May 31st, 2013
04:19 PM ET

Baptists plan exodus from Boy Scouts

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
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(CNN) - For Southern Baptist pastor Tim Reed, it was Scripture versus the Scouts.

“God’s word explicitly says homosexuality is a choice, a sin,” said Reed, pastor of First Baptist Church of Gravel Ridge in Jacksonville, Arkansas.

So when the Boy Scouts of America voted to lift its ban on openly gay youths on May 24, Reed said the church had no choice but to cut its charter with Troop 542.

“It’s not a hate thing here,” Reed told CNN affiliate Fox 16. “It’s a moral stance we must take as a Southern Baptist church.”

Southern Baptist leaders say Reed is not alone.

Baptist churches sponsor nearly 4,000 Scout units representing more than 100,000 youths, according to the Boy Scouts of America.

That number could drop precipitously.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, will soon urge its 45,000 congregations and 16 million members to cut ties with the Scouts, according to church leaders.

The denomination will vote on nonbinding but influential resolutions during a convention June 11-12 in Houston.

“There’s a 100% chance that there will be a resolution about disaffiliation at the convention,” said Richard Land, the outgoing head of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, “and a 100% chance that 99% of people will vote for it.”

“Southern Baptists are going to be leaving the Boy Scouts en masse,” Land continued.

Roger “Sing” Oldham, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, emphasized that local congregations make their own decision on the Scouts.

But he, too, said he expects Baptist delegates, which the church calls “messengers,” to voice their disagreement with the BSA's decision to allow gay youths.

“With this policy change, the Boy Scouts’ values are contradictory to the basic values of our local churches,” Oldham said.

Several religious groups with strong Scouting ties support the new policy.

“We have heard from both those who support the amended policy and those who would have preferred it would not have changed,” said BSA spokesman Deron Smith.

Faith-based organizations charter more than 70% of Scout chapters, providing meeting space and leadership, according to the BSA.

“There have been some organizations that have decided not to renew their charters with Scouting," said Smith, "but we can’t quantify the impact of the amended policy."

The National Jewish Committee on Scouting, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors more Scout units than any other faith, all endorsed the change.

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting, which is run with oversight from a bishop, said Thursday that allowing gay youths in the Scouts does not conflict with church teaching. Each bishop will decide whether or not to allow churches in his diocese to charter Scout units, the committee added.

“We ask that Catholic Scouters and chartered organization heads not rush to judgment,” said Edward Martin, chairman of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting.

But the Rev. Derek Lappe, pastor of the Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Bremerton, Washington, has already made up his mind.

“I do not feel that it is possible for us to live out, and to teach, the authentic truth about human sexuality within the confines of the Boy Scout’s new policy,” said Lappe.

The priest told CNN affiliate FOX16 that his parish will part ways with the Scouts and develop its own programs.

There may soon be an alternative to the Scouts for social conservatives like Lappe.

John Stemberger, founder of On My Honor, a group that opposed the Scouts’ change in policy, plans to convene conservatives in Louisville, Kentucky, in June to consider forming a new Scout-like group, which could be up and running by the end of 2013.

“Churches and Scoutmasters are looking for leadership and direction,” said Stemberg, an attorney in Orlando, Florida.

A number of conservative religious denominations already sponsor their own groups.

For instance, the Southern Baptists have the Royal Ambassadors, an explicitly Christian program founded in 1908 for boys in first through sixth grade. (A similar group called Challengers equips older boys in “mission education.”)

The name comes from the New Testament, in which the Apostle Paul tells Christians to be “ambassadors for Christ.”

The estimated 31,000 Royal Ambassadors pledge “ to become a well-informed, responsible follower of Christ; to have a Christlike concern for all people; to learn how to carry the message of Christ around the world; to work with others in sharing Christ; and to keep myself clean and healthy in mind and body."

While not as outdoorsy as the Boy Scouts, Ambassadors do camp and play sports, said Land, who was a member of the group during the 1950s. But instead of merit badges for archery and bird study, young Ambassadors earn patches for memorizing Bible verses and mission work.

