Churches across the nation are preparing for Scout Sunday celebrations as they await the Boy Scouts of America's decision on whether or not it will allow openly gay members and leaders.
"Scout Sunday is an opportunity to celebrate the anniversary of the beginning of the Scouting program and for the Scouting family to recognize the contributions of young people and adults to Scouting," Deron Smith, BSA's Director of Public Relations, told The Christian Post in an emailed statement on Friday. "We encourage our chartered organizations and members to commemorate this date and Scouting's commitment to 'Duty to God.'"
The BSA's National Executive Board is scheduled to meet Monday, Feb. 4, through Wednesday, Feb. 6, and will likely vote on whether or not to allow gay members and leaders into the organization at that time. BSA officials told CP earlier this week that the ban on gay members will likely be overturned.
Fred Luter, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told Baptist Press that many SBC churches will likely cease their sponsorship of local Boy Scout troops if the policy is changed. If that is the case, then this weekend could possibly be the last Scout Sunday for some churches.
"A lot of them will just pull out," Luter told BP. "This is just something we don't believe in. It's unfortunate the Boy Scouts are making this decision."
On Scout Sunday many churches honor Boy Scouts during regular church services, while others create special events just for the occasion. Not all churches who will celebrate scouting this year will do so this weekend – The United Methodist Church's celebration is the second Sunday in February – but many will.
Scott Lees, executive pastor of Christ Church United Methodist in Memphis, Tenn., has a close connection to the Boy Scouts. His father and one of his brothers are Eagle Scouts – the highest advancement rank in the Boy Scouts – and he has another brother who is expected to become one soon.
"So scouting has been a big deal in our family, and they've just grown tremendously in character," said Lees. "I mean really what shaped the character of my two brothers, my dad would tell you, is their experience in the scouting program."
There are about 40 Boy Scouts and 40 Cub Scouts who participate in the program at Christ Church, he says, and the congregation will honor them during a procession which will take place during the church's two traditional services. The senior pastor, Shane Stanford, will also say a few words about the scouts and will encourage the church to support them.
The BSA's upcoming decision will not impact how Christ Church celebrates the annual event, Lees says, nor is a church service an appropriate forum to discuss the issue.
"I don't think it is in the context of the worship service. That's not the place to have that conversation. I think it's important to have the conversation, but worship is not the place for that," he said.
In an article for the Baptist Press, Frank Page, president and CEO of the SBC executive committee, wrote that he was "gravely distressed" after BSA officials told him about a potential policy change. He believes, however, that God, in His providence, has given churches the time to pray about the controversial issue this Sunday.
"I find it very interesting that the Scouts themselves set the first Sunday in February (this weekend, Feb. 3) as Scout Sunday," wrote Page. "This means that across our nation, thousands of churches will be focusing their attention on the Boy Scouts. I strongly urge every Southern Baptist member and congregation to direct our prayers toward the heavenly Father that the board members will reject this recommendation. Focused prayer on Sunday; board meeting on Monday. What a divine moment!"
In addition to telling the SBC about the potential changes, BSA leaders also informed the leaders of other conservative religious groups – including the Mormons and Catholics – about the issue, said Page. Retired Col. John Halloran Jr., national chairman of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, told CP in an emailed statement that it is too soon to discuss any consequences of the potential change.
"The decision has not yet been made by BSA. As Catholics, we expect that any changes in policy will continue to respect the values and traditions that the Catholic Church holds with regards to membership and leadership in scout units," said Halloran.
The majority (69.4 percent) of the more than 100,000 scouting units in the U.S. are chartered to faith-based organizations, according to BSA's website. The BSA has said that if the policy change being discussed were to pass, they will allow the chartered organizations overseeing scouting to decide on their own policies regarding membership and sexual orientation.