Door open to Southern Baptist Scout groups

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United Methodist Men have a message for Scouts: If they no longer have a home at a Southern Baptist church, United Methodist congregations would be happy to welcome them.

The Commission on United Methodist Men oversees Scouting ministries and civic youth-serving agencies across the denomination.

"Our office has already received notices of invitation from local churches and United Methodist annual conferences," Gil Hanke, the commission's top executive, said in a statement. "They are welcoming Scouts, leaders and their families to join existing or new Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops hosted and staffed in United Methodist churches, if their current scouting program needs to find a new home."

The United Methodist agency was responding to a resolution approved June 12 by Southern Baptist Convention delegates - called messengers - meeting in Houston.

The resolution stopped short of urging Southern Baptist churches to disassociate from the Boy Scouts of America after the group's National Council voted in May to allow gay members.

However, according to the Baptist Press, the resolution expressed "opposition to and disappointment in the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to change its membership policy." The Southern Baptist Convention agreed to support churches and families who drop ties with the Boy Scouts.

The resolution also pushed the national Boy Scouts organization "to remove from executive and board leadership the individuals who earlier sought to allow gays as both members and leaders without consulting the many religious groups that sponsor Scout troops."

After the Boy Scouts of America vote, United Methodist Men leaders also criticized the organization for not consulting its Religious Relationships Task Force but did not call for the removal of any leaders.

Agency leaders also noted their continued support for Boy Scouts. The membership policy change takes effect Jan. 1, 2014.

United Methodist support

United Methodists have had varied reactions to Boy Scouts' decision on May 23 to admit gay members but not gay leaders. For some the change goes too far, and for some, not far enough.

Larry Coppock, national director of Scouting ministries for United Methodist Men, said he knows of individual United Methodists who have left Scouting as a result of the group's vote, but so far he knows of no United Methodist congregations discontinuing their charters.

Of United Methodist Men's 212 Scouting ministry specialists in May, only two have resigned their position as a result of the decision, he said.

The church and homosexuality

Since 1972, the Book of Discipline has identified the practice of homosexuality as "incompatible with Christian teaching."

It also affirms that all people are "individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God," and proclaims a commitment to be in ministry for and with all people.

Church law prohibits "self-avowed practicing" gays and lesbians from serving as clergy, but the book is silent about whether they can serve as lay leaders in other church roles.

The Book of Discipline additionally supports "the rights and liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation."

The United Methodist Church's Book of Resolutions, which contains the denomination's policy statements on social issues, also calls on the denomination to "dedicate itself to a ministry of Christ-like hospitality and compassion to persons of all sexual orientations ...welcoming sexual minorities, their friends, and families into our churches."

"We're moving on, and I think that's the general attitude," Coppock told United Methodist News Service. "We're here to serve youth."

The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination's law book, identifies homosexuality as "incompatible with Christian teaching" but also commits the church "to be in ministry for and with all persons."

The Boy Scouts of America said in a statement after the Southern Baptist Convention's vote that its "youth member policy is not about the BSA condoning homosexuality, or forcing its chartered organizations to do the same."

"This change allows Scouting to be more compassionate in its response to a young person who expresses a same-sex attraction, but is not engaging in sexual activity, by no longer calling for their automatic removal from the program," said the statement from Deron Smith, the group's spokesman.

"Scouting's policy prohibits any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age and requires all members to demonstrate behavior that exemplifies the highest level of good conduct and respect for others."

Coppock has sent a letter to United Methodist scouting leaders and United Methodist Men leaders emphasizing this point and urging them to stick with the organization.

"I can tell you that in my 11 years as a BSA professional scouter, 16 years as director of scouting ministry and several more as a volunteer, I have never heard of a Scout being removed or expelled from membership due to 'sexual actions,'" his letter said. "That is not allowed in a BSA unit. Nor do I expect it to happen in the future. If inappropriate actions were to occur, the chartering church would deal with the individuals in accordance with Safe Sanctuary and/or BSA Youth Protection policies."

He told United Methodist News Service he sees Boy Scouts as an important tool for evangelism.

The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan. - one of the largest United Methodist congregations in the United States - is one example of a church that plans to continue its commitment to Scouting. The church hosts a Cub Scout pack, a Boy Scout troop and a co-ed troop for adolescents and young adults with special needs.

"Scouting ministry is important to our church," said Dan Entwistle, the church's managing executive director for programs and ministries.

"We've discussed the Boy Scout's recent policy change and have no plans to discontinue our sponsored Scouting units. In fact, the new policy of the Boy Scouts more closely resembles our church's existing practice of welcoming the participation of every child and teenager in our church's ministries."

Boys Scouts and religious groups

More than 70 percent of Scout units are chartered to religiously affiliated groups, reports Boy Scouts of America. Those charters comprise 62 percent of the group's 2.7 million youth members.

The United Methodist Church is second only to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the number of congregations that host Boy Scouts of America groups. The United Methodist Church hosts more Cub Scout packs than any other religious group.

"The United Methodist Church is the second largest sponsor of the Boy Scouts with 363,876 Scouts in 10,868 units chartered by 6,700 churches," Coppock said. "I would love to see those numbers increase. Scouting remains one of the finest youth-serving agencies in America and it will continue to serve as a positive influence on boys and young men."

The Southern Baptist Convention, while the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, trails the Mormons, United Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans and Presbyterians in chartering Boy Scout of America groups. Baptists charter 3,981 such groups.

The Southern Baptist resolution approved June 12 asked its churches that choose to sever ties to Boy Scouts of America to "consider expanding their Royal Ambassadors ministry." Royal Ambassadors is a Baptist discipleship organization for first- through sixth-grade boys founded in 1908, two years before Boy Scouts of America.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline says "Civic youth-serving agencies and scouting ministries offer another setting for ministry to children, youth, their leaders and their families." The book lists Boy Scouts of America among the civic youth-serving organizations the denomination supports. United Methodist Men also promote Girl Scouts of the USA, Big Brothers Big Sisters Amachi Partnership, Camp Fire USA and 4-H.

To change that list would require action by General Conference, the denomination's top lawmaking body, which next meets in 2016.

*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470or [email protected].

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