If the Boy Scouts of America lift a controversial ban on gay members, it could be announced as early as next Wednesday – the same week churches around the nation are planning to celebrate “Scout Sunday.”
The timing outraged leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Spokesman Roger Oldham charged that the Boy Scouts “apparently intended to hide this from the public until days after thousands of churches would have celebrated Scout Sunday.”
“Churches of all faiths and denominations, including Southern Baptist churches, will be forced to reevaluate whether they can, in good conscience, continue to host Scout troops given that the Scouts appear poised to turn their backs on this clear biblical and moral issue,” Oldham said.
The Boy Scouts announced yesterday they will consider lifting a national policy regarding sexual orientation. If approved, those decisions would be left to local troops – meaning church-affiliated troops could still ban gay members.
Southern Baptist concerns over lifting the ban prompted BSA executive Wayne Brock to reach out to Frank Page, the president of the SBC’s Executive Committee.
“He specifically asked the Southern Baptist Convention not to oppose this move,” Page told Baptist Press. “Of course, I refused to make this concession.”
Page said he “strongly” urged them to reconsider lifting the ban but to no avail.
“I have long lauded the Scouts for their courage in standing on principle,” Page said. “This action reverses the findings of a two-year study last July that affirmed their principled stand on biblical morality. From what they told me, they are wilting under pressure from some of their corporate sponsors and the fear they could lose a future court case, despite the fact that they prevailed before the Supreme Court on this very issue. That may be the bigger story here.”
As many as 70 percent of Boy Scout troops are sponsored by faith-based organizations. The Southern Baptists, Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, United Methodist Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints represent the organizations with the most troops.
The LDS sponsors 37,882 troops involving more than 420,000 boys – more than any other religious group.
An LDS spokesman told Fox News they are aware of the possible changes but will refrain from commenting until a final decision has been reached.
But not all church denominations are disturbed by the possible change.
The United Methodist Church, which sponsors nearly 11,000 troops, said the change would actually put the Boy Scouts more in line with their religious beliefs.
“The United Methodist Book of Disciple clearly supports the rights and liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation,” said Gilbert Hanke, of the General Commission on United Methodist Men, in a statement to Fox News. “These proposed changes are actually more consistent with the current Book of Discipline he said.”
Hanke said 6,700 UMC congregations sponsored troops last year – involving 363,876 young people.
“These proposed changes will allow local churches to reflect those tenets in their membership requirements,” he said. “It does not force changes, but allows local churches control over these requirements based on their beliefs.”
Representatives of the Catholic Church and Lutheran Church did not return calls seeking comment.
With reporting from Associated Press