Churches in Chattanooga area, across nation weigh Boy Scouts' rules on gays

Churches in Chattanooga area, across nation weigh Boy Scouts' rules on gays

June 12th, 2013 by Clint Cooper in Local Regional News

A statue of a Boy Scout stands in front of the National Scouting Museum, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, in Irving, Texas.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

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POLL: Should churches drop sponsorships of Boy Scout troops?

Boy Scouts have met at Morris Hill Baptist Church since the 1930s, but come December they'll be gone.

The church is one of at least two in the area that have decided to drop their sponsorship of Scout troops because of the national organization's decision in May to allow openly gay members.

"The decision by our leadership is due to moral issues and liability issues," said Bill Mason, senior pastor of 400-plus member Morris Hill Baptist. "Their concern was, if they make a decision" on the suitability of a Scout for whatever reason, "they have the possibility of being sued."

The decision to allow openly gay scouts by Boy Scouts of America is to take effect on Jan 1, 2014.

In February, when the Scout organization originally pondered making a decision on the matter but didn't, Oakwood Baptist Church of Chickamauga dropped its troop.

The North Georgia church was the only recent casualty Cherokee Area Boy Scout Executive Scott Fosse was aware of late last week. He wasn't sure whether any other churches would follow its lead.

"That's the million-dollar question," he said. "I don't know. I would hope not. I guess it's a good sign that the decision was made two weeks ago, and I haven't heard anything."

Today is the second and final day of the Southern Baptist Convention's national meeting in Houston. On Tuesday, the SBC re-elected its first black president, the Rev. Fred Luter Jr.

Some Baptist leaders have said the agenda is likely to include a resolution encouraging SBC-affiliated churches to phase out their sponsorships of Scout units.

Churches sponsor 70 percent of Scout groups, according to Boy Scouts of America. Of the organization's 2.6 million Scouts, Baptist churches host groups with about 108,000 youth members, or about 4.2 percent of the total.

The Rev. Seton Tomyn, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Soddy-Daisy, said discussion of the Scouts' decision will come up at the convention.

"I don't expect them to make a definitive decision," he said. "I think they'll give it to one of our [committee] organizations to make some recommendations. I think we're too close to the decision time-wise to have to come up with a viable solution."

However, Tomyn said he wouldn't be surprised with a resolution condemning the decision.

"Baptists will surprise you every time you come together," he said. "We will be following that."

No matter what the national body does, Tomyn said, "there is a real good chance" his church will not sponsor the troop it has hosted on and off for more than 20 years.

"We watched with concern the decision-making process," he said. "Quite frankly, we're disappointed with the decision. It's totally against what we believe. We have to look at what does the Bible teach. The Bible stands against homosexuality."

Tomyn, an Eagle Scout whose father and brother also were involved with the organization, said the church must look at the best way to help young men through their teenage years

"We want to help establish young men to make a difference in their communities and their country," he said. "We want to make an investment to make a difference in them. For years, Scouting has been a good tool for that. We'll have to evaluate and see what is the best thing we can do."

Mason said Scout leaders at Morris Hill are fully supportive of the decision to phase out the troop but will allow several members completing their Eagle designation to finish their work.

Similarly, troop leadership at First Baptist of Soddy-Daisy is behind the decision if the church phases out its sponsorship, Tomyn said.

Some of the leaders are members of the church and some are not, he said, but they're not in favor of the decision made by the Scouts.

Alan Stewart, pastor of Rechoboth Baptist in Soddy-Daisy, where the troop at First Baptist of Soddy-Daisy met for several years, said the decision for churches is a difficult one, especially considering the "great qualities" Scouting offers and "if you've got leaders who are good men."

However, "you have to be a discerning parent if you have your kid in a bad environment," he said. Such a decision should be made "on a case-by-case basis."

Nationally, among other denominations, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hosts 430,000, or 16.5 percent of Scouts.

The national Mormon church already has said it accepts the new policy on gay members and will not cut its ties to troops.

The United Methodist Church sponsors 363,000 Scouts, or 14 percent, of all members. The denomination has not spoken as a body about the decision, but national officials have expressed both support and opposition.

Locally, the Rev. Mark Gooden, senior pastor of Signal Crest United Methodist Church, said he was not aware of any advice given regarding the decision on national, conference or district levels. He said he and the church's Scout troop representative are to talk about the decision in August.

"I seriously doubt we'd" phase out the church's troop, he said, "but I've been surprised before."

Catholic churches host 273,000, or 10.5 percent, of Scouts.

Some Catholic churches around the country have said they would reconsider their sponsorship of troops.

Deacon Sean Smith, chancellor of the Diocese of Knoxville, which includes Chattanooga, said Bishop Richard Stika is waiting on a more formal statement of the United States Conference on Catholic Bishops, which meets this week in San Diego.

He said Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, the bishop of Charleston and liaison to the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, said he "was not particularly encouraged" by the Boy Scouts' decision but said "as it stands we can live with it."

Smith said Catholic teachings are clear that homosexual acts are considered to be intrinsically disordered, contrary to natural law and are "never, ever, ever to be condoned."

But we're to "all respect with compassion every person, regardless of race, color or inclinations."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to my posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.