Churches split on what to do about Scout sponsorship

Posted Tuesday, Jun. 18, 2013  Print Reprints

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Nancy Zey is heartbroken about the impending end of a 10-year relationship between her sons’ Cub Scout pack and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Keller.

The pastor, Monsignor James Hart, said his church will no longer sponsor Pack 32 starting next year because of last month’s decision by the Boy Scouts of America to allow openly gay boys to participate in Scouting.

“I’m disappointed in the decision, that it’s causing this turmoil in an organization that I love,” Zey said.

Many churches in Tarrant County and across the nation are deciding how to handle their affiliation with Scout troops in the wake of the controversial decision by the parent organization.

About 70 percent of the 1,000 Scout units in the Longhorn Council, which serves Tarrant and 22 neighboring counties, are sponsored by churches, said Scout Executive John Coyle.

Some have followed the path of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and announced their intention to drop their sponsorships. Some aren’t concerned at all.

For about 300 Cub Scouts whose day camp is being hosted by Harvest Church in Watauga, the controversy pales in comparison to another concern this week — getting badges, said camp director David Caruthers.

“This camp teaches these boys the rank requirements and lets them have fun,” he said, calling the policy change a “nonissue.”

Coyle was able to provide sponsorship information on only about a third of the Longhorn Council troops. Of those 330 units, 22 percent are civic groups such as the Kiwanis, Lions, VFW and American Legion.

Mormon churches outnumbered all religion-based sponsors on the abbreviated list, at 20 percent. Methodists, Baptists, Church of Christ and Catholic were also represented.

“Sexual orientation has not previously been — and is not now — a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops,” the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a May 23 news release. “Willingness to abide by standards of behavior continues to be our compelling interest," the church said.

For Southern Baptists, however, the decision is more difficult.

Baptist churches across America sponsor Scout units serving about 108,000 of the 2.6 million youth members, according to BSA figures.

At last week’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston, a majority of the 5,000 members present voted for a resolution opposing the Scouting policy change.

The vote was not unanimous, and the resolution does not insist that member churches drop Scouting sponsorships.

It urges those that do discontinue sponsorships to continue ministering to boys and to consider expanding their Royal Ambassadors ministries, which are Southern Baptist groups designed to “develop godly young men,” the resolution said.

It encourages churches that maintain their Scouting charters “to work toward the reversal of this new membership policy and to advocate against any future change in leadership and membership policy that normalizes sexual conduct opposed to the biblical standard.”

In a news release titled “ Door Open to Southern Baptist Scout Groups,” the United Methodist Men responded to the resolution by promising to welcome Scouts who no longer have a home at a Southern Baptist church.

“The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, identifies homosexuality as ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ but also commits the church ‘to be in ministry for and with all persons,’” the release said.

Coyle said he was elated.

“It’s more support from a group that’s not willing to turn its back on the Scouts,” he said. “These kids need to be ministered to, and they know it.”

Of several local churches affiliated with the SBC contacted by the Star-Telegram, all either declined to comment or did not return calls and emails.

First Baptist Church of Bedford, which is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, hasn’t decided what to do about its charter with Boy Scout Troop 250.

“At this point, our church doesn’t have a comment,” said Tony Shupp, business administrator. “But we’re working through what this means for us as a church body and what our response will be.”

The Baptist General Convention of Texas is content to leave the issue up to its affiliate churches, said spokesman Rand Jenkins.

“While no one can speak for BGCT churches, they are on record believing that homosexual behavior is not a part of a Christian lifestyle,” he said in an email. “Further, we believe in the autonomy of the local church and that each individual and individual church must determine their own involvement with the Boy Scouts of America.”

‘The decision stands’

Hart, the pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, explained his church’s stance in a letter to parishioners.

According to “Catholic teaching,” he wrote, “same-sex orientation is not normal, it is not neutral, it is not good, and it is not the same as a boy’s normal sexual orientation.

“Consequently, I, as the Pastor, cannot treat the recent decision of the Boy Scouts of America and its potential impact upon the souls and lives of boys and the faithful, generally, as though it is a neutral matter or in compliance with the Church’s teaching.”

Zey, who is the committee chairwoman for the pack that includes her sons — an 8-year-old Bear and a 10-year-old Webelos — said the impact was felt even before Hart’s decision was announced.

“The Pack started with 64 boys before the decision was announced by BSA,” she said. “We now have about 26, because the parents believed that having association with an organization that permits homosexuals in the membership to be incongruent with their beliefs.”

Coyle said none of the Longhorn Council’s chartered organizations have officially notified him that they will drop their sponsorship.

“I know that some Scout units have been told they need to find another home, a new sponsor,” he said. “We need to know who actually has told us they’re leaving and who hasn’t.

“We also have to make sure they have their information straight, because there’s a lot of hysteria, a lot of misinformation out there, and that’s our challenge.

The right decision is to stay with Scouting, Coyle said, “because it’s still the world’s greatest program for instilling values and leadership skills in young people.”

Coyle was aware of Hart’s letter, but said he wasn’t giving up on any chartering organization, including St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

“The implementation of the resolution is Jan. 1,” he said. “We have time to hear concerns and answer questions. There’s no need for a knee-jerk reaction.”

But no amount of explanation will change Hart’s mind.

“The decision stands,” he told the Star-Telegram by email. “Only if the BSA completely reversed their decision and rejected the current membership policy would I be willing to reverse my decision. We will now look to develop a St. Elizabeth Ann Seton the Scouts of St. George — a Catholic alternative.”

The Fort Worth Diocese was aware that Hart was considering not renewing the church’s charter with the Boy Scouts, said spokesman Pat Svacina.

“Other pastors, as part of their authority to administer their respective local parishes, can make a decision on their particular Boy Scout charters,” he said.

The diocese itself is waiting for the National Catholic Committee on Scouting to complete an analysis of the issue, Svacina said.

That committee has stated that it hopes to maintain a relationship with the Boy Scouts of America.

“The Catholic Church teaches that people who experience a homosexual inclination or a same-sex attraction are to be treated with respect recognizing the dignity of all persons,” the statement says.

“The Church’s teaching is clear that engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage is immoral. Individuals who are open and avowed homosexuals promoting and engaging in homosexual conduct are not living lives consistent with Catholic teaching.”

The committee will study the effects of the policy between now and Jan. 1 to “determine how it may impact Catholic chartered Scout units and activities,” the statement said.

The Knights of Columbus Council No. 759, a service group affiliated with St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Keller, sponsors Boy Scout Troop 32 and two Venture Crews.

The group hasn’t decided whether to continue those charters and is waiting on direction from the Knights of Columbus Supreme Council in Connecticut, said Grand Knight Burnie Vaughn.

“The Knights of Columbus have to give us direction, and we’ve gotten none so far,” he said. “The charter is still in effect, and we’ll have to decide whether we’re going to renew it upon its expiration.

“I’m sorry this even exists as a story.”

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620 Twitter: @fwstevans