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Boy Scouts see little local backlash over inclusion of gay members

Updated: 2013-06-10T05:00:31Z

By ALICIA STICE

The Kansas City Star

If Boy Scout troops face a backlash from Kansas City area churches because of the national organization’s new inclusion of Scouts who are gay, it hasn’t come yet.

Some churches, here and in other parts of the country, have expressed discomfort with the Boy Scouts of America’s new membership policy. For some, it stands at odds with their opposition to same-sex relationships. Others, however, think it doesn’t go far enough to promote inclusion because it excludes troop leaders who are gay.

As charter organizations for 70 percent of Boy Scout troops, religious groups play a key role in scouting. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and United Methodist Church, Boy Scouts of America’s largest religious sponsors, both plan to continue their role, according to Associated Press reports.

The Southern Baptist Convention, scouting’s sixth-largest religious supporter, is set to discuss the issue at its annual meeting this week.

Two Kansas City-area churches and one other nonprofit organization have contacted the Heart of America Council and said they are considering ending their affiliations with a Scout troop because of the updated membership policy, Mark Brayer, a spokesman for the council, said.

Because groups generally renew their charter, or sponsorship, of troops in December and January, the council won’t know for another six months how many organizations, if any, have cut their ties with scouting because of the policy, Brayer said.

In interviews, leaders of several local churches said the new membership policy posed no problem for them. Representatives of the Blue Valley Baptist Church in Overland Park declined to comment.

Jonas Hayes, pastor at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, said he and his congregation must decide how to move forward in their role as a sponsor for a troop in Overland Park. Church leaders are happy to see scouting become more inclusive but think the policy is not a substantial enough change because it still excludes adults who are gay.

“I see a disconnect between the concept that it’s OK to be a gay or lesbian youth, but when you turn 18, even if you have your Eagle Scout (rank), you’re denied leadership responsibilities,” he said.

Hayes met Thursday with a board member from the Heart of America Council and a leader of the troop that meets at Grace Covenant. In the next few months, church leaders will discuss the recent decision made by the Boy Scouts of America, he said, adding that he hopes the church can be an agent of change as a charter organization.

Tom Pistorius, a committee chairman and former scoutmaster in Prairie Village, said he has not heard concern from parents in his troop about churches ending their affiliation with scouting.

“It’s something that’s been in the back of people’s minds for years,” Pistorius said. “I think there’s really a relief, at least for me, that it’s come to a point where the decision has been made.”

To reach Alicia Stice, call 816-234-4070 or send email to astice@kcstar.com.

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