The Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution Wednesday expressing its opposition to and disappointment in the Boy Scouts of America's new policy allowing gay Scouts.
The resolution was voted on by members at the denomination's annual meeting in Houston. It also calls on the Boy Scouts to remove executive and board leaders who tried to allow gays as both members and leaders without consulting the many religious groups that sponsor Scout troops.
While the resolution does not recommend that Southern Baptists drop ties with the Scouts, it expresses support for those churches and families that decide to do so. It also encourages churches and families who choose to remain with the Scouts to work toward reversing the new membership policy.
The Boy Scouts of America released this statement in response:
"We have a deep respect for the Southern Baptist Convention and its churches that use Scouting in their youth ministries. Scouting's youth member policy is not about the BSA condoning homosexuality, or forcing its chartered organizations to do the same. This change allows Scouting to be more compassionate in its response to a young person who expresses a same sex attraction, but is not engaging in sexual activity, by no longer calling for their automatic removal from the program. Scouting's policy prohibits any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age and requires all members to demonstrate behavior that exemplifies the highest level of good conduct and respect for others. We believe the BSA policy is fully consistent with how Southern Baptist Churches respond to young people in their congregations and allows them to maintain their beliefs about homosexuality and minister to children who are still learning and developing." -Deron Smith, Boy Scouts of America
Because all Southern Baptist churches are independent, the denomination cannot force a church to drop ties with the Scouts. However, churches occasionally are kicked out of the convention for practices considered incompatible with Southern Baptist beliefs.
The resolution takes a softer tone than the denomination has many times in the past.
In 1997, the Southern Baptist Convention asked its members to boycott The Walt Disney Company, in part because it provided benefits for same-sex partners of employees and hosted gay theme nights at its amusement parks. The SBC dropped the boycott in 2005.
Although the Nashville-based denomination claims 16 million members, it has seen membership decline for six years in a row. Recently, the convention has sought to expand its appeal beyond its traditional white, Southern base. Last year, the convention elected an African-American president for the first time in its history. The Rev. Fred Luter was re-elected without opposition Tuesday.
In other resolutions introduced Wednesday, the membership passed a resolution calling on all Southern Baptists to report allegations of child abuse to authorities.
The nation's largest Protestant denomination has resisted implementing some type of database of ministers accused of abuse, saying that all churches are independent and the denomination does not have the authority to order local churches to submit that information.
Members amended the resolution to urge denominational leaders to use caution affiliating with groups or individuals with questionable practices for protecting children.
It is unclear whether the amendment was aimed at any specific person or practice, but it comes after some Southern Baptist leaders expressed support for Sovereign Grace Ministries. That group faces accusations that church officials covered up child sexual abuse.