Churches welcome banned scouts
Jul 21, 2015 at 12:46 PM
The Rev. Stephanie Seigh said she decided to invite troops to meet at One World Spiritual Center in Marietta after the nearby Roswell Street Baptist Church announced that it would end its nearly 70-year affiliation with Boy Scout Troop 204.
Seigh said her church's marquee now includes the message "Boy Scout troops welcome here."
Roswell Street Baptist Church is one of several congregations nationwide cutting ties with Boy Scouts because of the policy.
The two churches are about 10 miles apart in the Marietta area, northwest of Atlanta.
A third Marietta church, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, has also announced that it will no longer sponsor a Boy Scout troop. The decisions by the two Baptist churches were announced after the May 23 vote by the Boy Scouts of America's national council to allow openly gay scouts to participate in Boy Scouts.
Similar positions have been taken by churches in Alabama, including First Baptist Church of Helena and First Baptist Church of Pelham. Other congregations are using their websites to extend an invitation to Scouts who might be asked to leave churches in their areas.
In Grand Rapids, Mich., St. John's United Church of Christ is including this message on its website: "We Welcome ALL Boy Scouts."
"We don't know of any congregations in our local area who have closed their doors to troops they were hosting, but we wanted to be proactive and let Scouts in the area know that if that should be their experience, that they have a place to go," said the Rev. Bill Lyons of St. John's.
The same can be said for many congregations across the country, said Mark Noel, Founder of the New York-based Inclusive Scouting Network and a former Cobb County sheriff's deputy.
Noel's organization was formed in 2000 when he was kicked out of the Boy Scouts after revealing his sexual orientation in a New Hampshire newspaper article. Among other things, his organization works to ensure that Boy Scout groups can find places to meet if churches chose to drop them.
"There are a number of denominations who are widely saying they are willing to step back in and take up the slack for any scouting units that find themselves without a place to meet, or without a charter organization," Noel said, adding that congregations from the United Church of Christ, Reformed Judaism and the Unitarian Universalist Association have been especially proactive about offering alternatives for troops in need of charter organizations.
"It turns out that there are usually so many local congregations that are willing to step up that they almost always find something themselves." Noel said.
Support of the Boy Scouts' decision to accept openly gay members is reflected in the approximately 12,000 square knot emblems it has sent this year to scouts in all 50 states and internationally, Noel said. The emblems identify the wearer as an opponent to discriminatory policy.
"The motto is you earn it by wearing it," Noel said, "Wearing something like that — especially in a place like Cobb County — is not easy. It's earned every day someone wearing that has it on their uniform."
In Atlanta's suburbs, Seigh said her congregation is just trying to get the word out that scouts would be welcome at One World Spiritual Center, which has a gym with a basketball court on its campus. One of its members has been very involved with Scouting and is also trying to get word out that the congregation could host a troop, she said.
"We wanted to help these Boy Scout troops and wanted to let people know that we're an open and welcoming and affirming spiritual community," Seigh said.
She said most churches in her area have not severed ties with Boy Scouts, though the two that have are among the largest in the metro area.
Well over 95 percent of the Scouts' charter partners -- churches and other civic groups -- are staying with the program, said Jeff Fulcher, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America's Atlanta Area Council, which covers 13 metro Atlanta counties.
Fulcher said he's heard of at least nine organizations in Cobb County alone who have contacted the Boy Scouts to express interest in partnering with troops that are left without charter groups over the controversy, and he suspects more are willing to do so.