Written by Emily Mullins
Under pressure from a coalition of concerned members, the Boy Scouts of America decided Wednesday to delay a decision on the revision of a 35-year-old policy that discriminates against LGBT members. The vote on a proposal to allow gay scouts and leaders into the organization has been postponed until the group's annual meeting in May. The BSA, in a statement released this morning, indicates more time is needed to solicit feedback from troops and councils around the country.
United Church of Christ advocates are disappointed by this delay, and denomination leaders continue to call on members and congregations to urge the BSA to revise the discriminatory policy, while offering pastoral support to gay scouts, leaders and allies.
"We are very disappointed by the Boy Scouts of America's decision to delay the revision of its anti-gay policy," said the Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, UCC executive minister for LGBT concerns. "More than a week ago, the BSA signaled they would create a space for inclusive scouting programs, but they have not demonstrated the courage to live the values of their program and eliminate this discriminatory policy which excludes gay and bisexual youth and adults."
A coalition of Boy Scouts councils representing 20 percent of the organization's 2.6 million active members asked the national organization to delay the decision earlier this week. According to a statement from the BSA's Great Salt Lake Council in Utah, the coalition representing roughly 540,000 scouts was concerned "about the pace at which such actions are being taken."
"After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the Scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America's National Executive Board concluded that, due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy," the BSA said in a statement.
The BSA initiated a ban on gay scouts and leaders in 1978, and has reaffirmed it multiple times, most recently last summer. The UCC has been a long-time opponent of the discriminatory policy, officially calling for an end to it at 2003's General Synod. While the proposed change would not reverse the policy, it would allow local religious and civic groups that sponsor scout units to choose whether or not to allow gay members and leaders. If the policy is revised, it could add to the 1,191 UCC-sponsored units and 38,225 scouts participating at UCC churches.
The United Church of Broomfield (Colo.) UCC is an open and affirming congregation that has sponsored a Boy Scout troop for nearly 50 years. While the troop has been an important addition to the congregation, the pastor and many of its members feel the BSA's anti-gay policy conflicts with their inclusive views.
"Chartering a troop whose national body requires them to be un-Christ-like has been difficult to reconcile for many of our members, including myself and many aging Eagle Scouts," said the Rev. Greg Garland. "What the current BSA policy on gay men and boys has meant for us is that we have been living in a kind of closeted dishonesty because we have not wished to end a relationship that has been beneficial to the church, the scouts and the community."
"The decision is very disappointing – disappointing to gay and bisexual youth and adults, disappointing to their families, friends and supporters, and disappointing to the churches and other organizations who are eager for scouting programs that do not discriminate," said Schuenemeyer. "The Boy Scouts of America have taken more than enough time to study this issue, and their decision today is a failure of leadership to do what is right. It is time for the Boy Scouts to change their policy. They should do it without delay and welcome ALL scouts today."
ACTION ALERT: Contact the Boy Scouts of America today and tell them you support a policy change that welcomes gay and bisexual scouts and scout leaders.
The United Church of Christ, headquartered in Cleveland, has a long history of affirming and working for equal rights for LGBTQ persons. The UCC is a mainline Protestant denomination of 1.1 million members and more than 5,000 local congregations.