The Boy Scouts of America's proposed move away from its no-gays membership policy has outraged some longtime admirers, gratified many critics and raised intriguing questions about the iconic organization's future.
Will the Scouts now be split between troops with gay-friendly policies and those that keep the ban? What will a National Jamboree be like if it brings together these disparate groups with conflicting ideologies?
The anticipated policy change from the iconic American organization would seem to cap a wave of growing acceptance of homosexuality across the U.S., a year after the military accepted openly gay soldiers first time and a growing number of states have legalized gay marriage.
A top official of the Southern Baptist Convention, whose conservative churches sponsor hundreds of Scout units that embrace the ban, was among those alarmed that the BSA is proposing to allow sponsoring organizations to decide for themselves whether to admit gays as scouts and adult leaders.
"We understand that we are now a minority, that it is not popular to have biblical values, not popular to take stands that seem intolerant," said Frank Page, president of the SBC's executive committee. "This is going to lead to a disintegration of faith-based values."
Page had been scheduled to speak in July at the Scouts' National Jamboree, and he's now apprehensive there could be conflict as troops with differing policies converge. Asked if he might decide not to speak, Page said he would pray about it.
Of the more than 110,000 scouting units across the U.S., nearly 70 per cent are chartered by religious organizations. Some were pleased by the proposed change, others were troubled.
Triggering the angst was the Boy Scouts' announcement Monday that it was considering replacing its long-standing ban on gays with a policy that would let troop sponsors make their own decisions. The change is expected to be discussed next week at a meeting of the BSA's national executive board.
The ban on gays, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld as constitutional in 2000, has provoked a multitude of protest campaigns over the years. Numerous Scout councils and Scout leaders have expressed disagreement with the policy, and some corporate donors last year said they were suspending gifts to the BSA until the policy changed.
One of these companies, New Jersey-based drug-maker Merck & Co., said Tuesday it was pleased the BSA was reconsidering its position, but declined further comment.
Another form of protest involved Eagle Scouts who returned their medals and badges to Boy Scout headquarters. Among them was Nate May, a 25-year-old musician, who depicted the Scouts' new proposal as "a step in the right direction."
Later this year, more than 40,000 Scouts from across the U.S. are expected to participate in the annual National Jamboree at a 10,600-acre (4,300-hectare) site being built in southern West Virginia.
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