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Lutheran group severs relationship with Scouts

ST. LOUIS (BP) — The second largest Lutheran denomination in America has severed its official relationship with the Boy Scouts of America based on concerns over the BSA’s decision this summer to allow openly homosexual Scout leaders.

The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod (LCMS), a theologically conservative denomination with 2.1 million members, said in a news release it “no longer seems tenable” to abide by a 2013 Memorandum of Understanding with the BSA, in which the two organizations pledged to “work cooperatively” to “establish and nurture Scout units as an expression of the nurture and outreach ministry of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod.” The release was issued by LCMS President Matthew Harrison and Bart Day, executive director of the LCMS Office of National Mission.

The Memorandum of Understanding was dissolved Dec. 1.

“While we understand the legal concerns that led to this new BSA direction, it is simply a place the LCMS is not willing to go,” Harrison and Day said. “At our summer 2013 meeting with the BSA, we were assured that changes concerning adult leadership would not be on the table, but that was not the case. We are now being told that the LGBT agenda, even with the most recent change, won’t affect the content of Scouting or the BSA experience, but we do not believe that will be the case.”

The release noted the LCMS “has never ‘endorsed’ Scouting” but has allowed individual congregations to decide whether to sponsor Scout troops.

Harrison and Day said the BSA has offered its legal opinion that individual troops chartered by religious organizations may continue to exclude homosexuals from adult leadership based on the organizations’ values. But the BSA “fails to provide ample legal citations to verify support for such a conclusion,” the LCMS leaders said, and “the legal analysis is not particularly helpful” — including the Scouts’ assertion that adult leaders at church-sponsored troops would be viewed legally as ministers.

Due to the possibility of antidiscrimination lawsuits, LCMS congregations that continue sponsoring Scout troops “should seek legal counsel and guidance on how best to safeguard themselves legally,” according to the release.

The LCMS “had hoped to share” it would sign an agreement with the alternative scouting group Trail Life USA (TL), Harrison and Day said. However, “more conversation needs to take place, as it would be premature to wholly endorse TL.”

Among the LCMS’ concerns, “An uncritical involvement in TL could be just as problematic for any confessional Lutheran, for he or his congregation could easily be drawn into a theological perspective that is anti-sacramental, Arminian in its view of conversion and legalistic in its understanding of sanctification.”

Unlike the LCMS, the Southern Baptist Convention, which has never had a relationship with the Scouts, expressed disappointment with the BSA’s 2013 decision to prohibit denial of membership to youth “on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”

A 2013 SBC resolution noted Southern Baptists’ “continued opposition to and disappointment in the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to change its membership policy” and predicted the decision was “merely the first step toward future approval of homosexual leaders in the Scouts.” The resolution encouraged families and Southern Baptist congregations to “prayerfully to assess their continued relationship with the BSA.”

As in the LCMS, individual Southern Baptist congregations have sponsored Scout troops.

When the BSA’s executive board voted to lift the Scouts’ national ban on homosexual adult leaders and employees, Southern Baptist leaders objected, including SBC President Ronnie Floyd and SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page.