Top leaders of the General Commission on United Methodist Men have written the Boy Scouts of America, citing strong negative response within the denomination to a proposed lifting of the ban on gay scouts and scout leaders.
Gilbert Hanke, top executive of United Methodist Men, and Bishop James E. Swanson Jr., UMM president, wrote Chief Scout Executive Wayne Brock on Feb. 19, asking that the current restrictive policy be continued indefinitely.
“More time is needed for the 50 United Methodist Annual Conferences and the thousands of United Methodist churches to research in a thoughtful and prayerful manner exactly what this change might mean,” Mr. Hanke and Bishop Swanson wrote.
Their letter warned of backlash within the denomination if the Scouts change the policy regarding homosexuality.
“There are many questions of legal implications, and questions about how this new rule would be managed in our local churches,” they wrote. “Many see this change to be in conflict with their understanding of Scripture. Many have stated they will terminate their relationship with BSA, as a leader and as donors. Many have expressed anger that our church was not brought into this discussion as this change was being considered. A few have told us they support this proposed change by BSA; however, overall, the responses have been overwhelmingly against the proposed change.”
The UM Men leaders noted that faith communities provide roughly 70 percent of BSA units and 62 percent of BSA membership, and argued that there should be a “new relationship” between BSA and faith groups.
The BSA had been expected to decide on a policy change at a meeting earlier this month, but faced heated lobbying from advocates on both sides, and postponed any decision until a May meeting at the earliest.
UMM is the agency within the United Methodist Church that oversees scouting programs. The UMC’s official position is that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.
On Jan. 29, Mr. Hanke said in a statement released by UMM that he and Larry Coppick, UMM’s national director of scouting ministries, “were consulted by the leadership at the highest levels of BSA prior to the proposal to change membership requirements.”
Mr. Hanke also noted in that statement that the proposed change would remove an organization-wide ban and allow BSA units at the local level to decide their membership policies regarding sexual orientation.
“These proposed changes will allow local churches to reflect those tenets in their membership requirements,” he said then. “It does not force changes, but allows local churches control over these requirements based on their beliefs.”
But on Jan. 31, he released another statement, noting that UMM did not ask BSA for any change, and saying that the UMM leaders’ meeting with BSA leaders “was to inform us of what they were considering.”
Mr. Hanke said in the Jan. 31 statement that UMM concluded the local option was better than removing the ban completely.
“The reason we endorsed this model of implementation is because it allows your local church to continue to operate exactly like it is operating today,” he told churches and scout leaders in the UMC. “You choose the leaders, you recruit the scouts, the leadership of our troop and pack reflects the traditions and values of your faith community.”
Asked about the new letter, Mr. Hanke said in a phone interview today: “I wouldn’t say it’s a change in position. . . . I think it’s the right thing to do, is to have further discussions.”
He added: “I think the letter is self-explanatory.”
Jim Winkler, top executive of the UMC’s General Board of Church and Society, has written in support of the BSA lifting its ban on gay scouts and leaders.
In 2012, the UMC had 6,700 congregations with Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops and Venturing crews, involving 363,876 young people, according to UMM.