By Daniel Burke
(CNN) — The Southern Baptist Convention on Wednesday called for the ouster of Boy Scouts executives who pushed to allow openly gay youth without consulting members, but stopped short of urging churches to disaffiliate from local troops.
Some top Boy Scouts leaders failed to confer with membership before proposing the historic change and should be removed, the Southern Baptists said in a resolution passed at its annual meeting in Houston.
The resolution, which passed with overwhelming support, also said that allowing gay Scouts “has the potential to complicate basic understandings of male friendships, needlessly politicize human sexuality, and heighten sexual tensions within the Boy Scouts.”
It is far from the first time the conservative denomination has expressed disappointment with cultural acceptance of homosexuality.
Since 1996, Southern Baptists have passed 10 resolutions centering on homosexuality, including two resolutions calling on Baptists to boycott Disney because they think the company promotes “immoral ideologies.”
With 16 million members in some 45,000 congregations, the Southern Baptist Convention is the country’s largest Protestant denomination. Baptists as a whole, including several smaller denominations, sponsor about 4,000 Scouting units representing 100,000 youths.
“We have a deep respect for the Southern Baptist Convention and its churches that use Scouting in their youth ministries,” said Deron Smith, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America. “Scouting’s youth member policy is not about the BSA condoning homosexuality, or forcing its chartered organizations to do the same.”
More than 60% of the BSA’s 1,400-member national council voted on May 24 to allow openly gay Scouts. The change is set to take effect January 1. Scout executives had planned to proceed with the change unilaterally before conservative groups complained, according to the Southern Baptists.
Smith said opening membership to gay youth “allows Scouting to be more compassionate in its response to a young person who expresses a same-sex attraction.”
The Boy Scouts of America will continue to prohibit any sexual conduct — heterosexual or homosexual — among its youth. The ban on openly gay leaders continues as well.
Faith-based organizations charter more than 70% of Scout chapters, providing meeting space and leadership, according to the BSA.
Several of the largest religious sponsors, including the Mormon church, the United Methodist Church and the Roman Catholic Church, have indicated that they do not plan to cut ties with the BSA.
Still, many conservative congregations, particularly Southern Baptists, have pledged to disaffiliate from local troops, and some pastors on Wednesday called on the entire denomination to do likewise.
“We should stand firmly and keep ourselves from having to revisit this issue in future years,” Pastor Mike Janz of First Baptist Church of Rosamond, California, said Wednesday at the Baptist meeting.
“We should always say that homosexuality is sinful and never support any entity that says homosexuality is not sinful,” Janz continued.
But Janz’s proposal to urge all Southern Baptists to disaffiliate from the Scouts was handily defeated Wednesday. Some top Southern Baptist leaders had predicted that congregations would leave the Scouts “en masse.”
Southern Baptists take congregational autonomy seriously, a legacy of their historical separatism from more established denominations such as the Roman Catholic Church.
At the same time, the Southern Baptists also overwhelmingly voted to change their resolution to make clear that they are not encouraging churches to stay with the Scouts, either.
“I don’t think we should be on record as encouraging a relationship with Scouts troops that had homosexual members,” said Pastor Paul Taylor of Mauriceville, Texas.
But Pastor Charlie Dale of Indian Springs First Baptist Church in Alabama said the Boy Scouts do not condone sexuality of any kind, and that churches should help, not bar, boys who believe they are gay.
“Such a boy needs love,” Dale said. “So let’s bring him in and show him what biblical manhood and real love is about.”
Affiliating with Scout troops also provides an avenue for evangelism, said Pastor David Uth of Orlando. “We are very happy to partner (with Scouts) because it gives us access to more families and more boys to share the life-saving gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Russell Moore, the new head of the SBC’s powerful Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called Uth’s approach “wise and gospel-focused.”
“This isn’t Disney redux, as some media predicted,” Moore tweeted.
The Southern Baptists’ resolution encourages congregations not to abandon their youth ministries but to consider the denomination’s homegrown alternative, the Royal Ambassadors, a distinctly Christian group dedicated to developing “godly young men.”
Some liberal churches have already pledged to sponsor troops disowned by conservative congregations.
For every host organization that has decided to sever ties with their troop, eight to 10 new ones have invited the Boy Scouts into their community, according to Jeff Fulcher, spokesman for the Atlanta Area Council of the Boys Scouts of America.
“This membership issue is a sensitive issue with a lot of people in our community,” Fulcher said. “Some can’t continue supporting the scouting programs. But the vast majority of the Scouts in our organization still want to continue scouting, and we’ve had a wide variety of churches, places of worship and civic organizations reaching out to us because they want scouting programs in their neighborhoods.”
One such church is the One World Spiritual Center in Marietta, Georgia, where the community has extended an invitation to Boys Scout troops soon to lose their meeting place.
The Rev. Stephanie Seigh, head of the center, said the church decided to post the marquee after learning that local Southern Baptists refused to continue hosting their Boys Scout troops.
“We teach our children that God is in everyone and everything. We don’t discriminate,” Seigh told CNN.
CNN’s Mayra Cuevas contributed to this report.
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