On Thursday, May 23, at their annual meeting in Grapevine, Texas, 1,400 members of Boy Scouts of America’s national council are scheduled to vote on a resolution that would revise the organization’s membership policy on homosexuality. If accepted, the resolution would lift an existing ban on youth who are “open or avowed” homosexuals. In its current form, the Boy Scouts’ ban on homosexual adult leaders would remain in place.
The resolution is regarded by many as “incoherent” and potentially leaving the organization open to legal challenges. On the other side of the aisle there are those who do not believe the resolution goes far enough.
I asked Bradley Long to weigh in. He is a PCUSA minister who describes himself as “an evangelical, Biblically orthodox follower of Jesus.” Bradley is also an Eagle Scout, Vigil Honor member of the Order of the Arrow (the highest honor in scouting’s national honor society), a recipient of the National Order of the Arrow Distinguished Service Award, and a lif-long scouter. He currently serves as District Commissioner and the Chartered Organization Representative for the Venture Crew that is chartered at the church where he serves as pastor. In terms of the issue before us, Bradley says, “I believe that homosexual behavior, like any sexual behavior outside the covenant of marriage, is sinful and is not what God intends for human relationship.”
With that as background, what does he think about the proposed resolution?
“At first glance, it might seem then that I would be appalled by this change to the BSA membership policy. While I do not fully support the change, I see it as a helpful and well-considered compromise, and do not see this change as a reason for leaving or discontinuing support for the Boy Scouts.”
When asked why, he said, “First and foremost it is important for us to recognize that the Boy Scouts of America is not the church, and it is not the Kingdom of God.”
I asked Bradley to explain the relationship between the church and scout troop.
He said, “A little known fact for those not familiar with the BSA program is that the chartering organization, often a local congregation, actually owns the unit. This means that the church is able to have significant influence in how the scouting program is delivered. As a pastor who has the spiritual well-being of some teenagers entrusted to me, I can think of no better place for a young man who is struggling with sexual orientation to be than in a structured, character-based program with quality adult role models. There is not a better program outside the church for building character and values in youth than the Boy Scouts. This is further emphasized by what the membership policy continues to make clear – that scouting is a youth program and any and all sexual behavior, heterosexual or homosexual, is always inappropriate and contrary to the values of scouting.”
Returning to his reasoning related to the current resolution before the BSA, he said, “Homosexual behavior and orientation are the most polarizing issues in American society today … Traditional, Biblical Protestant-Christian denominations were, for many years, the most influential institutions in shaping American society and culture. This change to the BSA membership policy is a clear indication that we no longer enjoy that place of influence. However, I do not believe that severing ties with the Boy Scouts would be the most faithful way for us to bear witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our world.”
I asked, “What counsel would you offer to pastors and sessions of congregations that are chartering organizations for particular scout troops?”
Bradley answered, “The Reformed tradition has always emphasized the importance of living within and bearing witness to our sinful world, while not being defined by the ideas and ways of the world (see Romans 12:2 and John 15:18-19). From my perspective as a Reformed, Presbyterian pastor, severing ties with the Boy Scouts because of this change would be like trying to run away and hide from the world in which we are called to bear witness to Jesus. This is especially true when we see that the BSA is not the church or the Kingdom of God any more than America is the church or the Kingdom of God.”
If you are a pastor or elder at a church with a scout troop, what do you think and how do you plan to respond to the action of the BSA this coming Thursday?
This is a link to the National Association of Presbyterian Scouters (NAPS) Spring Newsletter: http://www.presbyterianscouters.org/images/newsletters/2013-Spring.pdf
Statement from the National Catholic Committee on Scouting: http://nccs-bsa.org/comment/NCCSComment51513.php
Official statement from the Mormon Church on the current proposal: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-statement-boy-scouts-of-america
Link regarding BSA board’s decision to delay action: http://layman.wpengine.com/boy-scouts-of-america-board-puts-off-decision-regarding-ban-for-gay-membersleaders/