The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the St. Louis-based organization with 6,200 congregations in the U.S. and Canada, will honor a decision by the Boy Scouts of America to allow gay members, but with a key caveat.
Matthew Harrison, president of the synod, issued a statement Monday afternoon saying the church had signed an agreement with Scouting that would allow it to remove from troops boys who are “advocating for a moral view that is inconsistent with the church.”
The Memorandum of Understanding between the church and Boy Scouts stipulates that no Boy Scout authority “supersedes the authority of the local pastor,” who as part of the agreement is authorized “to enforce set boundaries up to and including removal (of boys) from the troop.”
In May, Boy Scouts of America voted to allow gay boys to be members of the organization, while continuing to ban gay leaders.
Some LCMS congregations were so concerned about the new membership policy that they were going to leave the Scouts.
“The vast majority of LCMS congregations have been waiting for some guidance from us,” the Rev. Bart Day, who oversees the synod’s relationship with the Boy Scouts, said in an interview.
He said sexuality wasn’t an issue in Scouting until the Boy Scouts of American made it one. “But we think the church can still be active in the Boy Scouts. The church does not exclude people based on their sexuality.”
Monday’s announcement in effect leaves the matter of whether to continue to participating in Boy Scouts up to individual congregations in the synod.
In a letter to members of the church, Harrison said the process of deliberating the issue had spanned months. His letter offers a tepid take on the importance of Scouting to the church, pointing out that the church has historically neither encouraged nor discouraged participation by churches. In the same letter, Harrison mentions the organization Trail Life USA, a conservative alternative to Boy Scouts.
“It cannot be emphasized enough that congregations desiring to participate in Scouting should do so only after careful consideration and with a commitment to provide guidance and direction for the troop,” Harrison states. “Congregations that have little to no involvement with their Scouting troop should consider their reason for remaining involved.”
Even so, Harrison said both the Boy Scouts of America and Trail Life USA “can serve the church and her mission if LCMS congregations are committed to theological integrity, exhibit pastoral wisdom in their involvement and commit to significant involvement with their local program.”
Harrison joined more than two dozen other Protestant church leaders in May in signing a statement imploring Boy Scouts to not change its policy. “In our current culture, it’s more important than ever for our churches to protect and provide moral nurture for young people and for the Scouts,” the statement read.