into its ranks.
“My larger concern would be if there was a troop leader that was homosexual because of the boys looking up to him,” Guenther said. “That lifestyle is something that the Bible speaks of. Homosexuality is referred to in the scripture as being wrong and so we certainly wouldn’t want to condone something that the scripture says is wrong. To support a troop that would have a gay leader, in my mind, would be doing exactly that.”
To better help implement the policy, the BSA is providing a pamphlet for unit leaders containing guidelines and answers to “frequently asked questions.” It says, “Each youth member is free as an individual to express his thoughts or take action on political or social questions, but he must not use Scouting’s official uniforms and insignia when doing so.” It also says, consistent with current practices, sleeping arrangements will be left up to unit leaders and parents. It adds the BSA has already been in the process of shifting to more private bathing arrangements than in the past. Jason Verchot is the president of the Berkshire Stonewall Community Coalition, which supports gay people of the Berkshires. He questions how open the policy really is.
“They’re not really trying to become more open or friendly,” Verchot said. “They’re just trying to calm down people a little bit.”
Guenther says it will continue to be a sensitive subject.
“It is a subject that I think churches have to be very cautious about,” Guenther said. “We don’t want to set aside the scripture and endorse something the scripture does not endorse. But neither do we want to be judges that are going to condemn someone that certainly we need to be ministering to.”