June 12th, 2013
02:32 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) – The Southern Baptist Convention, the country's second largest church, said Boy Scout executives who pushed to allow openly gay Scouts without properly consulting members should be ousted from office.
In a resolution approved Wednesday at their annual meeting, Southern Baptist leaders stopped short of urging churches to cut ties with local troops in protest of the Scouting change, but didn't encourage them to stay, either.
Either way, the historic decision to allow gay Scouts could "complicate basic understandings of male friendships, needlessly politicize human sexuality, and heighten sexual tensions within the Boy Scouts,” the Baptist resolution says.
The Boy Scouts of America initially planned to lift its longtime ban on openly gay youth without canvassing members, Southern Baptists charged in a resolution that passed overwhelmingly.
The executives behind that plan should be removed, the Baptists said.
With 16 million members in some 45,000 congregations, the Southern Baptist Convention is the country’s largest Protestant denomination.
Baptists as a whole, including several smaller denominations, sponsor about 4,000 Scouting units representing 100,000 youths.
“We have a deep respect for the Southern Baptist Convention and its churches that use Scouting in their youth ministries,” said Deron Smith, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America.
“Scouting’s youth member policy is not about the BSA condoning homosexuality, or forcing its chartered organizations to do the same.”
After BSA leaders floated the idea of allowing gay youths in January, more than 60% of the BSA's 1,400-member national council approved the change in May. It takes effect Jan. 1.
The BSA will continue to prohibit any sexual conduct – heterosexual or homosexual – among its youth. The ban on openly gay leaders continues as well.
Membership in Boy Scouts has declined nearly 20% since 1999. About 2.7 million young people now participate nationwide.
Smith said opening membership to gay youth “allows Scouting to be more compassionate in its response to a young person who expresses a same-sex attraction.”
Faith-based organizations charter more than 70% of Scout chapters, providing meeting space and leadership, according to the BSA.
Several of the largest religious sponsors, including the Mormon church, the United Methodist Church and the Roman Catholic Church, have indicated that they do not plan to disaffiliate from the BSA.
Still, many conservative congregations, particularly Southern Baptists, have pledged to cut ties with local troops, and some pastors on Wednesday called on the entire denomination to do likewise.
“We should stand firmly and keep ourselves from having to revisit this issue in future years,” Pastor Mike Janz of First Baptist Church of Rosamond, California, said Wednesday at the Baptist meeting.
Janz’s proposal to urge all Southern Baptists to disaffiliate from the Scouts was handily defeated Wednesday.
Still, some top Southern Baptist leaders predict that congregations will leave the Scouts "en masse."
Pastor Charlie Dale of Indian Springs First Baptist Church in Alabama said churches and Scouts should help, not bar, boys who believe they are gay.
“Such a boy needs love,” Dale said. “So let’s bring him in and show him what biblical manhood and real love is about.”
Affiliating with Scout troops also provides an avenue for evangelism, said Pastor David Uth of Orlando.
“We are very happy to partner (with Scouts) because it gives us access to more families and more boys to share the life-saving gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Russell Moore, the new head of the SBC’s powerful Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called Uth’s approach “wise and gospel-focused.”
“This isn’t Disney redux, as some media predicted,” Moore tweeted.
The Southern Baptists' resolution encourages churches to consider the denomination's homegrown Scouting alternative, the Royal Ambassadors, a Christian group dedicated to developing "godly young men."
Meanwhile, liberal churches pledged to sponsor troops disowned by conservative congregations.
For every host organization that has decided to sever ties with their troop, eight to 10 new ones have invited the Boy Scouts into their community, according to Jeff Fulcher, spokesman for the Atlanta Area Council of the BSA.
"This membership issue is a sensitive issue with a lot of people in our community,” Fulcher said. “Some can't continue supporting the scouting programs. But the vast majority of the Scouts in our organization still want to continue scouting, and we've had a wide variety of churches, places of worship and civic organizations reaching out to us because they want scouting programs in their neighborhoods.”
One such church is the One World Spiritual Center in Marietta, Georgia, where the community extended an invitation to Boys Scout troops soon to lose their meeting place.
The Rev. Stephanie Seigh, head of the One World, said the church decided invite the Scouts after learning that Southern Baptists nearby refused to continue hosting their troops.
“We teach our children that God is in everyone and everything. We don't discriminate," Seigh told CNN.
CNN's Mayra Cuevas contributed to this report.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.