Churches conflicted over Scouts’ policy change on gays
While most area churches are continuing to sponsor Scouting troops under a new policy that gay children must be allowed to join, three churches are ending their sponsorships while other churches, and some Scouting families, are conflicted by the change.
Seattle Times staff reporter
At a recent meeting at a church gym in Bothell, Boy Scouts in identical blue neckerchiefs and “Troop 574” patches discussed summer camp as their parents arranged carpools and cookout recipes for a weekend trip.
The boys heard rules for what to bring — no iPods — and what time to be ready for the ferry — 9 a.m.
What was not on the agenda, at least not officially: recent changes to Boy Scout policy allowing openly gay Scouts to join.
Still, the topic was unavoidable, and one cluster of boys found themselves talking about it on the sidelines.
Troop 574 is sponsored by the evangelical Cedar Park Church in Bothell, one of three churches in the Puget Sound area that has decided to part ways with the Boy Scouts over the policy change. Grace Christian Fellowship in Mount Vernon will also end sponsorship.
The same decision by a Roman Catholic Church in Bremerton, Our Lady Star of the Sea, has prompted an online petition by a national advocacy group, Catholics United, that views the church’s decision as discriminatory and likely to alienate young people from the faith. The group will present the petition to the Archdiocese of Seattle on Friday.
Most sponsoring churches in the Puget Sound area appear to be sticking with the Boy Scouts, some saying the new policy is consistent with their beliefs about inclusion.
But other churches — and some Scouting families — are conflicted, saying the policy forces a clash between their religious beliefs about homosexuality and their support for an organization that has served children well.
“One little rule and bghhhh,” said Troop 574 member Kyle Horne, 17, making the sound of a bomb exploding.
Scout troops typically are sponsored by churches, civic organizations and groups of parents that pay the Boy Scouts of America for charters that are renewable each year.
Faith-based organizations are the most common chartered organizations , with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the United Methodist Church and the Catholic Church holding the highest numbers.
In the counties that border Puget Sound, more than 1,300 Scouting groups and 34,000 young people are involved in the Chief Seattle and Mount Baker councils of Boy Scouts of America (BSA).
Chief Seattle Council Executive Sharon Moulds has heard murmurs of other churches dropping out, along with the two in her council that have confirmed they will not sponsor troops next year.
Moulds has fielded phone calls from a handful of parents unhappy about the policy change.
She tries to explain that there have always been gay Scouts — the only change is now it’s out in the open. Losing Scouts saddens her, but as a mother herself she can’t tell others how to raise their kids.
“We want to keep everybody, but we’re not going to be able to,” Moulds said.
Letter sparks protest
In Bremerton, Father Derek Lappe of Our Lady Star of the Sea was already considering an end to troop sponsorship when BSA voted May 23 to remove its restriction denying youths from joining solely on the basis of their sexual orientation, effective in January.
Gay Scouts wouldn’t have been an issue before the policy change, Lappe said. “We would have never kicked a kid out because of this.”
But Lappe felt he had to end the relationship with the organization after it approved a policy he believes encourages young people to come out or to identify as gay.
“To me it is cruel, and abusive and absolutely contrary to the Gospel to in any way confirm a teenager in the confusion of same-sex attraction,” Lappe wrote on the church's website in a letter that has been viewed more than 16,000 times.
His decision promoted Catholics United to launch its online petition in protest. The organization has collected more than 5,500 signatures on a petition it will present to the Archdiocese of Seattle on Friday, asking it to condemn Lappe’s action and reassert Catholic doctrine in favor of accepting gay people.
The advocacy-group’s executive director, James Salt, is concerned young people will be alienated from the faith.
“It’s a startling reminder that the Catholic Church is drifting from its long-held teachings against discrimination,” he said.
The issue resonated with Mike Bunney, a gay Catholic member of St. Joseph Church on Capitol Hill who helped gather petition signatures.
“When an authority figure devalues certain people, it gives everyone else permission to do so,” Bunney wrote in an email. “This sets up a climate in which bullying thrives.”
