Expressing "deep" disappointment with the Boy Scouts' decision to allow openly gay youths to join their ranks, the largest U.S. protestant church group is urging its members to sever ties with the organization.
The Southern Baptists will host their national meeting later this year and ask churchgoers to pull support for the movement, which was founded in 1910 and boasts about 2.7 million youth members and 1 million adult volunteers.
"I think I can say with pretty strong accuracy that the vast majority of Southern Baptists are very disappointed in the latest change in policy
... deeply disappointed,'" Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page told ABCNews.com. "We don't hate anybody, but we just felt like there's got to be some objective standard, and we felt they were maintaining that until recently."
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Openly gay adults are still prohibited from scout leadership roles, while gay scouts can join beginning Jan. 1, 2014, in a move that is applauded by gay activists groups as a significant step that may attract new members.
With 47,000 churches across the United States, the Southern Baptists sponsor a large number of troops. Beyond the recommendation of its leadership, Page told ABCNews that the decision to deny support lies with each church.
Some religious groups support the Boy Scouts' attempts to be inclusive, including the Mormon church, The National Jewish Committee on Scouting, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Metropolitan Community Church. The Roman Catholic Church, the second-largest sponsor, said it will take the next few monts to debate how it would affect the church.
Freedoms aside, an agreement among religious leaders appears far from a reality, as other Christian groups protest. The Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., also announced its plan to end its Boy Scout relationship, which affects the organization’s 300 families.
"Truly, for us it's a logical decision," Tim Hester, the church's executive pastor, told the Courier-Journal
. "We cannot be distracted from the mission God has called us to. We want everyone, including ourselves, to live by biblical standards.”
In the days following the Boy Scouts’ announcement, the Assemblies of God, the world's largest Pentecostal group, became one of the first religious organizations to denounce the move.
"We believe that the BSA policy change will lead to a mass exodus from the Boy Scout program, as Assemblies of God and many other churches can no longer support groups that are part of an organization allowing members who are openly homosexual," the group said in a statement.
For their part, the Boy Scouts said in a statement that it respected the religious beliefs of its members, but stood by their new rule.
"We believe this policy is reflective of the beliefs of most of Scouting's major religious chartered organizations and are unaware of any that believe a youth member simply stating he or she is attracted to the same sex, but not engaging in sexual activity, should make him or her unwelcome in their congregation. While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting."
Father Derek Lappe serves as priest at Our Lady Star of the Sea in Bremerton, Wa., which for years has served as the chartering organization for local BSA Troop 1501. Not anymore.
"We do things like scout Sunday at mass, the boys are just very much a part of our parish and the life of our parish
," he told King5.com. "It was a very difficult decision, it's a very sad thing, with the long legacy we have of scouting in this parish."
Lappe said the new policy doesn't agree with the Catholic Church's teachings.
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"My concern is this definition of a young man, a 10- to 18-year-old boy as 'openly gay' or 'openly homosexual,'" he said. "How is that supposed to be lived out within what we believe as Catholics and what we teach about Catholics?"
But Steve Rinehart, a Kitsap County resident, an Eagle Scout, and supporter of the group Scouts For Equality, said the priest's stance is disappointing.
"I think anyone ought to be able to be a scout," he said. "Gay, straight, it doesn't matter, and by quitting the program, canceling the program there, they have taken away scouting for a group of boys, and I think that's very unfortunate and downright sad."
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