Southern Baptists said they are preparing for a surge of interest in the Royal Ambassadors at their upcoming convention in Houston.

“We really have an opportunity here to strengthen our RA programs,” the Rev. Ernest Easley, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, said in a sermon last Sunday, “and to get the boys in a program where they’re going to be protected, where there’s a high moral standard and where they will have an opportunity to learn about camping, missions, evangelism in the local church.”

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Baptist • Belief • Christianity • Church • Gay rights • gender issues • Politics • United States

soundoff (10,821 Responses)
  1. Susan

    Head to the UNited Church of Christ, Scouts! They are all inclusive and will welcome all.

    June 1, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
  2. Fortune favors the bold

    "We were all supposed to write a paragraph about a time in our lives when we did something brave...I have to say the bravest thing I ever did was to become friends with August...."

    June 1, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      August? Is that the name of the book?

      June 1, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
    • L.E.A.P.

      "Wonder" is the name of the book Palacios the author, a secular author

      June 1, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
  3. fsmgroupie

    Looks like Westboro Baptist Church has emerged as their true leader .

    June 1, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
  4. Alben

    Ask Justice Antonin Scalia.

    June 1, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
  5. JLS639

    This is hilarious:
    "instead of merit badges for archery and bird study, young Ambassadors earn patches for memorizing Bible verses and mission work"

    So, instead of doing things boys find fun and interesting, they are doing something boooring!

    June 1, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
    • jay zusssays

      bible study = searching for the 'truth'

      bird study = science = god-hating propaganda (not to mention that the scouts might be tempted to bring up the birds as evolved from dinosaurs anti-godly message)

      June 1, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
  6. Alben

    What kind of religion is threatened by children? It cannot be much of one.

    June 1, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
  7. David

    This is simple and absurd intolerance. This is why religion is falling in dominance. Inability to evolve with a more open-minded approach. Absolutely shameful

    June 1, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
  8. Colleen Meegan

    I am a Catholic who went to public school and you wouldn't believe the grief I endured from the Baptists. What a self-righteous group of hypocrites! Daily I was told I would go to hell if I didn't switch to their brand of religion. This sort of bigotry does not surprise me at all. Let them opt out. We don't want them hurting gay kids like they spent an inordinate amount of time hurting Catholic kids. This exemplifies Westboro et al. Don't they have anything constructive they could be doing? How can they call themselves Christians?

    June 1, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Catholics, historically, have been no prize either, Colleen. You're most likely a nice person and probably would be so without all the baggage of religion. At least consider the possibility that is all at best untrue.

      June 1, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
    • Saraswati

      In fairness to the Catholics there's generally a big difference between the religious restrictions imposed on students at Baptist affiliated schools (which require statements of belief) and the far more open atti.tude at the average Catholic run school, with students from far more diverse backgrounds. They may still have issues in a number of areas, but personal tolerance and openness is much more standard in Catholic communities.

      June 1, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @Saraswati –

      Isn't that a bit like debating the relative lethality of botulinum toxin vs cyanide? But seriously, is it possible Catholicism's long history of ethnic diversity has made them a bit more, for lack of a better word, flexible?

      June 1, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • Saraswati

      @Really-O, I think you're probably right about the influence of diversity. I suspect, too, that the fact it's a more ethnic/cultural heritage affiliation for many makes a difference, too.

      June 1, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • Joey

      As a non Catholic who went to a Catholic High School I didn't even have to take a Religion class, aside from one semester of World Religions, which is different than them trying to turn everyone into a Catholic.

      June 3, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  9. Dave

    So the church would rather penalize tens of thousands of Boy Scouts than let one gay Scout use their building? I got news for them. They are too late. They have probably hosted thousands of gay kids over the decades and didn't know it because nobody burst into flames. What a bunch of ignorant bigots.

    June 1, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
  10. L.E.A.P.

    I challenge ANY of you to read the book "wonder"by R.J. Palacio, and then tell me if your snippy comments are anything more than a grade school response about your own fears and hatred

    June 1, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
    • L.E.A.P.

