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Scout leaders fear impact of lifting gay ban

Published 10:20 am Monday, February 4, 2013

When Boy Scouts of America announced last week it could lift its longtime national ban on gay members, it said the proposed change would allow local Scout troops to make membership and leadership decisions individually.

Leaders overseeing troops in Frankfort and Franklin County all of them sponsored by churches are grappling with how they would deal with the proposal should it gain approval.

Deron Smith, director of public relations for Boy Scouts of America, said in a statement that the national organization would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organizations mission, principles or religious beliefs.

The organization will discuss the proposal this week.

Local Scoutmaster George Cook of Troop 281, a group of 13 sponsored by Buck Run Baptist Church, called the proposed change a shirking of responsibility by the national organization.

Im thinking its taking the load off of them and throwing the problem onto local units, Cook said.

Cook said he personally disagrees with homosexuality based on his religious beliefs and the Scout Oath pledge of duty to God.

The Boy Scouts of America website lists six troops in Frankfort, all sponsored by churches. Faith-based organizations nationally represent more than 70,000 chartered Scout troops.

Hershael York, senior pastor of Buck Run, said he is displeased with the proposal and said the ban on gays will stay in place for his churchs troop.

Our policy is what Boy Scout policy has always been, York said. He said his churchs opposition to homosexuality is based on scripture, and it has not changed.

York called the proposal a repudiation of Boy Scouts of Americas decision to reaffirm the policy just six months ago.

The gay rights agenda will not be satisfied with this decision, York said.

He said he believes rights groups will not rest until every troop allows gay Scouts and leaders. If that day comes, he said, Buck Run will no longer sponsor a troop.

I think that day is inevitable because (Boy Scouts of America) caved so quickly, he said.

Cook expressed concerns that individuals and rights groups may now try to sue local troops to force them to include gay members instead of suing the national organization, which had its ban upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000.

He said the local troops that still choose to ban gays might lose funding, just as the national organization has lost corporate sponsors because of its policy.

The proposal to end the ban comes as recent polls show more Americans back gay marriage than oppose it.

While the announcement said Boy Scouts of America would leave troop membership decisions up to chartered organizations, it is unclear what role individual churches governed by larger denominations will play in deciding to continue or end the ban within local troops.

Wayne Sayre, senior pastor of Frankfort First United Methodist Church, which sponsors Troop 227, said he didnt know who or what group in his church would be responsible for making a decision on the issue.

Sayre said his church, which has a representative government, would have to have a conversation as a community about the issue.

To be honest, Im not sure what that procedure will look like, Sayre said.

Sayre said there are differences of opinion within the church, and he would hate to speculate on how it would decide.

The United Methodist Churchs denominational Book of Discipline says, The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, and prevents gays from becoming clergy and prohibits using funds to promote acceptance of homosexuality.

Troop 227 Scoutmaster Tina Bailey, who said she opposes homosexuality based on her religious beliefs, said the proposed change might make Scout leaders jobs much harder.

Highlighting the divisiveness of the issue, she expressed hesitation to speak about the proposal before it has become policy.

The church is our sponsor, and I dont want to jeopardize our sponsorship with the church, Bailey said.

Justin Hayes, lead pastor of Frankfort First Church of the Nazarene, which sponsors Troop 269, said he had just been briefed on the issue Sunday.

Hayes said he believes the issue will have to be deferred to the denominations headquarters in Kansas City.

This is an unusual scenario because this is an organization that is deferring to the churches, rather than being part of the denomination, Hayes said.

He did not comment on whether he believes the proposal would put more pressure on local groups, nor did he comment on his personal views on homosexuality.

Hayes said his church doesnt have its own bylaws, and that the denominations bylaws currently prevent gays from holding leadership positions in the church.

The State Journal made numerous unsuccessful attempts to contact Troop 1 and its sponsor, First Christian Church, for comment. Troop 1 claims to be the first Boy Scout troop in the United States.