The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) leadership committee recently voted to allow boys who identified as homosexual to become boy scouts. It was a decision that was sure to garner a lot of controversy based on the simple fact that the boy scouts have long had an opposing policy to such things. What makes the decision even more combustible is the fact that America’s largest Protestant denomination has long used the BSA as a tool for reaching young men with the Gospel. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has partnered for many years with the boy scouts and the pairing has been beneficial for both groups – for the SBC they have the opportunity to minister local youth and for the BSA they have willing volunteers with deep pockets to support their organization.
The BSA’s decision to abandon their long held principles of social conservatism may seem to the outsider as a logical step in the ever more progressive cultural milieu. However, the stance on homosexual involvement in the BSA runs deeper than that. Their position was not something as shallow as “We don’t like gay people”, even if the Left likes to pretend that that’s all it is. Since their inception the BSA have been tied to morally conservative social education from their time as a wing of the YMCA to their association with Mormon Church up until today with their close relationship with the SBC.
Just read the Boy Scout oath:
“On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty, to God and my country, to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, and to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”
The purpose of the BSA throughout its history has been tied to socially conservative moral philosophy, and so been a natural place for conservative families to connect and spend their time, talent, and money.
All of that being said this story has now progressed past a simple connection between a few Boy Scout troops (about 4,000 or about 100,000 scouts)((about 5% of the total BSA population)) and a conservative religious organization (the SBC).
The Boy Scouts seemingly progressive move uncovers a minefield for the Southern Baptist Convention, and they must now navigate this piece of land carefully. Right off the bat there seem to be two simple responses: the first, condemn them and move on. The second, accept the change and move on.
If the SBC simply condemns the Boy Scouts shift away from traditional Christian values, and stomps off – the church in America loses a great opportunity for continued impact into the lives of young people. While the SBC only supports about 5% of Boy Scouts, if they walk away now that’s over 100,000 young men who will possibly no longer have the influence of the church in their lives. Not only would they lose the influence on these boys, but it would also reinforce the idea to the broader culture that the homosexual issue is the most important issue to Evangelical Christians. It is not. The most important issue to Evangelical Christians is the Gospel and the SBC needs to keep that in the forefront of their deliberations. The question is, “How can we maintain the most influence possible for the Gospel on this culture?”
Conversely, if the SBC says nothing and continues its collaboration with the BSA then it will be viewed as tacitly accepting the BSA’s stance on gay scouts and it could hinder its influence on the organization in the future. Evangelicals must continue to denounce sin in a culture that is gradually becoming increasingly desensitized to sin. Nonetheless, the church must balance the denunciation of sin with the Good News of the Gospel. It’s not an easy line to balance on, and even if the SBC does everything right and moves ahead along the wisest course possible, they may still end up being cast as the villains in this drama.
I’m not narcissistic enough to pretend I know which road is the one to choose, but just because the terrain ahead is beset with traps for the SBC it does not mean they can afford to stay behind, they have an opportunity to lead and to exert influence, and so move ahead they must.
We can only pray that they make wise, thoughtful, and humble decisions.