Churches that Keep BSA Ties Are at Risk
By Dr. Mark Creech
According to the Christian Post (CP), Trail Life USA, the organization that formed as an alternative to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), started with approximately 500 troops on New Year’s Day. Troops are being planned in at least 42 states with an average of 25 to 30 boys in each. Its leadership says their program is “undergirded by biblical values and unapologetically reflects a Christian worldview.”
Trail Life USA comes on the heels of a decision by the BSA to accept openly gay members, although a ban on openly gay adult leaders continues. Trail Life, however, will only affirm sexual activity within the confines of marriage between a man and a woman is moral. The CP reports they only “accept adults and youth who do not engage in or promote sexual immorality of any kind, or engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the program.”
It was encouraging to see this new outfit for boys get such a rock-solid start. It’s my conviction that churches and religious groups who have chartered the Boy Scouts need to get out and move to Trail Life or some similar club. Some argue churches ought not to abandon the Boys Scouts. Misdirected boys, they say, need to be re-directed toward the Christian life and taught biblical manhood. Such sentiments are certainly commendable, but they also reveal a naivety about the minefield the new BSA policy creates.
The fact is churches and religious groups that choose to continue their chartered status with the Boy Scouts are making themselves vulnerable to serious spiritual and legal risks. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian legal organization that specializes in religious liberty issues, has delineated where a number of these dangers exist.
First, ADF rightly contends the new policy by the BSA essentially makes the protections of the Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) holding in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, The SCOTUS decision defined certain behaviors and views as incompatible with the mission and message of the BSA and the church. But now, the BSA and any church that charters a troop could face litigation, if it refuses to accept any sexual preference of potential members. Siting some examples, ADF declares: “The church chartered troop will likely be sued when it tries to revoke the membership of the homosexual member who wears his uniform to the Gay Pride Parade or deny membership to the girl who believes she is a male.”
Second, ADF warns churches who maintain their relationship with the Scouts may find their ability to teach biblical principles to young boys seriously compromised. A troop chartered by a religious group could find itself under the threat of litigation should it insist on sharing biblical principles on sexuality and require its members to adhere.
Moreover, since the BSA has abandoned one of its core values, the requirement to be “morally straight,” what’s to prevent them from abandoning the fundamental requirement to do their “duty to God?” asks ADF. The law group argues it’s only a matter of time before someone sues to remove that condition for membership too.
Third, ADF contends the new BSA policy opens the Scouts and their chartered organizations to negative influences from older Scouts who can be most impressionable on younger minds in the troop. A 17-year-old Scout or a 20-year-old Venturer who is a homosexual and in good standing, can serve as a Patrol Leader and be responsible for much of what takes place. While the older Scout would still be under the Scout Master, sometimes these older members exert more influence than adult volunteers in the troop.
Furthermore, the fact the 20-year-old Scout is only one year away from adulthood and could only serve thereafter as an adult volunteer, ADF rightly contends it’s only a matter of time before the age differentiation is considered arbitrary and a suit is filed arguing there is no basis to prohibit homosexual adult volunteers.
Finally, ADF points out that many states have “non-discrimination” laws that prevent certain organizations from denying housing, employment opportunities, as well as other things, on the basis of “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” etc. In other words, if a religious organization in said states is sued because it refuses to rent its property to a homosexual couple, or a church refuses to rent its facilities for a same-sex civil union or marriage, then the court is likely to scrutinize the church or religious group’s message opposing homosexuality to determine whether it can be lawfully excluded.
How does this affect a church and its relationship to the BSA? ADF warns, “Affirming the ‘good conduct’ and ‘moral straightness’ of youth of any sexual orientation or preference – which is the effect of a church chartering a BSA group – could limit a church’s ability to make a convincing showing that its beliefs opposing homosexuality should be constitutionally protected because of the internal inconsistency created by the charter.”
Fortunately, in North Carolina no such legal threat seems imminent. But in 2009, the North Carolina General Assembly did approve legislation for the first time that placed the enumerations of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” into its state statutes. The parameters of the statute, however, only relate to possible motivating characteristics for bullying students in the public schools. But if these enumerations were ever expanded by North Carolina lawmakers, as a part of some non-discrimination code, it could make religious organizations and churches in the Tar Heel state vulnerable to the same kinds of violations of religious liberty which have occurred in other states with similar laws. And certainly any church in the state, which has a BSA charter and at the same time upholds biblical standards of sexuality, would be at greater risk of legal challenges.
Churches that want to continue their relationship with the BSA are taking a lot for granted. Maintaining the relationship is apt to impair their ability to faithfully carry out their mission of providing a clear and bold witness to the truth of God.
There are many Bible verses counselling believers to separate themselves from the unsavory inducements of the world that lead to a watered down testimony. In the Apostle Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthian Christians, he inquired: “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?” (I Corinthians 5:6). In his second epistle to the same church he admonished, “’Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’” says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean;’ And I will welcome you” (2 Corinthians 6:17).
The late G. Campbell Morgan best expressed the principle of biblical separation in this way:
“There is a toleration which is treachery. There is a peace which issues in paralysis. There are hours when the church must say NO to those who should ask communion with her, in the doing of her work, upon the basis of compromise. Such standing aloof may produce ostracism and persecution; but it will maintain power and influence… If the Church of God in the cities of today were aloof from the maxims of the age… it would be to her that men would look in the hour of their heartbreak and sorrow and national need.”
Separation from the BSA may be painful for a church, but if the church wants to protect its ability to faithfully proclaim the Gospel and avoid unnecessary risks of being sued, it would be wise to sever its relationship, especially when there are viable alternatives such as Trail Life USA.