In suburban Atlanta, northern Idaho and a number of other places, churches have moved swiftly to sever ties with the Boy Scouts of America in protest over the vote last month to let openly gay boys participate in scouting.
To date, it’s far from the mass defection that some conservatives had predicted before the vote by the BSA’s National Council. But the exodus could soon swell, depending on the outcome of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting next week in Houston.
Baptist leaders say the agenda is likely to include a resolution encouraging SBC-affiliated churches to phase out their sponsorships of Scout units.
“I would bet there would be a resolution expressing disappointment with the Boy Scouts’ decision and calling on Southern Baptist churches to prepare for the need for alternatives,” said the Rev. Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
“How quickly that happens will probably differ from congregation to congregation,” Moore said. “I do think most Southern Baptists see the Boy Scouts moving in a direction that’s not going to be consistent with our beliefs.”
The Southern Baptists — the largest Protestant denomination in the United States — already have a youth program for boys, the Royal Ambassadors. SBC leaders have suggested it could expand to accommodate boys leaving the Scouts.
According to BSA figures, Baptist churches sponsor Scout units serving about 108,000 of the BSA’s 2.6 million youth members.
While many Baptist churches may be awaiting the outcome of next week’s meeting, some already have decided to break with the BSA.
In Marietta, Ga., pastor Ernest Easley said his Roswell Street Baptist Church is ending its affiliation with Boy Scouts that dates back to 1945.
“I never dreamed I’d have to stand up publicly and say to parents: ‘Pull your kids out of the Boy Scouts,’ ” Easley told Baptist Press, the SBC’s official news agency.
Baptist churches in Elizabethtown and Rineyville, Ky., Helena and Pelham, Ala., and Jacksonville, Ark., also say they’re cutting ties with the BSA.
Among the latest to cut ties was Candlelight Christian Fellowship, a nondenominational church in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, which announced this week that it would end its charter of a Boy Scout troop at the end of this year.
“We’re a Bible-believing church, and the Boy Scouts have opted to pursue a different moral path,” said the associate pastor, Buck Storm. “It’s a sad time for us.”
In all, about 70 percent of the 116,000 Scout units in the United States are sponsored by religious organizations.
Some are liberal denominations that welcomed the change of policy on gay youths and want the Boy Scouts to go further by lifting the still-intact ban on gays serving as adult leaders. But some of the largest sponsors are relatively conservative churches that had long supported the Scouts’ no-gays policy, and have been wrestling with how to respond to the May 23 vote.
To the relief of BSA leaders, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has said it accepts the new youth policy and will not cut ties. The Mormons sponsor more Scout units than any other organization, serving about 430,000 boys.
The United Methodist Church, the second-largest sponsor serving about 363,000 boys, has shied away from official endorsement or rejection of the BSA policy change. Some individual Methodist leaders have been critical, while the General Commission on United Methodist Men, which oversees the denomination’s youth programs, says it will continue to support scouting.
Similar divisions have surfaced within the Roman Catholic Church, the third-largest Scout sponsor serving about 273,000 youths.