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Religious Sponsors Loom
Large in Boy Scouts' Debate
BY ADELLE M. BANKS ©2013 Religion News Service
he decision by Boy Scouts of America to postpone any change in policy about gay membership was fueled by an "outpouring of feedback." Much of that reaction came from a sector with strength in numbers: the religious groups that comprise the majority of the Scouts' chartered organizations.
On February 4, two days before the BSA's announcement, the Religious Relationships Task Force met for a regularly scheduled meeting with an unexpected topic on its agenda: a possible drop of the Scouts' ban on gay members and leaders.
Larry Coppock, the United Methodist Church's national director of Scouting ministries, said the group--including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist representatives--unanimously requested that Scouting executives give them more time to consider the possibility.
"There's a lot of passion around this," he said. "There's a lot of differences of opinion."
They got what they asked for, Coppock said, though he couldn't say how much influence their particular petition made. John Halloran, chairman of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, said he believed the task force's action was "a contributing factor."
There is simply no denying the influence of religion in the Boy Scouts, a group that includes "my duty to God" in its oath. According to the BSA, religious organizations comprise 70 percent of its sponsoring organizations. Mormons, United Methodists and Catholics-- the three largest groups--sponsored more than 1 million of the current 2.6 million Scouts in 2011.
As in other denominations, Mormon officials are "following this proposed policy change very closely. We believe the BSA has acted wisely in delaying its decision until all voices can be heard on this important moral issue," said Michael Purdy, a spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Beyond specific denominations, religious liberty advocates and conservative Christian supporters of traditional families voiced concern about the Scouts' proposed policy change.
"The legal and religious liberty implications of a bad decision would have been huge," said Kelly Shackelford, president of Liberty Institute, which sent a letter from conservative legal groups to the BSA warning that the absence of a national ban on gays could result in "crippling" lawsuits against local groups that retain a ban. "We are hopeful the Board will make a good decision protecting this great organization."
More than 40 conservative organizations took out an ad in USA Today urging the BSA to "stand firm for timeless values."