By Megan Mertz
In May, the national board of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) will vote on a membership standards resolution that could end the organization’s 103-year ban on openly gay scouts and scout leaders. This vote comes less than a year after the BSA reaffirmed its stance on the issue in July 2012.
If approved, the new policy would allow individual scout units to decide whether to accept openly gay members. This is cause for concern among the many faith-based organizations that sponsor some 70 percent of all scout units. The LCMS and other Lutheran bodies currently sponsor more than 4,000 units, making them the fifth-largest group of religious organizations that sponsor Boy Scout activities.
In March, LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison sent a letter to the BSA explaining the seriousness of this potential policy change and describing the “crisis of conscience” that may force congregations to reconsider their support of the organization.
A “challenge for our churches in allowing the decision to remain local rather than national lays in the fact that some communities have larger and more politically active gay and lesbian groups. In these communities, the local Boy Scout Council may impose the acceptance of homosexual scouts and scout leaders upon troops sponsored by the local congregation. Should this occur, the Boy Scouts effectively will have superseded the authority of our church teaching, of the local pastor and of the congregation — perhaps even placing us in legal jeopardy,” he wrote.
In the letter, Harrison also pointed out that this policy change could mean that “scouts from troops sponsored by congregations of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod potentially would be interacting with openly homosexual scouts and scout leaders at regional and national scouting activities.”
Harrison’s letter joins those sent to the BSA by representatives of other Christian church bodies, including the Southern Baptist Convention, the General Commission on United Methodist Men and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. These letters express concern about possible conflicts that might arise between BSA policy and their own church’s teachings and values.
“Under the BSA’s proposed policy, Scouting units that choose to maintain a policy barring homosexual leaders would experience increasing pressure to capitulate on their convictions,” wrote Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, as he expressed his “strident opposition” to the potential BSA policy change.
However, discussions are still ongoing as the date of the vote approaches.
“The Boy Scouts have been open to our feedback, but we continue to watch the process closely,” said the Rev. Mark Kiessling, associate director of LCMS Youth Ministry, who serves as the LCMS representative to the Boy Scouts of America Religious Relationship Task Force.
Megan Mertz is a staff writer with LCMS Communications.
Updated March 28, 2013