Scouts' future uncertain if ban on gays is dropped

NEW YORK (AP) — The Boy Scouts of America's proposed move away from its no-gays membership policy has outraged some longtime admirers, gratified many critics and raised intriguing questions about the iconic organization's future.

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 29, 2013 at 4:11 pm •  Published: January 29, 2013
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"I lost a lot of good friends when I had to leave," Comer said. "I really did enjoy Scouts. I wanted to get my Eagle Scout and go on to be a Scout leader."

Now, he has mixed views about the proposed change, and anticipates there could be problems when troops with different stances mingle at jamborees and summer camps.

He also questioned whether adult leaders would have the necessary training and insight to deal well with gay scouts who come out if the ban is eased.

In Durham, N.C., the proposed change prompted some careful moral calculations by the Rev. Allen Jones, associate minister of Antioch Baptist Church and scoutmaster of the church-sponsored Troop 481.

"Personally, I believe homosexuality is a sin and you can go to hell for it," Jones said. "But the Gospel also speaks to the inclusion and acceptance of people with a cross to bear. If someone openly gay comes in and wants to participate, then that's between them and God. We're not going to discriminate."

Two of the biggest sponsors are the Mormons' Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose units serve roughly 420,000 scouts, and the Roman Catholic Church, which serves about 280,000 Scouts. Mormon and Catholic leaders, who have signaled support for the no-gays policy in the past, declined any official response to Monday's announcement of the possible change.

"We've had 100 years of a very conservative approach to scouting," said Kay Godfrey, a spokesman for Boy Scouts in the Great Salt Lake Council. "A major shift along these lines could change the face of scouting, but we'll have to just wait and see."

Scott Barr, a scoutmaster in McKinney, Texas, said his Mormon-chartered troop would likely wait for guidance from the national Mormon church.

"I don't know what the position would be," said Barr, who's been involved in scouting for 25 years. "I wouldn't even dare to speculate."

The Assemblies of God, one of the largest Pentecostal denominations, said it was "saddened and disappointed" by the proposed change.

"Homosexual behavior contradicts biblical teachings and God's created order for the family and human relationships," said the Rev. George O. Wood, the denomination's leader. "We pray BSA will give careful consideration to this matter and hold firm to the beliefs that have made it a strong and influential organization for more than 100 years."

The United Methodist Church, the second largest sponsor of Scout units after the Mormons, expressed support for the change — saying it was in line with church policy opposing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

News of the proposed change came just ahead of "Scout Sunday" next weekend — an annual event in which churches across the nation have special worship services and luncheons to honor scouts.

Frank Page, the Southern Baptist leader, said that proposing the policy change so close to Scout Sunday is causing a lot of consternation.

"Churches have not had time to think and pray and consider this," he said.

Page said all Southern Baptist churches are independent and can set their own policies, but he expects the SBC executive committee to discuss the issue and possibly offer a resolution when it meets in Nashville in mid-February.

Some conservative activists sought to organize e-mail and phone call campaigns aimed at pressuring the Boy Scouts to maintain the mandatory no-gays policies.

Among them was John Stemberger, a former scout and now president of the conservative Florida Family Policy Council.

"If the BSA departs from its policies on allowing openly homosexual scoutmasters and boys in the program it could destroy the legitimacy and the security of this iconic institution," Stemberger wrote to his supporters. "I pray that the BSA does not open a can of worms that would cause a mass exodus from a program that America needs now more than ever."

More optimistic was another former scout, Jay Mechling, who is professor emeritus of American Studies at the University of California, Davis, and author of "On My Honor: Boy Scouts and the Making of American Youth."

"If the BSA makes this move, which I dearly hope they will, the world will not end," Mechling said in an e-mail. "People will hardly notice."

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Associated Press writers Travis Loller in Nashville, Tenn.; Nomaan Merchant in Dallas, Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia, Mike Biesecker in Raleigh, N.C., Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City and John Raby in Charleston, W.Va., contributed to this report.

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Boy Scouts: http://www.scouting.org/

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David Crary can be reached at http://twitter.com/CraryAP



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