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Methodist board urges Scouts to drop exclusion of homosexuals


WASHINGTON (BP)–The United Methodist Board of Church and Society has called for the Boy Scouts of America to end its policy of excluding homosexuals from its ranks. Otherwise, the social action agency of the 8.2-million-member denomination implied, Methodists should consider ending their ties to Scouting.
The 60-member board approved a statement on the Boy Scout issue by a two-thirds vote during its Oct. 7-10 meeting in Washington, according to an Oct. 11 report in United Methodist News Service.
The board’s statement notes that United Methodists sponsor 11,738 Boy Scout units, encompassing 421,579 boys.
“While the General Board of Church and Society would like to enthusiastically affirm and encourage this continuing partnership of the church and scouting, we cannot due to the Boy Scouts of America’s discrimination against gays,” the board stated.
“The United Methodist Church … strongly condemns discrimination based on sexual orientation,” the board said, noting that the Boy Scouts’ policy “conflicts with our [church’s] Social Principles.”
The board’s statement, which affirms a recent New Jersey Supreme Court ruling against the Boy Scouts’ exclusion of homosexuals, conflicts with the position taken by the denomination’s Commission on United Methodist Men in September in opposition to the New Jersey court ruling the previous month.
The Commission on United Methodist Men, which handles the church’s involvement with the Boy Scouts, is roughly equal to the Board of Church and Society in church governance status.
The action by the Commission on United Methodist Men was noted during a vigorous discussion by the Board of Church and Society of its proposed statement. A proposal that the board authorize further study of the matter and schedule it for consideration at its next meeting in October 2000 was defeated by just one vote, United Methodist News Service reported.
Also during the discussion, board member Bill Barney of Glen Falls, N.Y., stated during his 47 years in Scouts that he had worked with homosexuals who were outstanding scoutmasters and young men who became Eagle Scouts, United Methodist News Service reported. The news service reported that Barney also said he had recently worked to have two pedophiles who were heterosexuals removed from leadership.
The Board of Church and Society’s statement references the denomination’s Social Principles that affirm the human rights and civil liberties of homosexual people, United Methodist News Service reported. The Social Principles are contained in the denomination’s Book of Discipline.
The board’s statement acknowledged that “only the General Conference speaks for the entire denomination.” The next such meeting, held every four years, will be in Cleveland next May.
The Washington Times, in an Oct. 13 report, cited one unnamed United Methodist official as predicting that the Board of Church and Society’s stance against the Boy Scouts would force the General Conference to deal with the issue.
The Times also reported that the Board of Church and Society has announced it will support the legal position of Lambda Legal Defense Fund in opposing the Boy Scouts’ appeal to the Supreme Court of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Aug. 4 ruling that Scouting is a “public accommodation” that must be open to all, like hotels or restaurants.
The Times also reported that the board’s general secretary, Thom White Wolf Fassett, had charged the men’s commission with supporting discrimination in violation of church law.
“I believe the implication of the members voting on this would cause the men’s commission to look again at their support of discrimination against a certain group of people,” Fassett was quoted as saying. Fassett described the Board of Church and Society as the “trustees of the social principles of the United Methodist Church” in carrying out Christian social action.
The head of the men’s commission, Joseph L. Harris, had told The Times in August that the church planned to triple its support for Scouting by starting a troop in every one of its 37,000 congregations.
Meanwhile, among various resolutions the Board of Church and Society has approved for consideration at next year’s denomination-wide General Conference is a call for a moratorium on human cloning.
In action by another United Methodist agency, the Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns voted to suspend the denomination’s “basic financial support” to the National Council of Churches over concerns about the NCC’s debt load and fiscal practices, United Methodist News Service reported.
The United Methodist Church is the largest member denomination in the NCC. In 1999, the NCC was expected to receive up to $670,000 from the denomination’s Interdenominational Cooperation Fund and had been allocated $327,081 so far this year, the news service reported.
The NCC’s executive committee adopted a financial recovery plan during its Oct. 4-5 meeting to deal with approved but unbudgeted expenses of $4 million, United Methodist News Service reported, noting, however, that the Methodist commission “believes the plan is insufficient and is alarmed that it will not cover the council’s liabilities.”
Thus the commission also declined to consider a proposal that United Methodists give $700,000 toward a $2 million pledge from NCC member communions to help fund the recovery plan, the news service reported.
Among concerns cited by United Methodist leaders about the NCC’s financial condition, as reported by the Methodist news service, are the enormity of the NCC’s debt, the lack of fund balances to cover that debt, the absence of a budget based on realistic income from member communions, the lack of clarity on future liabilities and the lack of data to address these issues.
The Methodist commission stipulated specific conditions that the NCC must meet for funding to be restored, including a process for any necessary staff reductions.
“We’re hopeful and expectant that this suspension will be very brief,” said William Boyd Grove, ecumenical officer for the United Methodist Council of Bishops. Patricia M. Toschak, a minister who serves as vice president of the commission and chair of its task force relating to the NCC, said it was distressful “to even think of suspending funding. But with the information presented, we had to exercise our fiduciary responsibility on behalf of the United Methodist Church and in faithfulness to those who give the dollars in our local churches,” she added. “It is my hope that this can be expediently resolved.”
The Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns met Oct. 7-10 in Daytona Beach, Fla.