UCC urges Boy Scouts to change policies excluding
openly gay members
Sunday, July 13, 2003
By Tim Kershner
MINNEAPOLIS—The General Synod of the United Church of Christ on Sunday urged the Boy Scouts of America to change their policy banning gay youth from membership.
"Discrimination against anyone based on sexual orientation is contrary to our understanding of the teachings of Christ," delegates said in a resolution adopted with overwhelming support.
"We affirm the work of the Boy Scouts of America," said Diana Burdett, Saunderstown, R.I., "but as an open and affirming United Church of Christ, we must speak the truth and speak out against" the national organization's policy.
During a spirited debate, most delegates praised the positive contributions the Boy Scouts have made in the lives of individuals and communities. "We recognize the powerful place the Boy Scouts have in our lives," said Leslie Hoffman of Bethlehem, Penn., especially in promoting citizenship, respect for the environment and respect for others. But Scouting's value of tolerance conflicts with the policy of singling out gay youth and adult leaders for exclusion, she said.
The action was not unanimous. The resolution supports both those churches that struggle to preserve their ties with BSA councils and those that choose to separate from the organization. But all churches should remain in dialogue with Scouting officials, opponents of the resolution said. "Once you sever ties," noted Mark Mendes, Plymouth, Mass., "it is difficult to influence and change" the situation. Others questioned the motives behind the resolution. "I ask you to reconsider your
attack on this American institution," said James Haun, a member of Zion New Providence Church in Strasburg, Pa., and a volunteer Scout leader. "Scouting is portrayed as anti-gay and perverted. This must be challenged. This has everything to do with [gay] activists enlisting Scouting into their crusade."
Current and former Scouts and Scout leaders spoke on both sides of the issue. Peter Knutson, an Eagle Scout from Saginaw, Mich., said we "have to be accepting
of all people, even if they are not accepting" of us.
Kendrick Norris of Guilford, Conn., said he is proud of the Troop sponsored by his Open and Affirming congregation. His troop and the local Scout council have reached "an agreement" but appreciate Synod's move to change Scout policies.
Other BSA councils have been less open to compromise with the non-discrimination policies of Open and Affirming churches. Pilgrim Congregational
United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio, negotiated a modus vivendi with Scouting representatives to allow its troop—the oldest in Cleveland—to stay in relationship with the congregation. But the area council overruled the compromise and reassigned the troop to a Roman Catholic parish.
The Girl Scouts of America and the Campfire Boys and Girls do not exclude homosexual youth or adult leaders.
The resolution directed local churches were also directed to resources, including "How Shall We Respond to the BSA Policy Regarding Sexual Orientation" prepared by Local Church Ministries, Justice and Witness Ministries, and Wider Church Ministries.