NASHVILLE (BP)—A 6,000-member Southern Baptist church in North Carolina has announced plans to end its 60-year sponsorship of a Boy Scout troop in light of the Scouts’ vote in May to admit open homosexuals to membership.
Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., instead will sponsor a troop of the newly formed Trail Life USA, which requires adult leaders to sign a statement of faith and requires both boys and leaders to live by a code of conduct that defines “any sexual activity outside the context of the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman” as “sinful” and “inconsistent with the values and principles of the program.”
Trail Life USA will accept boys who are experiencing same-sex attraction or gender confusion. It will not, however, receive into membership boys that are openly homosexual or transgendered.
“We’ve had very strong support from the existing families who were in the Scout program,” Donald Mann, the church’s associate pastor for stewardship, said, adding, “We’ve had a lot of support from within the community for what we’re doing.”
Calvary joined those churches that have ended their sponsorship of Boy Scout troops and opted to support alternative groups for boys like Trail Life USA and Royal Ambassadors, the Southern Baptist missions organization for boys in grades 1-6. The tandem Southern Baptist program Challengers engages young men in grades 7-12 in missions education.
Steve Heartsill, managing editor for Royal Ambassadors at the Woman’s Missionary Union in Birmingham, Ala., told BP there are some parallel elements to RAs and Boy Scouts, like an award system, camping and competitions using wooden racecars. However, WMU does not view Royal Ambassadors “as an alternative to anything” and does not take a position on whether churches should continue to sponsor Boy Scout troops, he said.
“With a rich history of 105 years, the purpose of Royal Ambassadors is missions education and involvement,” Heartsill said. “RAs is about leading boys to Christ, teaching missions and developing a Christ-like character. As boys are introduced to missional concepts, they learn they have an active part to play in God’s plan for their lives and for the world. They come to understand that God can use them now -- even in their youth -- to share His love with others and make a difference.”
Teaching biblical sexual morality is not specifically a part of Royal Ambassadors, Heartsill said, “but Christ-like character and virtues are emphasized.” The RA pledge includes a promise “to keep myself clean and healthy in mind and body.”
When Atlanta-area Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta announced its plan to sever ties with the Boy Scouts, pastor Ernest Easley, who also serves as chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, said Southern Baptists “really have an opportunity here to strengthen our RA programs and to get the boys in a program where they’re going to be protected, where there’s a high moral standard and where they will have an opportunity to learn about camping, missions, evangelism in the local church.”
Royal Ambassadors and Challengers appear to be growing in SBC churches, with curriculum sales increasing, Heartsill said. He encouraged churches interested in starting an RA program to contact the RA department at their state Baptist convention or visit www.wmu.com/RA.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based Christian legal group, has publicly circulated a legal memo recommending that churches with Scout troops end their sponsorship. Otherwise, ADF stated, churches risk losing their First Amendment right to oppose homosexuality in hiring decisions and facility rental policies.
Others oppose the BSA policy change but believe churches should still sponsor Scout troops. The Association of Baptists for Scouting, for one, told Baptist Press in an email that Boy Scouts still “presents a viable outreach option for churches if done properly.”
In addition to Calvary and Roswell Street Baptist churches, the Atlanta-area Johnson Ferry Baptist Church has ended its Scout charter. Other Southern Baptists, meanwhile, have opted to remain with Scouting following the BSA National Council’s vote to change the organization’s membership policy effective Jan. 1, 2014.
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