      Thanks. Dot head for proving my point you illiterate coward

      June 1, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
  11. Butters

    And we see their true colors.

    June 1, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
  12. Paul

    Isn't that Very Christian of them? What happened to "Judge not lest ye be judged"? Or "He who is without sin, cast the first stone"? How about "Love as I have loved you."
    "...whatever you did to the least of these, you did to Me"
    "Love thy neighbour as thyself"
    Oh, Right, They pick and choose the ones they want to follow to try to impress the rest of the "Flock"!

    June 1, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
    • DougW

      Even worse, they routinely pick the words of the Old Testament as superseding the values put forth by Jesus. He would run them out of the temple in a heartbeat if he were around today.

      June 1, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
  13. Laua

    The Scouts will be far better off. Good riddance!

    June 1, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
  14. Skeptimist

    I learned more of importance from my little neighborhood gang than from any adult-managed "youth activities". Then I read Huckleberry Finn and found out why. Too many adults exhibit a dangerous combination of authority and bull crapp. As we see here. (Note that the article doesn't contain a single comment from an actual boy scout.)

    June 1, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
  15. charles bowen

    So what you're saying is the Baptist Church is the Church of the Chosen Few.....Even Jesus Would'nt Buy That.....Charles Bowen Solomon Stone

    June 1, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
  16. chris

    With church attendance falling it follows that the contributions the church collects from the offering plate must also be falling. This may be offset by renting space. I wonder how long it will be before one of the churches who will have or are planing to stop renting to certain Boy Scout Troupes will feel the pinch of the lost rent that they used to collect. The power of the almighty dollar. Hard to spread your word when you don't have the bucks to do so. Which is more important the power or the principle?

    June 1, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
  17. Cambridge Ray

    The founders of:

    • The Boy Scouts

    • The FBI

    • The Republican Party

    were gay.

    (the site censored my evidence)

    June 1, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Cambridge Ray

      You said, "(the site censored my evidence)"
      CNN uses WordPress blogs for their opinion pieces, and they use automated censoring that looks for words, or fragments of words, that are considered offensive. If your post doesn't show up, it most likely had a forbidden word in it.

      On the Belief Blog, repeat posts, even those that were previously censored and not displayed, will show a message stating that you posted it before.

      The following words or word fragments will get your post censored (list is incomplete):
            arse             as in Arsenal
            cock           as in cockatiel
            coon           as in cocoon
            cum             as in circumstance
            homo         as in homosexual
            rape         as in grape
            sex           as in homosexual
            spic         as in despicable
            tit               as in constitution or title
            vag           as in vague
            wonderful us

      To circumvent the filters you can break up the words by putting an extra character in, like: consti.tution (breaking the oh so naughty "tit").

      June 1, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • Carol

      And were the founders of the Southern Baptist Church gay?

      June 1, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
    • Alias

      The Souther Baptist church split because the wouldn't stop owning slaves.
      There is a history to be proud of!

      June 1, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
  18. Cambridge Ray

    This site can go perform self intercourse...

    June 1, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
    • Secular Humanist from Ohio

      Couldn't agree more.

      June 1, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
  19. Larry

    This is why I openly support burning churches. So long as there aren't any people inside of them, of course.

    June 1, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
    • Big guy


      June 1, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
    • ?

      If you burned nambla headquarters full of qu eers there wouldn't be any people inside either

      June 1, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
    • Larry

      I'll fight you.

      June 1, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
  20. George

    The Baptists are just cutting off their noses to spite their faces. The reason they sponsored boy scouts at all, was to keep their kids from being exposed to other religious views and to make sure and use every opportunity to espouse their beliefs on others. So, once they realize, they are giving all that up, they'll be baaaaack. Although, frankly, I hope not. People's religious beliefs are totally self serving and have absolutely nothing to do with worshiping a god. Belief in the supernatural is bizarre if you ask me, and really is why we are concerned with such meaningless things as whether someone is gay or not. How about this for an idea, quit believing in supernatural beings and get REAL people!

    June 1, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.