Erskine College’s Freshman Class moved in today. It is tradition for upperclassmen and faculty to help the new students unload their vehicles. Pray for all the students, faculty and parents as the new semester begins September 3.
Countless churches have hiked in lockstep with the Boy Scouts of America through the years, supporting its mission of values-based youth development. But the scouting organization’s announcement earlier this year that it would no longer deny membership to gay people is prompting some houses of worship to walk a separate path.
One of those is First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gastonia, which announced Thursday it will not renew its longtime charter with the Boy Scouts on Jan. 1. Senior Pastor Matt Kuiken emailed a statement to The Gazette, on behalf of church leaders, saying the decision was made “with deep sadness.”
The statement is also included in the church’s September newsletter, which has been posted on its website. “While we welcome all in the name of Christ to worship and enjoy the ministries of First ARP Church, and while Troop #4 of the BSA has been a wonderful part of our history and ministry, and a great blessing to all who have participated in its activities, this change in policy by the BSA has compelled us to take action,” the statement read.
Before First ARP’s announcement Thursday, local Boy Scout leaders had heard rumors some churches were contemplating similar moves. Piedmont Council CEO Connie Bowes, who oversees Boy Scout troops in 11 counties, including Gaston and Cleveland, said two churches in Cleveland County informed him this month they are severing ties with the organization.
Bowes said he was unaware of any other Gaston County churches that planned to take the same action. And he declined to name the two Cleveland churches that are doing so. “We respect their decision. We’re a volunteer group and it’s their choice,” he said. “I think the best thing we can do is thank them for their years of service. I don’t want to single them out when they do so many other things for the community.”
Earlier this year, the Boy Scouts of America voted to remove a restriction that denied membership to openly gay youth. The decision also reinforced that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of scouting age is contrary to its virtues. The new policy will take effect Jan. 1.
For First ARP Church, that was the tipping point. “By this change in policy, the BSA has endorsed and condoned behavior that God’s Word clearly condemns as sinful,” the church says in its newsletter. The church plans to consider an alternative ministry to serve the community.
Ben Privett, district commissioner for the Boy Scout’s Battleground District in Cleveland County, said one Boy Scout troop and a Cub Scout pack in Boiling Springs have turned in their charters and will no longer have troops. Another unit in Kings Mountain is considering turning in its charter but is waiting on a response from the church sponsor, he said. “I’ve had at least three more to say they are waiting until Jan. 1 to see if any changes will be made,” he said. “I’ve had several adult folks to pull out because of the decision.”
Charter agreements dictate that Boy Scout troop sponsors, such as churches, provide a meeting place and help approve leadership for troops. When the organization lifted its ban on gay Scouts this year, Bowes said he feared a greater backlash.
“We’re in a very conservative area,” he said. “There was a lot of national media attention, but locally the impact has not been as strong as we thought it might be. I think when people really started looking at the policy and understood it better, they’ve seen it’s not as bad as they thought it was.”
The handful of churches refusing to renew their charters with the Boy Scouts represents less than 2 percent of the almost 400 churches and other organizations still actively involved in the Piedmont Council, Bowes said.
“In many respects, to have a few units to close their doors is not unusual for us,” he said. “Sometimes a church will get upset because the Scouts forgot to turn out the lights. Every year, somebody closes a door for some reason.”
Christ United Methodist Church in Gastonia is one of the many standing firm. Nora Jerzak, a retired Methodist pastor who now serves as the church’s administrative assistant, said even if some individual parishioners might have a problem with the Boy Scouts’ new policy, the church as a whole will continue to lend its support and host a troop. “We definitely are on board with supporting the Boy Scouts here,” she said. “They’ve always been good to us and we’re going to be good to them.”
Bowes said he might be more concerned if 10 or 15 percent of the Piedmont Council’s member organizations were jumping ship. “Our focus is not on the less than 2 percent that have chosen to end that partnership,” he said, “but rather is on the hundreds that are still with us.”
By Michael Barrett
Published: Gastonia Gazette, Aug. 24, 2013