The Southern Baptist Convention, the governing body for the largest Protestant Christian denomination in the United States, made a formal declaration on Wednesday condemning the Boy Scouts of America for allowing openly homosexual scouts.
The condemnation came during the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Houston, Reuters reports. While the Convention passed a resolution condemning the Boy Scouts of America’s recent move, the resolution is not binding and does not require individual Baptist churches to cut ties with the BSA.
"There will be a mass exodus over time," Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, said, according to Fox News. “Churches are finally going to have to come to realize -- there is a point when you say, ‘sorry, no more.’”
Russell Moore, president of the Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, says that the condemnation is about more than the Boy Scouts’ inclusion of homosexual scouts.
“The Boy Scouts previously had an understanding of sexuality that was geared toward expression in marriage," Moore told the Baptist Press. "That has changed, and that is a momentous change ... Once you take sexuality and the expression of sexuality and politicize it in the way the Boy Scouts have done, you change the nature of that moral education in a way that Southern Baptists, most of us, have grave concerns about."
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Currently, more than 70 percent of Boy Scouts of America troops are sponsored by religious organizations, and Southern Baptist churches make up a sizable percentage of those sponsors. Though the Southern Baptist Convention did not explicitly encourage Baptist churches to cut ties with the scouting organization, some churches such as the Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., have already withdrawn their support.
Under the BSA’s new policy, openly gay scouts will be allowed to serve in troops nationwide. But gay scoutmasters and adult leaders are still banned.
"No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone," the resolution passed last month states, according to CNN.
"The resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting," the BSA said in a statement.
The ban on gay scouts and leaders was instituted in 1991 when the organization determined that gay people were not living in accordance with the Boy Scouts of America oath, which demands that scouts be "physically strong, mentally alert and morally straight." The point of contention was with the "morally straight" clause. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the BSA as a private organization had the constitutional right to set its own rules in a case brought by a gay Eagle Scout named James Dale, who was barred from serving as a leader in a New Jersey troop in 1990 because of his sexuality.