— December 17, 2013
When I heard that a Cheyenne church was kicking out its Boy Scout troop, I called its minister to find out what happened. What could a group of boys who spend much of their time earning merit badges do to a church that would result in showing them the door?
It turned out it wasn’t something the members of Troop 102 did, but a decision made by the organization’s leaders at the national level. In May, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) reversed a longstanding, homophobic policy and will now accept openly gay members. The BSA’s action toward youth between 11 and 17 quelled some criticism from gay and lesbian groups, but they were upset that the ban on homosexual adult Scout leaders was not also lifted. Meanwhile, many churches that sponsor troops were outraged and threatened revolt.
The new policy officially goes into effect January 1. Members of First Congregational Church voted at their annual meeting on December 8 to sever their church’s ties with the Boy Scouts, even though they’ve sponsored the troop since 1959. By all accounts it’s been a great relationship, and church members have been grateful for the help they’ve received over the years from Scouts. So why do they have to go?
Rev. Kevin Frank explained it to me like this: “We are not kicking them out. The church decided not to renew [the troop’s] charter. It gave the Scouts an extended time period – through June, I believe – to continue meeting at the church while they search for a new charitable organization for a place to meet.”
He added that the church is letting the troop keep its number, plus all of the items that Scouts have collected for the past 54 years.
“The intent of the congregation in that decision was to bless them as they went,” the reverend said. “It wasn’t with hard hearts that we were choosing not to renew the charter. We just felt we needed to honor God and his word.
“We are not kicking them out,” Frank repeated.
Technically, I guess one could argue that the church is slowly shooing them out, and not planting its figurative foot in the Scouts’ collective rear. But the net effect is that the troop is no longer welcome in a church that’s been its home for more than five decades. That’s certainly an odd way to “bless” them.
I note the denials, but I still say they’re being kicked out. Does the church have something against gays?
Frank said it does not. “I don’t think there’s a church in America that has entered into these conversations lightly or gladly,” he explained. “It’s nothing against gays or homosexuals.”
Churches across America are addressing the Scouts’ policy change, the reverend said, “because the Bible, which is God’s word, says that we are not to align ourselves with things that are sinful, and homosexuality is one of those things that is defined within the Bible as sinful.”
He added that if the church was anti-gay, it could have taken the same action many other churches did in June, and not renewed the charter then. “We didn’t rush to judgment,” Frank said.
I’m not a very religious person, and I’m definitely not qualified to make a theological argument about why I view this as a terrible decision for everyone involved. I’m not about to tell anyone what they should believe, and I certainly recognize the congregation’s right to do what it did. But such action seems to totally contradict the teachings of Jesus Christ, who is the basis for their beliefs and the church’s reason to exist. The church may view homosexuality as a sin, but my understanding is that Christians say they love their neighbors – hate the sin but love the sinner. I don’t think casting them out was ever an option for Jesus, nor should it be for his followers.
I tried to ask several Scout leaders at the local and Longs Peak Council levels how they feel about the loss of the troop’s charter, but my phone calls weren’t returned. I suspect that no one in the organization wants to burn the bridge between the Boy Scouts and First Congregational.
“It’s a tough decision, especially with what the Bible tells us (about homosexuality), but the Bible also tells us we’re all redeemable,” said Tom Conroy, a church member who strongly supported allowing the Scouts to stay. “I was just kind of sad to see a 50-year partnership dissolved. … Jesus also said a lot about the need to forgive.”
Frank didn’t tell me the exact vote, but Conroy said it was very close. Others, who asked for anonymity because they feared reprisals for supporting the Scouts, said many tears were flowing at the end of the meeting. Others were angry.
Frank made a valid point when he told me that before 61 percent of the BSA’s national delegates voted to allow gays to join, the organization’s own polls estimated that between 100,000 and 350,000 Scouts nationwide might quit. Some religious leaders put the figure closer to 1 million, and the Southern Baptist Church warned that hundreds of churches may not renew troop charters.
“They did it anyway,” Frank said.
But officials of other churches – including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors 430,000 Scouts, more than any other church – praised the BSA. Michael Otterson, LDS public relations director, said allowing gay Scouts “in reality reintroduced and reinforced some of its century-old core values and nailed those colors firmly to the mast in an unmistakable message.”
That message is the need to accept others for who they are. I think that’s in the Bible, too.
So where do the Scouts go from here?
Reportedly, several other Cheyenne churches have approached Troop 102 about potential sponsorships. That’s great news, and if it happens, it will likely ease the confusion and hurt feelings that the boys must be experiencing. In one sense, maybe First Congregational did Troop 102 a favor. If the majority of the congregation cannot accept letting a group that allows gay members to be on their property, at least now the Scouts are in a position to work with others who will welcome them.
Being cast as pariahs and sinners by segments of society because they are homosexual isn’t anything new to anyone who is gay. By the time they reach the age of Scouting, they may have been teased, bullied and called hateful names for years, and some have also been physically assaulted by peers. Such treatment has led to many suicides by young gays, who are made to feel that they will never fit in or be treated humanely.
It’s just as painful when gays are treated unfairly by adult church members, but perhaps the new BSA policy will help our nation join others that recognize everyone has equal rights, and that includes choosing whom to love. Gay and straight Scouts can now learn together, after years of institutional discrimination end.
It’s good for both to realize that not every denomination considers being gay an abomination in the eyes of God. Hopefully, once they leave First Congregational, the Scouts of Troop 102 will meet in a place that preaches acceptance of others despite their differences, and practices it in thought, word and deed.
— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is the editor-in-chief of The Casper Citizen, a nonprofit, online community newspaper. It can be viewed at www.caspercitizen.com.
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