Brian Cope broke the news to his 7-year-old over cereal Friday morning in Rock Hill: In a few months, he’ll be meeting with his Cub Scouts den at a new local church.
Westminster Presbyterian Church, sponsor of Boy Scouts for nearly three decades, has decided to sever its ties with the organization after a national policy change earlier this year that lifted the ban of gay men serving as volunteers.
Cope says his son frowned, “looked like it kind of hurt,” and said “no,” before he could explain further.
Just over a year ago, Cope and wife decided to change Cub Scout packs and some of his son’s friends stayed with their old group in Lake Wylie. The boy may have been a little worried he’d lose touch with some friends this time, too.
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His dad reassured him, “All your buddies are still going to be there,” when Pack 205 and Troop 205 find a new sponsor and new meeting space. What he didn’t explain is why the groups have to move.
At age 7, his son doesn’t need to fully understand why church elders no longer want to be affiliated with the scouting organization due to the Boy Scouts of America decision to allow gay leaders, Cope says.
Westminster has been home to one of York County’s largest Boy Scouts troops and plays a central role in many local youth organizations. In a statement this week, Westminster church elders called their move to not renew the church’s charter agreement with the Scouts “one of the most gut-wrenching decisions we have ever had to make.”
We are disappointed in the decision made by the session members at Westminster Presbyterian Church.
Greg Leitch, CEO of Palmetto Council of BSA
Church officials said “significant prayer and agonizing deliberation” went into the decision. They say they have not made a decision yet about the long-term use of church facilities for Scouting activities. But, come Jan. 1, Troop and Pack 205 will need a new sponsor and permanent meeting space.
Cope says his son and the other boys in the pack will adjust to a new place, but the decision isn’t sitting well with him as a parent. He’s also assistant Cub Master for Pack 205.
When the Boys Scouts of America decided over the summer to lift its ban on gay adults serving, Cope says he and others knew Westminster church officials would discuss whether to keep the Scouts.
But, he said, many parents believed any issues would “just go away.”
For the church, however, the issue presented a direct challenge to “the path we walked together for nearly three decades,” according to the news statement, which also read: “In that sense, (the Boy Scouts of America) left us.”
Cope says he respects the church may have religious opposition to gay adults serving in leadership roles but points to the BSA decision to lift the ban still leaving room for discretion by local Scout leaders and charter sponsors. With the change, the scouting organization said no one would force a church or civic organization to allow gay adults to serve.
70%+ of national Scouting programs are chartered & operated by religious groups
But Westminster church elders wrote in their statement this week that the annual charter agreement with the Scouts requires organizations like churches to run programs “consistent with BSA rules, regulations and policies.” The elders say that requirement directly conflicts with the national organization making a policy change to allow gay adults to serve while saying local discretion will still be allowed.
“We have sincerely sought to act wisely and with compassion for those who are affected by this decision. In truth, we wish we could have stayed with the BSA,” Westminster’s statement reads.
To his knowledge, Cope said no openly gay adult has applied to serve with Pack 205 at Westminster. To drop the Scouts in reaction to the national policy change, Cope says, appears to be a move by the church to avoid having to face a local decision later on whether a gay adult’s leadership application would be accepted.
Still, Cope says religious freedom and Westminster and other churches having the right to break away from organizations they no longer share values with is “one of the things that makes this country great.”
Westminster is the second local church to drop its charter with the Scouts since the summer. There are nearly 140 children who participate between Troop 205 and Cub Scouts Pack 205 at Westminster.
In August, First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church of Lancaster announced its decision to drop its sponsorship of Boy Scouts – also over the Boy Scouts of America vote to allow gay volunteers. That church said the 63 Scouts affected by the decision were invited to join troops with other sponsors, or join the church’s newly formed Trail Life USA – a Christian club with a similar outdoor activities focus as the Boy Scouts.
Those two cases seem to show “isolated concern” over the recent BSA change, says Greg Leitch, Scout executive/CEO of the Palmetto Council, the leadership support agency for the Boy Scouts in York, Chester and Lancaster counties.
“We are disappointed in the decision made by the session members at Westminster Presbyterian Church,” Leitch said. He, too, believes the BSA membership policy change leaves room for religious chartered organizations to make local decisions about adult volunteer leaders.
Leitch said he’s aware of no other churches besides Westminster and First ARP of Lancaster dropping Scouting groups over the issue. The Palmetto Council’s scouting organizations are affiliated with nearly 100 chartered partners, many of them churches, Leitch said.
Nationally, more than 70 percent of Scouting programs are chartered and operated by religious organizations.
Despite the adults debating the issue, Leitch says the BSA and all local volunteers take serious that discussions of sexuality are never appropriate with children involved in Scouting programs.”
“We are a character education program that develops young people to achieve their full potential in adulthood. Leaders who violate the behavioral standards of the BSA by discussing these issues will be removed from Scouting.
Both Leitch and other Scouting leaders with Troop and Pack 205 say they haven’t finalized an agreement with a new church sponsors but have options and plan to secure a new charter and meeting space by Jan. 1.