Methodist Panel Chides Scouts on Gays: May Seek Vote on Severing Ties, but Another Church Body Eyes More Troops

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A policy board of the United Methodist Church, which sponsors 11,738 Boy Scout troops, has condemned scouting's ban on homosexuals and implied the church may sever all ties.

Sunday's vote by the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church - a denomination that bans "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" as clergy and punishes ministers who perform same-sex "marriages" - widened an internal schism.

The policy statement noted that "only the General Conference speaks for the entire denomination." That world conference meets every four years and a church official predicted yesterday the policy statement would force a vote at the next one, set for Cleveland in May.

A Boy Scouts of America (BSA) spokesman noted that other Methodist leaders were working to boost its troops to 37,000 and said the organization expects the relationship will survive.

"We hope that we could continue the relationship with the United Methodist Church. From what we hear from the current members, we're looking forward to it," Gregg Shields said yesterday.

The Methodists' General Board also announced it will support the legal position of Lambda Legal Defense Fund in opposing the Boy Scouts of America's appeal to the Supreme Court. The case involves an Aug. 4 ruling by New Jersey's high court that Scouting is a "public accommodation" that must be open to all, like a hotel or restaurant.

The BSA is backed in its appeal by the Nashville, Tenn.-based Commission on United Methodist Men, whose status within the denomination is nominally equal

to the General Board, a church official said.

The men's commission, which handles the church's scouting involvement, is supporting discrimination in violation of church law, the board's general secretary charged yesterday.

"I believe the implication of the members voting on this would cause the men's commission to look again at their support of discrimination against a certain group of people," the Rev. …