Boy Scouts of America President Robert Gates says the organization’s policy banning gay adults in leadership will see a change by October. That decision will be made with the input of supporters, the majority of which includes churches. Some of Western New York’s faith leaders say the outlook for church approval is uncertain.
Rev. Harry Grace of Saint Mark’s and All Saints Episcopal Church in Riverside says he believes inclusion is the right move for the Boy Scouts. While the Episcopal Diocese is already inclusive, Grace says some faiths and their churches may not agree.
In the past, Grace worked in Idaho, where the Mormon Church has a strong presence and very close ties to the Scouts. The church also has a stance against what it terms “same-sex attraction.” Grace says in a situation where churches oppose homosexuality, it is impractical to demand that they accept inclusion.
“Were that to become mandatory national policy,” said Grace, “I suspect most of those congregations would drop the Boy Scouts.”
Grace says any faith group mandated to conform to a liberal inclusion policy from outside of their organization would be put into an untenable position. He says he knows it can be a hard pill to swallow. Grace says the proper way to enact inclusion is to make no distinction against members at any level of leadership and to “understand that there are other people who are not there yet.” He says to "force them into a corner is to really force them out” and it is not the type of move he favors.
The day after calling the ban on gay members in leadership “unsustainable,” Robert Gates said his approach would be to allow Scout-sponsoring churches to exercise religious freedom and ensure troop leaders reflect the faith of their sponsoring institutions.
Rev. Phil Smith, retired pastor of Saint Peter’s United Church of Christ in Buffalo, says the Boy Scouts’ policy should be one that recognizes their role as a confederation. When Smith had a Scout troop at his church over 40 years ago, acceptance of gay members was not an issue. He says “don’t ask, don’t tell” was an unofficial policy for society, let alone within the Scouts.
“'Closet' is a word you almost never hear anymore,” notes Smith. “But it was very, very much in vogue back in the 60s and the 70s. I think that was an evolutionary process. It was a mistake by the Boy Scouts which I think they are now acknowledging and I hope they will correct.
Smith said he was surprised and impressed at Gates’ recommendation to adopt change, but admitted that if the Scouts do opt for inclusion of gay members at all levels, he does not know how the organization would enforce such a policy.