Written by Anthony Moujaes
The United Church of Christ is ready to take the next step in inclusive scouting. The United Church of Christ Board is supporting an open dialogue with the Boys Scouts of America, one the denomination hopes will lead the organization to fully honor the inclusive values of the church in UCC-sponsored troops.
The UCCB voted unanimously Friday, March 14, at a meeting in Cleveland to send a Memorandum of Understanding to the Boys Scouts. The Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, UCC executive for health and wholeness advocacy, said he and others working for inclusive scouting look forward to cooperating with the BSA to determine how troops sponsored by UCC congregations can live out the denomination's values of inclusion and extravagant welcome to all.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was developed by a working group of seven UCC members and leaders who are affiliated with the BSA. Most MOUs between the scouts and a sponsor mutually affirm the value of the BSA programs and the value of the chartered sponsor, but several MOUs carve out rights to conduct the program according to the values of the sponsor or its congregations.
"I’m proud of the work that the UCC-BSA working group has done, and that it has been affirmed by the UCC board," Schuenemeyer said. "We’re eager to enter into the conversation with the BSA to see if we can come to a common agreement."
At its core, the MOU asks the BSA to allow UCC-sponsored troops to honor the denomination's non-descriminatory values as they choose their scout leaders. The Boy Scouts policy was recently changed in May 2013 to permit gay and bisexual scouts, but not leaders.
The Memorandum approved by the UCCB states that the UCC and the BSA will cooperate to establish nurturing and safe units "according to the values, aims, and objectives of the United Church of Christ, including welcoming and affirming the value of all boys, young adults, and adults, without discrimination."
The Rev. Bernard Wilson, who chairs the Executive Committee of the UCCB, said that the MOU "allows the United Church of Christ to continue its leadership by working for inclusion in every corner of society, from places of worship to scouting units."
The UCC has had a close relationship with the Boy Scouts since the group was founded in 1910, Schuenemeyer said, and the first scout executive, James West (1911-1943), was a member of Westmoreland UCC, in Bethesda, Md., which is now an Open and Affirming UCC congregation.
"It was disappointing when we needed to walk away from the table because of the BSA’s discrimination policy against gay scouts – it went away from what the core of what scouting is all about," Schuenemeyer said. "In May when they lifted that discrimination against youth, it opened the door for us to engage again.
"But there is unfinished business, and we look forward to that conversation on a scouting program that is open for everyone."
There are 1,191 UCC-sponsored BSA units and 38,225 scouts participating at UCC churches. The denomination has pushed for the Boy Scouts to be more inclusive in its membership criteria for about a decade, dating back to a General Synod resolution in 2003 that called for an end to the membership policy.
The full text of the Memorandum of Understanding is available online, though it may change as the working group and the BSA discuss its language.