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Boy Scouts Lift Membership Ban on Gay Youths

(UPDATED) Officials predicted 350,000 may leave, 20,000 may join over decision. Assemblies of God and Southern Baptists suggest exodus.

Update (May 24): The Boy Scouts have issued seven clarifications on the new membership resolution. Among them, notes Religion Clause, is this assertion:

This proposal is in line with the beliefs of most of Scouting's major religious chartered organizations.

Some have asserted that the proposed change for youth runs counter to values of and raises concerns among Scouting's religious chartered organizations. We are unaware of any major religious chartered organization that believes a youth member simply stating he or she is attracted to the same sex, but not engaging in sexual activity, should make him or her unwelcome in their congregation.

Meanwhile, conservative religious alternatives to the Boy Scouts have seen rising interest.

Will there be a mass exodus of religious groups from the Scouts? As RNS finds out, it depends on who you ask. Southern Baptists are likely to exit first.


After a heated debate over whether or not to change long-standing membership policies, board members of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have voted to allow openly gay youths to join as members. Approximately 61 percent of members voted in favor of the proposal.

News broke on Twitter via an attendee, and was quickly corroborated by news outlets:

Began with prayer.Proposed resolution on membership resolution passes. twitter.com/ToddMoodyEsq/s…– Todd L. Moody (@ToddMoodyEsq) May 23, 2013

Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post offered one of the first analyses of what the change means. "The Scouts' poll earlier this year asked members what would happen if the ban on gay men and boys was lifted," she reported, "and officials predicted 100,000 to 350,000 people would leave. A lift on both bans would likely bring 10,000 to 20,000 new youth, the group said."

The Assemblies of God, one of America's largest denominations, agrees. "We believe that the BSA policy change will lead to a mass exodus from the Boy Scout program, as Assemblies of God and many other churches can no longer support groups that are part of an organization allowing members who are openly homosexual," said the denomination in response to the vote.

Southern Baptist leaders also expect many of their sponsored troops to leave.

The BSA released the following statement:

The approximate 1,400 voting members of the Boy Scouts of America's National Council approved a resolution to remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone. The resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting. A change to the current membership policy for adult leaders was not under consideration; thus, the policy for adults remains in place.

The newly approved membership standards, which will take effect in January 2014, will still require members to adhere to the organization's Declaration of Religious Principle–duty to God–and follow the Scout Oath. However, the policies now state, "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone."

The BSA's National Executive Committee first announced the controversial proposal last month. Churches accused the Scouts of caving to political pressure, but gay rights groups weren't happy with the proposal either.

That's because some things will not change under the proposal: the Boy Scouts will still not allow openly gay adults to participate as troop leaders. That would "create a situation where a gay youth could become a scout and then be forced to resign when he becomes an adult," Reuters reported.

Lawyers also have warned about the dangers of the BSA's proposal. In March, the Alliance Defending Freedom said that the change could undermine a Supreme Court ruling from 2000 that affirmed the Scouts' current membership policies–including the promise to remain morally straight.

The potential consequence of voting to allow gay members but exclude gay leaders? THE BSA could be exposed to a torrent of lawsuits, Baptist Press reported. Some lawyers have warned that "the proposed policy is vulnerable to attacks that it is internally inconsistent both morally and logically."

But the BSA says its proposal is in line with the organization's long-standing values, as well as with "the beliefs of most of Scouting's major religious chartered organizations."

Conservative churches that sponsor Boy Scouts troops now will be forced to decide whether to continue sponsoring and comply with the new membership standards, or switch to other young men's organizations. One alternative is the Southern Baptist Convention's Royal Ambassadors program, which currently operates in about 3,000 churches across the country. The Assemblies of God offered its Royal Rangers program "as a positive alternative ... that operates with values consistent to that of the BSA prior to today's change."

CT has followed the BSA story throughout the past several months, noting that religious groups sponsor nearly 3 in 4 Boy Scouts troops. CT also reported how courts were divided over whether or not the Scouts could ban gay members until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that they could in 2000.

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