Scout troops see outpouring of support after sponsors withdraw charters

msprice@charlotteobserver.comNovember 1, 2013 

News that some churches are cutting ties with their Boy Scout troops over a new policy of admitting openly gay Scouts has prompted an outpouring of support for Mecklenburg County’s Boy Scouts council.

Council leaders say they have received multiple offers from potential sponsors to help the 200-plus displaced Scouts, along with an anonymous donor’s offer pay any resettlement costs.

In the case of Troop 7, which Charlotte’s Calvary Church recently announced it intends to drop, there have been eight offers from churches and schools wanting to be sponsors, officials said.

Most of the displaced Scouts are expected to be relocated by the end of the year, with their memberships and leaders intact.

To date, four out of 150 Mecklenburg Scouting sponsors have backed out of hosting Cub Scout and Boy Scout groups, said Mark Turner, head of the council and its 10,000 Scouts. Scouting groups around the country typically are chartered by faith-based organizations, with the rest sponsored by civic groups or schools.

Two other local churches considered cutting ties, Turner said, but were convinced to stick with Scouting after being reassured that the new policy would not change the organization’s mission.

“Homosexuality is such an emotional item for everybody on different sides of the fence, but my message has been that we’re not about sexuality at all,” said Turner, noting that he has not heard of a single Scout in the council coming out as gay since the policy change.

“We are about leadership skills, character development, duty to God and country, and community service. This has not changed, and this will not change. Our mission is to change the community, one boy at a time.”

Churches cite mismatched values

The new policy was adopted nationally by the Boy Scouts of America in May, after the organization endured years of criticism over its exclusion of gay boys. A ban on gay Scout leaders remains intact.

Charlotte’s council is one of many across the country that have seen fallout over the decision to allow openly gay Scouts.

A national spokesman for the Boy Scouts said only about 1 percent of the organization’s 116,000 Cub and Boy Scout units have been dropped by their sponsors since the policy change.

There also have been reports of donors in some communities withholding donations to United Way campaigns, to keep their money from being shared with the Boy Scouts. (Charlotte United Way officials recalled no such effort locally.) Some churches are organizing alternatives to the Boy Scouts.

Mecklenburg County Scout officials believe the worst has passed. The four churches ending sponsorships are Calvary, Arlington Baptist in Mint Hill, Grace Covenant in Cornelius and Christ Covenant in Matthews.

Turner said he anticipated early on that some churches might have concerns about the possibility of admitting gay Scouts, so he launched a series of meetings with parents and sponsors before the final vote was taken in May. At those meetings, staff learned of a half-dozen churches that were leaning toward cutting ties with Scouting. Turner then set up additional meetings with those churches.

“Some of those meetings were very productive. When you walked in, they’d tell you they couldn’t believe what we were doing, and they were leaving the Boy Scouts. But when we walked out, they understood and agreed to continue their support,” he said.

Scouting leaders said the departing sponsors felt the new policy “didn’t align with Christian values.”

“The ministries of Calvary Church are aligned with our purpose of making authentic followers of Jesus Christ,” wrote the Rev. Jim Pile, Calvary’s pastor of family ministries, in a recent email to the Observer. “This is not the mission of the Boy Scouts of America.”

The Boy Scouts of America is a faith-based organization but does not promote any one religion over another, Turner said.

‘It is simply poor theology’

Mecklenburg County Scout officials have not criticized the churches for backing out.

However, the Rev. Peter Brown says his offer to host one or more of the troops at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Charlotte is intended to send a message.

Brown said he is heartened by the community’s response of help, calling it a stand against discrimination.

“I really am only one voice among many, but I could not let that response hang out there without a challenge,” said Brown, referring to churches cutting their ties to Scouting.

“It is simply poor theology and even worse biblical interpretation. It is all fear-based and image-related. It is damaging to churches and to our community.”

Troop 7 Scoutmaster Jack Burke, who has a son in Scouting, said the initial announcement that Calvary wouldn’t sponsor the troop after Dec. 31 upset the boys, who feared not being able to stay together. In all, there are about 100 Cub and Boy Scouts based out of the church, which has sponsored a troop for the past 20 years, he said.

“The boys wanted to know why. We explained that change was good and that this is something that happens in the real world,” Burke said. “It’s like when you get a job. Nothing is permanent. We need to embrace it as an opportunity.”

His staff is weighing offers from new sponsors, and they hope to have a site picked by late November. The key, he said, is finding a new home within a few miles of Calvary, which is close to where most of the boys live in south Charlotte.

The Boy Scout and Cub Scout units based out of Grace Covenant Church in Cornelius are moving a mile away to Journey Church in Huntersville.

The Cub Scout pack relocated in September and has already added 16 new members, leaders said. In a deal worked out with Grace Covenant, the Boy Scout troop will wait until January to move, to avoid disrupting boys working to get their Eagle status this year, officials said.

Matt Dawson, senior pastor at Journey, said his son Thomas, a first-grader, is among the new members.

“Our mission in this church is to make a difference in the community,” Dawson said, “and that aligns with the heartbeat of the Boy Scouts.”

Price: 704-358-5245

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