On May 23, 2013, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced a policy change admitting homosexual youth to Scout programs effective Jan. 1, 2014. At the same time, the BSA reaffirmed its longstanding policy of not allowing openly homosexual adults to serve as scoutmasters or leaders in any capacity.
That changed on Monday. The decision of the BSA officially to change its adult leadership standard policy has many again asking The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) to respond and offer guidance to congregations who charter troops in their congregation.
Last month, on June 2, 2015, via conference call, Chief Scout Executive Mr. Wayne Brock spoke with LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison and the Rev. Bart Day, executive director of the LCMS Office of National Mission. Mr. Brock explained what was coming, indicating that a proposed change in the BSA adult leadership standard policy would be considered by the BSA in mid-July. While few details were shared, it was clear that the BSA felt that their existing national policy prohibiting gay adults from serving as leaders was no longer legally defensible.
At the same time, the BSA’s commitment to “duty to God,” as noted in the Scout oath, and the right of religious chartered organizations to select their leaders was unwavering. The BSA believes those two principles can coexist with a new policy that will pass legal scrutiny but also protect religious freedoms.
On July 13, 2015, additional information was shared. That email communication noted that the Executive Committee met July 10, 2015, and unanimously adopted changes to its adult leadership standard policy. The National Executive Board was asked at a meeting July 27 to ratify this resolution, and that took place on Monday.
Such a decision certainly and rightly raises concern for many LCMS congregations that have enjoyed longstanding relationships with the BSA. The LCMS has appreciated the open and forthright conversations with the BSA over the last two years, but while the legal pressures are certainly understandable, Lutherans as a whole cannot help but feel frustration and disappointment over the decision. It is a sad day when any organization, seeking self-preservation, must bend the knee to the civil authorities in a way that marginalizes and potentially excludes many who have participated in and been supportive of that organization for so many years.
While the BSA believes yesterday’s decision is the best way forward and that these two principles can coexist, the LCMS is not willing to accept that conclusion. As such, while President Harrison and Rev. Day received information from the BSA over the last two months, including a draft document that outlines religious organizations’ protection, the LCMS simultaneously sought the input of the Synod’s legal counsel and others involved with the BSA.
To that end, a meeting is planned for early August to review the Memorandum of Understanding between the BSA and the LCMS and determine the best course of action for the LCMS, based on Monday’s decision. Harrison and Day have assured the BSA that before a final determination is made, an additional conversation with BSA leadership will occur.
Today the LCMS simply asks for prayers, patience and time as Synod leaders continue to look into the full meaning of the decision and its implications for LCMS congregations and their involvement with the BSA. And as those conversations occur, may the Lord have mercy on the Church — and especially her young people — as she seeks to remain faithful to Christ, even as she continues to share the Gospel in a world increasingly unwilling to hear it.
For more resources on the topic, visit lcms.org/freetobefaithful (Youth Organizations).
Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, President
The Lutheran Church―Missouri Synod
The Rev. Bart Day
Executive Director, LCMS Office of National Mission