Two weeks after the Boy Scouts of America voted to allow openly gay Scouts into their ranks, the socially conservative churches that sponsor about a quarter of the 321 troops in the Capitol Area Council are deciding how to respond.
Two area churches — First Evangelical Free and Crestview Baptist — say they will evaluate the policy and talk to church members and Scout parents in the near future.
“We are still learning about the details of the changes in Scouting,” Crestview Baptist Pastor Dan Woolridge wrote in response to a reporter’s questions. “There are a number of considerations to be weighed. Our congregation recognizes the Bible as the only authority for what we believe and practice, and regards the Bible as the only sure moral compass for the proper code of conduct for this or any organization.”
Boy Scout troops across America are closely linked to churches – relying on them for everything from free meeting space to liability insurance to recruiting kids and troop leaders. The churches pay a $40 annual fee to Boy Scouts of America and sign an agreement to follow Scouting policies and guidelines. The new policy will go into effect Jan. 1.
That link is being re-examined for thousands of troops affiliated with socially conservative churches such as Mormons, Southern Baptists and Catholics that supported the Boy Scouts’ longstanding exclusion of gay Scouts and Scout leaders. But so far, the change has not prompted a mass defection, as predicted by some conservatives, The Associated Press reported.
Woolridge said Crestview Baptist Church has always considered its sponsorship of Boy Scout troops a year by year decision.
Likewise for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin and its men’s ministry, the Knights of Columbus, which will wait for guidance from its National Committee on Catholic Scouting and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Liaison. More than 100 Catholic churches in the diocese sponsor 68 Boys Scout troops and Cub Scout packs that involve 2,500 boys.
“For now, Scouting units affiliated with our churches will continue to operate as normal. We are waiting for more direction for our bishops and a national committee on Scouting,” said Christian González, spokesman for the diocese.
And this week in Houston, the Southern Baptist Convention is expected to take a vote and make a stand that, while not binding on its members, will have a ripple effect and add to a slow-growing debate about whether social conservative Christian churches should continue to sponsor Scouting.
While the Baptists will leave it up to local control, not so with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormon church, the largest sponsor in the Capitol Area Council — and in the United States, with a total of 37,856 troops involving more than 430,500 boys — has already said it will continue with Scouting. That decision extends to 124 troops and packs in the Capitol Area Council.
The decision was simpler for some churches.
“It makes us more inclined to continue serving as a charter organization,” said the Rev. Robby Vickery of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, which sponsors Troop 30.
“Not only does our congregation applaud the decision and that it’s an expression of Christian values, but if there is a troop out there that loses its place to meet, we are open to the opportunity to provide that,” said Pastor John Wright of First United Methodist Church in Austin.
The churches that consider the change in the Boy Scouts more problematic are taking their time and say they are weighing the decision carefully.
Vincent Salas, a spokesman for the First Evangelical Free Church, which sponsors Boy Scout Troop and Cub Scout Pack 78, said his church is also asking the Scouts and parents what they think.
“We will be interested to hear from Pack/Troop 78 regarding its views about whether it should continue with Boys Scouts of America or begin seeking an alternative organization,” he said.