When the Boy Scouts of America officially decided Monday to lift the ban on gay adult troop leaders and employees, LGBT activists rejoiced at the changing tide of a century-old institution. But many conservative religious organizations are not happy, despite a provision in the new rules that allows religiously affiliated troops -- a large majority -- to consider sexual orientation when selecting volunteer troop leaders.
The Boy Scouts of America national executive board, led by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, ratified the resolution in a 45-12 vote. Gates had said in May that the Boy Scouts' policy of excluding gay leaders was no longer "sustainable" and left the organization vulnerable to division and legal attacks. In 2013, the Scouts decided to allow gay members under 18, but stopped short at adult leaders, a compromise that failed to satisfy conservatives and LGBT activists alike.
Under the new rules, the national organization can no longer discriminate against its employees on the basis of sexual orientation, but local troops will be permitted to use religious beliefs as a guide in deciding whether they will allow openly gay volunteer troop leaders. About 70 percent of all Boy Scout troops are run by religious organizations, according to the BSA.
The most notable institution to express dissatisfaction with the ruling so far is the Mormon Church, which sponsors 37 percent of all Boy Scout troops -- more than any other organization in the country. Officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Utah-based Mormon Church said it was “deeply troubled” by the decision.
“The church has always welcomed all boys to its scouting units regardless of sexual orientation,” the church said in a statement. “However, the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America.”
The LDS Church also hinted at breaking away from the Boy Scouts altogether to establish its own scouting organization for its youth members around the world: “As a global organization with members in 170 countries, the church has long been evaluating the limitations that fully one-half of its youth face where Scouting is not available. Those worldwide needs combined with this vote by the BSA National Executive Board will be carefully reviewed by the leaders of the church in the weeks ahead.”
Earlier in the summer, some Southern Baptist leaders urged their churches to sever ties with the Boy Scouts of America over the pending new policy. Instead, leaders of America's largest Protestant denomination voted at their annual meeting in June on a resolution that criticized the policy change and called for the ouster of Boy Scout board members and staff who supported the inclusion of gays.
But the new ruling will undoubtedly affect the participation of Baptist churches in the organization.
"In recent years I have seen a definite cooling on the part of Baptist churches toward the Scouts," the Rev. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told the Associated Press. "This will probably bring that cooling to a freeze."
The Roman Catholic Church has also opposed the new policy, but seemed to have a more nuanced reaction to the ruling so far, indicating that it would not break ties with the Boy Scouts organization as a whole. About 8 percent of Scout troops are run by Catholic churches.
Noting that the resolution allows troops sponsored by religious groups the right to set their own standards for leaders, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting said in a statement that “it appears that the resolution respects the needs of Catholic-chartered organizations in the right to choose leaders whose character and conduct are consistent with those of Catholic teaching.”
However, the organization expressed “strong concern about the practical implications of this resolution, especially for our young people in Scouting.” It also reaffirmed the church’s position that the only acceptable adult sexual conduct “should be reserved to a husband and a wife in marriage.”