The Boy Scouts of America is seriously considering lifting its ban on gay and lesbian troop leaders and could make the change official the first few days of February, a move that likely will disappoint Southern Baptist churches and many faith-based organizations that comprise a majority of all sponsors.
About 70 percent of all Boy Scout units are chartered by faith-based organizations, and the Boy Scouts national organization just six months ago reaffirmed its policy on homosexual leaders following a two-year review.
But now the national organization appears poised to change its policy under pressure from some local troops and corporations.
Boy Scouts spokesman Deron Smith told ABCNews.com in a prepared statement that the new policy would mean "there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation" and the decision on a policy would be up to each sponsoring organization. A final decision could be made at the Boy Scouts board meeting next week. In July, Bob Mazzuca, then the chief Scout executive of the Boy Scouts, said a "majority of our membership agrees with the policy" and that the "vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their rights to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers, and at the appropriate time and in the right setting." That stance was applauded at the time by troop leaders who are Baptists but it now appears in serious danger.
Fred Luter, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, expressed disappointment in a potential change. He was a Cub Scout and Boy Scout as a boy, he said.
"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. "This is a tradition that so many of us across the country grew up in. We were in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts in elementary school, and this organization has always stood for biblical principles -- all the things that grounded our lives as a young kid growing up. 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 also said he believes the Boy 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 said. "This is just something we don't believe in. It's unfortunate the Boy Scouts are making this decision."
The Boy Scouts have lost at least three corporate sponsors in recent months: UPS, Intel and the Merck Foundation. All cited the Scouts' policy on homosexual leaders in their decisions.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Boy Scouts' policy in a landmark decision in 2000. The court was split 5-4 and, since then, actually has become more conservative, with a conservative justice (Samuel Alito) replacing a moderate (Sandra Day O'Connor) who voted with the 2000 majority.
The Boy Scouts have a rich history of support from churches. The Scout Oath includes the sentence, "On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country."
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SOURCE: Baptist Press