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Why Boy Scouts Should Be As Inclusive As My Church

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Last Sunday was Scout Sunday at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd and at many other houses of worship across the country. Young men in khaki uniforms and merit badge sashes helped our ushers with bulletins and the collection basket, and we publicly thanked our troop leaders for their great work.

The only remarkable aspect of that picture is that Good Shepherd is not just the sponsor of a Boy Scout troop and a Cub Scout pack but also an inclusive congregation -- a faith community that gladly includes anyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We celebrated our first same-gender marriage in December after voters in Washington State backed marriage equality. We are part of a denomination that allows congregations to call gay and lesbian pastors.

Reconciling these facets of our congregational personality can create a paradox. For a congregation to be truly inclusive, it needs to be able to welcome everyone, even those who don't want to welcome everyone. While some people question our affiliation with the Boy Scouts of America, many of our strongest LGBT advocates see our troop sponsorship as an opportunity to demonstrate that welcome to the scouts and their parents.

Don't think that we accept the anti-gay policy of scouting's national organization, because we believe it diminishes the scouting program that we cherish. No matter how hard we work at the troop level to be inclusive, the national policy will push some families away. Since scouting is part of our ministry to youth, the national policy hurts our congregation. We'll gladly take scouting warts and all, but we look forward to the day when our troop can express as generous a welcome to LGBT families as our congregation does.

Indeed it is hard to imagine how the national policy could actually be applied in a community that respects gays and lesbians. Are we really supposed to tell an elementary principal that he can't be an assistant scoutmaster because of his sexual orientation? Do we exclude "avowed homosexuals" whose only vow is one of marriage, sanctioned by the state and performed by a Lutheran pastor? Do we really tell a lesbian married couple that only one mom should attend the troop meetings?

The national policy needs to change, but it need not come at the expense of other faith communities with other beliefs. Last Sunday was Scout Sunday at the Mormon church too. It is important that scouting work for many faiths, and in fact it does. Indeed, with the notable exception of the policy toward gays, scouting has been incredibly successful at encouraging a spiritual dimension of youth without endorsing any particular faith or denomination.

The national scouting leaders have proposed to accommodate these differences by letting individual unit sponsors make their own decisions about whether to include LBGT people as troop volunteers and whether to include gay boys as scouts. This approach respects the range of conscience-bound views held by scouting families.

The Lutheran church followed a similar "local option" path in 2009 when it changed its policy toward LGBT clergy. The ELCA did not compel every congregation to accept gay or lesbian clergy, but it allowed a congregation to make that decision for itself based on where it saw God leading them. The ELCA recognized that the sexual orientation of their clergy was not a core matter of faith for the denomination.

A local option approach for scouting puts the sexual orientation issue where it belongs. It is not a core value of scouting. The leaders of our scout troop are emphatic in saying that they don't want to be an anti-gay troop or a gay-friendly troop; they want to provide the best of scouting to all the boys and their families. For some sponsoring organizations, sexual orientation may be fundamental. For Good Shepherd Lutheran and many other congregations, scouting best serves our mission to youth when it respects our welcome of all people.