Washington’s Catholic bishops have stated the new Boy Scout membership policy doesn’t change the church’s relationship to Scouting. The bishops said troops and packs sponsored by local parishes help young people get involved in their communities and learn to make good life choices.
Right now it’s up to individual churches to decide to sponsor a Scout troop, and that hasn’t changed for Catholic churches, said Archdiocese spokesman Greg Magnoni.
“It’s still going to be a pastor’s decision based on the pastoral needs of his parish,” he said.
In Mount Vernon, the pastor of Grace Christian Fellowship, Robert Burt, was most concerned about potential liability the congregation could bear under the new rules — if parents sued because their gay Scout was bullied, for example, or if an older gay Scout preyed on a younger one.
“The only way to not put them in the situation in the first place is to step away from the organization,” Burt said.
He also had questions about how the new policy would be implemented — like whether to put gay and straight Scouts in the same tents or separate them.
“We’re not sure how to handle it,” Burt said.
Boy Scout troops that lose their chartered organization must find another place willing to provide meeting rooms and adults willing to lead.
In this region, other charters include Veterans of Foreign Wars, chambers of commerce and Kiwanis Clubs.
For many troops that hasn’t become an issue, as most churches so far are continuing their sponsorships.
Troops chartered by Mormon churches are active throughout the region, and the Latter-day Saints have stated support for the policy change, saying sexual orientation has never been a disqualifying factor to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops.
In Bellevue, Cross of Christ Lutheran Church has chartered a troop for decades, and decided the new policy does not conflict with church doctrine, said interim pastor Doug Stensby.
“We would love to continue to sponsor Scouting activities for the benefit of those who participate,” he said.
Robert Ramey is the Cubmaster of Pack 787 at Calvary Fellowship church in Mountlake Terrace.
He welcomes the troop’s 10 boys after school, providing a safe space where they learn God created them and God loves them, Ramey said. He wants to encourage the children and provide them a sense of direction.
“That’s a joy, seeing boys grow and mature,” Ramey said.
Although he was not enthusiastic about the policy change, saying Scouting worked well under the old rules, he will continue to guide his group.
“The call is still the same,” he said. “Boys need to be mentored.”
At the start of the recent meeting in Bothell, members of Troop 574 repeated the Boy Scout Oath in unison. “On my honor I will do my best ...”
But after the meeting, their opinions diverged. Some families are pulling out of Boy Scouts for good. Others are looking for a new group to sponsor the troop. Some families are waiting to see what might happen when the current charter expires.
“Christianity teaches us to be inclusive,” said Scout Brett Youtsey, 15, calling Cedar Park’s decision to end the charter “completely detrimental and hypocritical.”
Scout Jimmy Shank, 14, said he wants to graduate from Scouting before next year.
“I’m trying to get Eagle as fast as I can,” he said. Tenting with an openly gay Scout would “just be uncomfortable,” he said.
Pastor Joe Fuiten opposes the membership change on moral grounds.
“We believe that homosexual acts are sinful,” Fuiten said. “Therefore we can’t allow that as an accepted part of personal behavior, and to be connected to our church.”
Fuiten lobbied the Boy Scouts to keep the policy as it was.
“There’s no reason to do this, other than caving into the left wing and the culture,” he said.
Scouting parent John Bartlow said the membership change has caused his family’s values to clash.
While the Scouts learned how to carry and salute the American flag, he sat in the back of the gym and planned meals for the troop’s next trip, a Dutch oven cookbook in front of him.
Being a Scout has helped his son Joseph overcome shyness, he said. Recently the 12-year-old coordinated an award ceremony of 150 people.
At the same time, Bartlow does not want to “promote the homosexual lifestyle,” he said. His wife, Rachel, is also conflicted.
“It’s so hard that a program that was so beautiful for boys has been changed into a sexual debate,” she said.
Staying or leaving the Scouts will be tough either way, and Bartlow is still praying on it.
“A Scout is brave, and that means you stand up for what you believe in,” he said.
Anna Boiko-Weyrauch: 206-464-3145 or firstname.lastname@example.org