This op-ed, co-authored by Lisa Hunt and Charles Spain, Originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle, Sunday, May 4, 2014. The title was given by the Chronicle.
A few weeks ago, our church, St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, was asked to host an Eagle Scout Court of Honor for a young man in our congregation and his Scout troop. To most clergy, this would not be an unfamiliar request, but for us it took some reflection. Our congregation and day school have chosen not to sponsor a Cub Scout pack or Boy Scout troop until the Boy Scouts of America can honor all of our families, including those whose sexual orientations and gender identities are nontraditional. While the Boy Scouts voted last year to open membership to gay youth members, it maintains a discriminatory practice toward adult leaders, including parents of children in the program. After reflection, the church chose to honor our relationship with our Scout and to host his celebration because he lives his Scout Promise to be brave and reverent.
We were disappointed to learn that on Good Friday, Boy Scouts of America revoked the charter to a sister church,Rainier Beach United Methodist Church, to sponsor Cub Scout Pack 98 and Boy Scout Troop 98 in Seattle. Our hunch is that this congregation is made up of all God's children, as is our own. The dispute arose over Boy Scouts of America's decision to revoke the membership of Geoffrey McGrath, who is the troop's scoutmaster, because he is openly gay.
This is the first such dismissal of an adult leader since the Boy Scout's vote last year to allow gay youth members. McGrath, an Eagle Scout, also is a member of Rainier Beach United Methodist Church, and the church's pastor, the Rev. Monica Corsaro, knew he was gay when she approved his leadership application on behalf of the church, which is the troop's chartered organization.
The church refused to recognize the Boy Scouts' dismissal of McGrath, taking the position that the organization was violating its own Declaration of Religious Principle, which reads:
"The activities of the members of the Boy Scouts of America shall be carried on under conditions which show respect to the convictions of others in matters of custom and religion, as required by the twelfth point of the Scout Law, reading, 'Reverent. A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others.' "
In effect, the Boy Scouts of America organization is forcing religious institutions that sponsor Cub Scout packs or Boy Scout troops to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, even if doing so violates their custom and religion. Rainier Beach United Methodist Church and the Rev. Corsaro were brave and refused to violate their religious principles. The entire Seattle City Council agreed with the church. Despite the church's deeply held religious beliefs, the Boy Scouts organization revoked the church's charter to sponsor Pack and Troop 98.
For Boy Scouts of America to tell a religious institution what its beliefs must be in order to sponsor a Scout unit is difficult to understand in light of the organization's Declaration of Religious Principle. As many American religious institutions now openly welcome LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) believers, it begs the question whether the Boy Scouts truly respects the beliefs of others.
Boy Scouts of America has always reflected conservative values in America and is slow to change. The same could be said for Christian churches. We realize that the forward march of justice is often dragged down by fear. Fear of change. Fear of the other. Fear of loss of privilege.
However, today many Americans and people of faith wish to embrace all in our society, including LGBT people and their children. Rather than merely hosting a Court of Honor at our church, we would like to sponsor a Cub Scout pack and Boy Scout troop that would honor our religious beliefs. We are ready to help young men serve their God and country. When will Boy Scouts of America be brave and reverent and allow us to do so?
Hunt is rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church and School. Spain is an Eagle Scout and a co-founder of the State Bar of Texas LGBT Law Section.