By Bob Smietana, USA TODAY
NASHVILLE - The Rev. A.J. Smith says it's too early for Southern Baptists to give up on the Boy Scouts.
Smith, president of the Association of Baptists for Scouting, disagrees with a recent move by the Boy Scouts of America to allow openly gay scouts. But that's no reason for churches to cut their ties with the Scouts, he said.
"There is still an opportunity to reach youth for Christ with the gospel through Boy Scouts," said Smith, who is pastor of Bay Springs Baptist Church in Shelby, Ala.
Southern Baptists are expected to vote on a resolution about the Boy Scouts on Wednesday at their annual meeting in Houston. The resolution, not yet public, will probably urge them to prepare to cut ties with the Scouts.
It's not the first time that Baptists have clashed with a well-known, family-oriented organization over homosexuality. Southern Baptists voted in 1997 to boycott the Walt Disney Co. over claims that Disney had become too gay-friendly.
That boycott, which ended in 2005, was a failure, said Mark Pinsky, longtime religion writer and author of The Gospel According to Disney.
"It generated a lot of publicity and might have been good for the Southern Baptist brand, but it had little economic impact," he said.
Pinsky said it was relatively easy for Baptists to stay away from Disney. But dropping Boy Scouts is harder. Southern Baptist churches sponsor 3,981 units, meaning lots of local churches have personal ties to Boy Scouts.
If a local Baptist church drops the Scouts, that troop could simply move to a Methodist, Mormon, or Catholic church, Pinsky said.
"There's a lot of downside for congregations," he said.
A number of prominent Southern Baptist leaders, including Russell Moore, the new president of Nashville-based Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said they are disappointed with the new Scout policy.
Moore's predecessor, Richard Land, has predicted a mass exodus from the Scouts by Baptists.
But so far only a handful of Baptist churches, including some in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Kentucky, have announced plans to drop Scouts. Among them is Johnson Ferry Baptist Church near Atlanta, whose pastor is the Rev. Bryant Wright, former president of the 16 million member denomination.
National Boy Scout leaders say their policy, which allows gay Scouts but not gay adult leaders and bans any sexual activity, fits with Southern Baptist beliefs.
"Scouting's youth member policy is not about the BSA endorsing homosexuality, or forcing its chartered organizations to do the same," said Deron Smith, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts, in an e-mail.
Moore said that Southern Baptists don't want to kick boys out of Scout troops because they have same-sex attraction. But he thinks the Scouts no longer teach that sex is moral only when it takes place in a marriage between a man and a woman.
He believes the ban on gay leaders will be lifted eventually.
"The current policy is unsustainable," he said.
The vote on the Boy Scouts and homosexuality comes 20 years after Southern Baptists amended their constitution to ban churches that openly support homosexuality.
That raises the concern that churches could be tossed out of the convention for having Scout troops.
"You cannot be in friendly cooperation with the convention and support homosexuality," said Smith, the Baptist Scouting leader. "Churches may feel that their membership in the convention is at risk - if they continue to support Scouting."
Smietana also writes for The Tennessean.