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Rollback of ban on gays fulfills Scouts’ mission

In Michigan I once served a congregation that was a proud sponsor of an active Boy Scout troop.

Dedicated adult leaders made deep impressions upon the lives of hundreds of boys coming of age.

Dozens of those boys worked their way to the highest attainable rank, that of Eagle Scout.

With church support, on church property, the troop constructed its own log cabin for troop meetings. It was named Eagle’s Nest in recognition of both past accomplishment and future hope.

As a cleric, I’ve worked with a few young scouts to attain their God and Country Award, which illustrates the scout’s commitment to “be reverent.”

Material appropriate for Protestant faith expression, as well as Catholic (Eastern and Roman), Eastern Orthodox, Mormon, Buddhist, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu or other religiously affiliated is available.

Scouts have been quite adept at managing the reality of faith diversity within their ranks.

Regrettably, the same can’t be said of the scouts accepting diversity of sexual orientation.

In 1978 the BSA established a policy of not accepting gay scouts or gay scout leaders. Over the years the policy has been reaffirmed.

For congregations committed to being inclusive, this has posed considerable consternation. It simply isn’t fair and doesn’t square with the best of scouting values.

The policy denies gay youth the support and nurture of the scouting experience, and prohibits youth leaders from sharing their skills.

Simply put, the policy is an affront to those who find discrimination based upon sexual orientation to be repugnant.

The church of my ordination, the United Church of Christ, registered protest of the BSA policy of exclusion in 2003, calling for a lifting of the ban.

More recently, early in 2013, BSA leadership announced the discriminatory policy would be reconsidered, suggesting local determination of troop policy might be more appropriate. A vote scheduled for early February has subsequently been postponed until the BSA annual meeting in May.

Last week I sent the following message to the BSA via its website:

“I write in hope the BSA will reconsider current policy that excludes gay members and leaders. I look forward to the day when the church I serve might again sponsor a troop that welcomes all. Please be bold and proclaim a welcome that does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.”

Religious types, or others bound by rigid or phobic faith, will no doubt vigorously pressure BSA leaders to toe the line and thwart any change.

It is hopeful, though, that a window exists for revision of the policy.

Religious institutions that respect and affirm the diversity of sexual orientation within the human family are uniquely poised to advocate for such change.

I invite you to join me in urging the BSA to amend its policy. All boys, regardless of orientation, should have the opportunity to “be prepared” for life, to learn of honor and duty, and to do their best in meeting the formidable challenges life presents.

John P. Gardner is senior pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church of Fort Wayne. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.