Baptist Scout leader opposes exodus

Leaving the Boy Scouts of America over its new policy allowing gay members would deprive Baptist churches of ministry opportunities, says the head of a six-decade-old association dedicated to bringing youth to Christ through Scouting.

By Bob Allen

The head of Association of Baptists for Scouting says it is neither necessary nor desirable for churches to leave the Boy Scouts of America because the organization no longer excludes youth based on their sexual orientation.

A.J. Smith, president of the 59-year-old association formed to encourage Southern Baptist churches to sponsor Scout units as part of their overall ministry to youth, said previously that a decision by the Scouts to drop the organization’s 22-year-old ban on youth who are openly gay could result in a loss of units chartered through Baptist churches.

After reviewing the policy and discussions with Scout representatives, however, Smith said in a statement, “I believe that it is possible, even desirable, for Baptist churches to continue to utilize Scouting as an outreach ministry of the church.”

Southern Baptist Convention leaders strongly opposed the new membership policy, warning Scout leaders that it would spark a mass exodus of congregations ending their sponsorship of troops because they regard it immoral.

Some high-profile Southern Baptist churches have already announced plans to sever ties with the Boy Scouts over the membership change. They include Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., one of the largest congregations of metro Atlanta led by former SBC President and senior pastor Bryant Wright.

Observers expect Southern Baptists to vote at next week’s SBC annual meeting in Houston on a non-binding resolution urging churches to sever ties with the Boy Scouts.

“There’s a 100 percent chance that there will be a resolution about disaffiliation at the convention,” Richard Land, the longtime head of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told CNN, “and a 100 percent chance that 99 percent of people will vote for it.”

aj-smithSmith, who has a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and works as assistant professor of church history at Liberty University Online, however, said the new BSA membership resolution deals only with a youth’s perceived sexual orientation, not behavior.

Smith said it states that sexual activity among Scout-aged youth is contrary to Scouting virtues and allows for units to list behavioral expectations regarding sexual abstinence as a condition of membership.

The resolution does not require that a church-chartered unit affirm the moral acceptability of same-sex attraction or prevent adult leaders from presenting traditional marriage as the recognized standard for being morally straight, he said.

Rather than ending relationships with the Boy Scouts, Smith encouraged a more hands-on approach to church sponsorship.

“No longer can a church simply give meeting space to the Scouts,” he said. “Churches must take a proactive approach to Scouting and involve members of the local congregation alongside Scout parents as leaders, set expectations for leaders consistent with the values of the church and create an atmosphere of Scouting that is true to the vision of Lord Baden-Powell where everything done in Scouting is done with a focus on duty to God.”

“In this way churches can turn what looks like a negative into a positive, having an influence in shaping the values of another generation, and even reach youth that might not otherwise be reached with the gospel,” Smith said.

The Association of Baptists for Scouting is one of a number of denominational groups that partner with the Boy Scouts’ “God and country” award program established in 1945. About 4,000 of the 100,000 Scout units across the country are sponsored by a Baptist church, most of them members of seven denominational bodies that account for nearly 90 percent of Baptists in the United States.

Through Baptist churches youth can earn age-graded emblems reading “God and Me,” “God and Family,” “God and Church” and “God and Life.” Scouts who earn all four earn a “Four Star Award.” A “Good Shepherd Award,” featuring a cross and shepherd’s crook, recognizes “outstanding adult service to Baptist youth through their church and Boy Scouts of America.”

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