Wednesday, May 30, 2013
A number of churches that previously sponsored Boy Scout troops have said they plan to sever ties to the organization following its decision to lift a longtime national ban on admitting openly gay Scouts. Openly gay adults will still be barred from leadership roles in the organization.
"I think I can say with pretty strong accuracy that the vast majority of Southern Baptists are very disappointed in the latest change in policy ... deeply disappointed," Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee, told ABCNews.com.
Page said that the Southern Baptist Convention -- the largest Protestant denomination in the United States -- would be holding its national meeting in two weeks, after which it would likely recommend that its 47,000 U.S. churches pull away from the Boy Scouts of America. From there, it is up to each individual church to decide what to do, said Page.
About 70 percent of all local Boy Scout troops are supported by religious groups, according to the Boy Scouts of America, and the Southern Baptist Convention currently sponsors "hundreds of troops, probably thousands," Page said.
"We don't hate people," said Page. "We don't hate anybody, but we just felt like there's got to be some objective standard, and we felt they were maintaining that until recently."
The Mormon church, which sponsors most of the troops, has endorsed allowing gay Scouts. The Roman Catholic Church, the second-largest troop sponsor, has said it was going to use the time before the new policy takes effect on Jan. 1 to think about how and if it would affect the church.
The National Jewish Committee on Scouting, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Metropolitan Community Church all urged full repeal of the longtime ban.
But many other Christian groups continue to protest, citing religious freedom and the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision that gave the Boy Scouts the constitutional right to keep out gay members.
The Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., which has about 300 families who participate in Scouting, also announced its plan to break its Boy Scout ties.
"Truly, for us it's a logical decision," Tim Hester, the church's executive pastor, told the Courier-Journal newspaper. "We cannot be distracted from the mission God has called us to."
Last week's decision to lift the ban was a "catalyst" in breaking away from the Boy Scouts but was not the church's only reason for doing so, Hester said, citing directional differences between the organization and the church.
"We want everyone, including ourselves, to live by biblical standards," Hester told the newspaper.
Hester did not immediately respond to ABCNews.com's request for comment.
One of the first religious organizations to denounce the Boy Scout's new policy on allowing gay members was the Assemblies of God, the world's largest Pentecostal group, saying in a statement, "We believe that the BSA policy change will lead to a mass exodus from the Boy Scout program, as Assemblies of God and many other churches can no longer support groups that are part of an organization allowing members who are openly homosexual."
Page, of the Southern Baptist Convention, echoed that sentiment. "I warned Scouting executives that this would happen, and they supposedly realized it would happen, but they thought they would gain more," Page said. "I assured them that if your goal is to minister to the largest number of youth, those were their words, then changing this is going to be a detriment to your goal."
The Boy Scouts said in a statement that it respected the "deeply held" religious beliefs of its members but encouraged them to read the resolution about the new policy. "We believe this policy is reflective of the beliefs of most of Scouting's major religious chartered organizations and are unaware of any that believe a youth member simply stating he or she is attracted to the same sex, but not engaging in sexual activity, should make him or her unwelcome in their congregation. While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting."
Gay rights advocates believe the Boy Scouts' new policy may actually attract new organizations and members who may have been put off by its former practices.
"There's a lot of noise around folks that are leaving, and there's probably not going to be as much attention about what new troops may actually start or get sponsored by places that didn't want to be associated with the discriminatory policy before," Ross Murray, director of news and faith initiatives for GLAAD, a gay rights advocacy group, told ABCNews.com.
"My prediction is that there will be a small percentage that leaves, like less than 5 percent, but there will be a lot of noise around them leaving and a lot of words like 'torn apart' will be used to describe this, but, in the end, the organization will probably come back in a stronger place because it's more inclusive," he said.
Additional reporting by ABC News' Susan Donaldson James.