NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Richard Land wants to make it clear: The Southern Baptist Convention is not wavering in its support of the Boy Scouts.
A news story in the Aug. 6 issue of Newsweek says that “religious groups are lining up on both sides of the debate” between the homosexual community and the Boy Scouts of America. In a June 28, 2000, ruling (Boy Scouts of America et al. v. Dale), the U.S. Supreme Court said the Scout organization has the right to prohibit homosexuals from becoming troop leaders.
The Newsweek story reports that Mormon and Roman Catholic churches have supported the “straights-only rule,” but that “the United Church of Christ, along with Baptist and Episcopal congregations” have asked scout troops to reconsider their ban on avowed homosexuals.
Not so fast, said Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Southern Baptists are overwhelmingly supportive of the Scouts’ position that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the Boy Scouts’ values,” Land said, citing a resolution on the issue adopted by messengers to the 2000 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.
The resolution affirmed the Scouts’ right “to define and delimit their own membership and leadership criteria,” Land said. “There will be no wavering on this stance for the vast majority of Southern Baptist churches,” he continued, noting that the resolution encouraged the Scouts “to hold fast to its traditional ideals.”
Most Southern Baptists agree with the Boy Scout leaderships’ refusal to promote homosexual conduct as a normative lifestyle, Land said — an assessment confirmed by a spokesman for the Scouts. “The depth of Southern Baptist conviction on this issue,” Land said, “is illustrated by the convention’s nearly unanimous decision in 1992 to amend the SBC’s constitution and bylaws to exclude by definition from membership ‘churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.'”
Southern Baptists will not turn their back on the Boy Scouts, Land concluded, suggesting the Newsweek report that Baptists in general were pressuring the Scouts to relax their stance on homosexuality was imprecise in not defining which Baptists and in gross error in misrepresenting the Southern Baptist position.
Greg Shields, a spokesman for the Scouts, said there is no evidence congregations were asking the organization to “reconsider” their decisions on homosexuality. “I am only aware of one Baptist congregation and relatively few Episcopal congregations that have voiced concern over the Boy Scouts’ policy,” Shields said. “Nationally we have wonderful support from these congregations.” Shields added that more than 50,000 youngsters were in troops and packs sponsored by United Church of Christ congregations.
Shields said the Newsweek report was “just downright incorrect” in more than a few of its assertions, including the claim that Cub and Boy Scout membership was off 4.5 percent last year. Shields said membership in traditional scouting programs was down 1.2 percent in the year 2000 (http://www.scouting.org/excomm/00annual/11.html). He said the slight drop came after three years of “tremendous growth” and was not unexpected.
“It reflects a broader demographic trend,” Shields explained. “The children of the baby boomers are getting older and are marching out of the age of our programs.” He said that when you look at the total participation in scouting — including the organization’s newer outreach programs such as Learning for Life — involvement in scouting is higher than ever.