The Boy Scouts of America announced they are considering dropping a ban on homosexual members – a dramatic move denounced by the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and one of the BSA’s largest sponsors.
“The BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation,” spokesman Deron Smith said in a statement. “This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation.”
If the change is approved, it could be announced as early as next Wednesday after a BSA national board meeting.
The possibility that the ban could be lifted the same week as churches around the nation celebrate “Scout Sunday” has enraged many Christians.
Roger Oldman, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee said it is “distressing” that the BSA board “apparently intended to hide this from the public until days after thousands of churches would have celebrated Scout Sunday.”
Smith said decisions about sexual orientation would be decided at the local troop level.
“The pulse of equality is strong in America, and today it beats a bit faster with news that the Boy Scouts may finally put an end to its long history of discrimination,” said Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign, one of several gay rights groups heralding the possible change.
“The Boy Scouts of America have heard from Scouts, corporations and millions of Americans that discriminating against gay scouts and scout leaders is wrong,” said Herndon Graddick, GLAAD’s president. “Scouting is a valuable institution, and this change will only strengthen its core principles of fairness and respect.”
A change in policy could present a problem for troops hosted by churches. Roughly 70 percent of all Boy Scout units are reportedly chartered by faith-based organizations.
Fred Luter, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, predicted that a number of young men will drop out of the Boy Scouts.
“If that is what the leadership is doing, then I think it will be a sad day in the life of the Boy Scouts of America,” Luter told Baptist Press. “To now see this organization that I thought stood on biblical principles about to give in to the politically correct thing is very disappointing.”
Luter, the first African-American to lead the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, was a Cub Scout and Boy Scout.
He said he believes the Scouts will “lose a whole lot of our support,” with Southern Baptist churches choosing instead not to sponsor a unit.
“A lot of them will just pull out,” Luter told Baptist Press. “This is just something we don’t believe in. It’s unfortunate the Boy Scouts are making this decision.”
The decision was also met with strong resistance from religious liberty groups like the Family Research Council.
“If the board capitulates to the bullying of homosexual activists, the Boy Scouts’ legacy of producing great leaders will become yet another casualty of moral compromise,” Family Research Council president Tony Perkins told Fox News. “The Boy Scouts should stand firm in their timeless values and respect the right of parents to discuss these sexual topics with their children.”
Perkins said the BSA board would be making a mistake to bow to the militant LGBT activists and corporations like UPS – who pulled its funding for the group.
“The Boy Scouts has for decades been a force for moral integrity and leadership in the United States,” Perkins said. “Sadly, their principled stances have marked them as a target for harassment by homosexual activists and corporations such as UPS which are working to pressure the Boy Scouts into abandoning their historic values.
And some scouts said they might reconsider their involvement in the group if the ban is lifted.
“Many of the Scouts I know have an issue with homosexual Scouts because they no longer feel comfortable in camping situations,” said Travers Oliver, a 18-year-old Eagle Scout from South Florida. “I must say I’m shocked at hearing the news.”
Oliver, who has been a Scout for five years, told Fox News he is opposed to lifting the ban.
“Scouting in America has had a long tradition of values,” he said, concerned that BSA may distance itself from churches and religious groups as a result of having gay scouts.
Oliver said the Boy Scouts has had a tremendous impact on his life.
“It taught me to better love my country, leadership skills and allowed me to meet some of my best friends,” he said.
But at the end of the day — he said religious beliefs are more important.
“The lifting of the ban will make me rethink my involvement in scouting,” he told Fox News. “The issue does conflict with my religious beliefs.”
With reporting from Associated Press