North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

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June 4, 2013

Boy Scout ruling draws ire

NORTH JEFFERSON — Churches in north Jefferson and southern Blount counties are largely undecided at this point on whether to continue to sponsor Boy Scout units, in light of a controversial decision by the national organization.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) voted on May 23 to allow openly homosexual members, a first for the century-old group. It continues to prohibit openly-gay adult leaders.

So far, one local church that hosts a scout troop — Liberty Baptist in Morris — has taken a stand on the issue.

“We came up with a resolution that the church voted on a couple months back,” said Rev. Willard Davis, the church pastor. “We won’t do anything official until next business meeting. We will not knowingly allow gays in anything we sponsor or finance.”

The resolution covered any and all activities, and did not specifically mention scouting, Davis said.

“We’ve been doing scouting for close to 20 years,” he added. “I’m disappointed. I expected [the vote] to go either way. But we’re not going to rush into anything — there are several avenues we can pursue.”

Elsewhere, Gardendale-Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church has yet to decide what action it will take in light of the new policy, according to a spokesperson for the church. A scout troop also meets at that church.

Officials with other local churches known to sponsor scout units could not be reached for comment.

The effect of the vote on the local governing body is yet to be fully known, according to Jeff Brasher, the director of support services for the Greater Alabama Council.

“People fell strongly on both sides of this issue,” Brasher said. “For the most part, we have not heard from chartered organizations about whether or not they will continue.”

Two high-profile churches in Shelby County have already announced their plans. First Baptist Church of Helena and First Baptist Church of Pelham will cut ties with the BSA.

Brasher said that other organizations have already replaced those churches. “We had other groups call us within minutes to step in,” he said.

The new policy still prohibits sexuality in any form at any scouting activity.

“That’s one thing we’re trying to emphasize — scouting is not the place to discuss, practice or exhibit sexuality,” Brasher said.

The council polled its adult leaders earlier this year in anticipation of the vote. In three separate but similarly-worded questions, respondents supported the old policy of prohibiting gay members, in numbers ranging from 69 to 78 percent.

Another question asked respondents if they would continue to take part in scouting if the BSA votes to allow gay members. Nearly half (49.1 percent) answered, “I do not believe that I can find a way to continue,” while about 30 percent said they had not yet decided.

The Greater Alabama Council covers 22 counties, including all of north Alabama and most of the east central portion of the state. It is one of eight BSA councils operating in the state, and is also the largest.

There are roughly 11,800 youth in 600 scouting units in the council area. In the Three Rivers District, which covers north Jefferson County, much of Blount County and all of St. Clair, there are 1,160 youth participating in 60 units, Brasher said.

Those units include Cub Scout packs for boys ages 7 to 10 1/2, Boy Scout troops for ages 10-1/2 to 18, Venturing crews for co-ed groups ages 14 to 21, and the career-based Explorer posts, which are also for boys and girls ages 14 to 21.

There are several other programs similar to the Boy Scouts, some of which are decades old. Most are tied to specific church denominations.

The Assemblies of God has operated its Royal Rangers ministry for more than half a century, with uniforms and activities that closely mimic the Boy Scouts but with more emphasis on Biblical teaching. Locally, Evangel Assembly of God in Mt. Olive is among several AG churches with Royal Ranger outposts.

Likewise, the Southern Baptist Convention has operated the Royal Ambassadors program since 1908 — predating the Boy Scouts of America by two years. It is geared toward boys of Cub Scout age, and is smaller in number than the BSA units sponsored by baptist churches of all varieties.

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