The Southern Baptists, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, on Wednesday passed a resolution condemning the Boy Scouts of America’s new policy of inclusion for openly gay youth.
The resolution expressed “continued opposition to and disappointment in the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to change its membership policy,” and called on the youth organization to “remove from executive and board leadership those individuals who, earlier this year, sought to change both the membership and leadership policy of the Scouts without seeking input from the full range of the Scouting family.”
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which drafted the resolution, stopped short of explicitly calling on local churches to disassociate with one of the nation’s oldest and most prominent leadership institutions. But it did express “support for the churches and families that as a matter of conscience can no longer be part of the Scouting family.”
According to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA,) Baptist Churches sponsor close to 4,000 scouting units, and serve more than 108,000 youth members. At their convention Wednesday, Southern Baptist leaders urged churches to consider the Royal Ambassadors—a Southern Baptist youth program for boys—as an alternative.
The Boy Scouts of America did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Southern Baptist resolution comes as the BSA faces backlash for its new policy of extending participation to openly gay children, but not openly gay adults. Despite a February survey that found overwhelming support for maintaining a ban on gay members, BSA’s national council last month passed a proposal to end the organization’s policy of discrimination against gay youth.
Opponents warned that the change would cause mass defections from the organization. “I don’t think it’s possible to be openly gay without being a distraction to Scout law,” said John Stemberger, an Eagle Scout and founder of the OnMyHonor.Net coalition, to msnbc, prior to the BSA’s vote.
Of particular concern to opponents was how the group’s religious partners would react. According to BSA figures, more than 70% of scouting units are owned and operated by faith-based organizations. Should these groups choose to “vote with their feet and leave,” as Family Research Council’s Rob Schwarzwalder predicted, the BSA would become a shadow of its former self.
Fortunately for the Boy Scouts, that has yet to happen.
Topping the list of faith-based sponsors is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which gave its stamp of approval shortly after the proposal was introduced. Leaders of the United Methodist Church, which sponsors the second-largest number of scouts, also welcomed the policy change.
The National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS) took a neutral stance on the Boy Scout’s resolution. But NCCS chairman Edward Martin wrote in a May 29 letter that the policy change “is not in conflict with Catholic teaching,” and that Catholic sponsors should continue to support scouting programs.
Coming in at number four on the BSA’s list of faith-based chartered organizations is the Presbyterian Church. Rev. Eugene Foley, president of the Association of Presbyterian and Reformed Scout Leaders, said in an email to msnbc that of “the largest seven Presbyterian/Reformed denominations, none had a position” on allowing gay members to participate in Scouting, “leaving it to local Presbyteries and congregations to determine who is an appropriate leader for their youth.”
Leaders from the Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ,and Metropolitan Community Churches have all issued statements of support for the BSA’s inclusive policies—a far different response than the mass exodus opponents were predicting.
A number of churches have reacted negatively, however, and defections could grow in the wake of SBC’s resolution.
In Georgia, Pastor Ernest Easley told parents to remove their children from the Boy Scouts, and said his Roswell Street Baptist Church would end its affiliation dating back to 1945 with Troop 204. Baptist churches in Kentucky, Alabama, and Arkansas have also said they’d cut ties with the BSA, reports the Associated Press. And in Louisville, Ky., an evangelical pastor told the Courier-Journal his church would do the same.
“We cannot be distracted from the mission God has called us to,” said Tim Hester, executive pastor of Southeast Christian. “We want everyone, including ourselves, to live by biblical standards.”