WHICH DUTY TO GOD? If the Boy Scouts of America Votes to Allow Openly Gay Children in Their Ranks, Many Area Churches Will Have a Decision to Make

Article excerpt

Byline: Kate Howard Perry

When the Boy Scouts of America vote Thursday on whether to allow openly gay children to be Scouts, churches in Northeast Florida that sponsor troops will be watching.

Some are from denominations that oppose homosexuality and may consider breaking decades-long relationships with their troops if gay children are admitted. Others that welcome gay and lesbian members into their churches say nothing will change if the organization's leaders choose to begin allowing gay Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Eagle Scouts. Local leaders of the lesbian and gay community suspect more churches could get on board if a policy change is made.

Current Boy Scout policy bars openly gay children from joining troops or adults from volunteering. The proposed policy change will not impact the ban on gay Scout leaders.

If the policy changes, the troops that currently are affiliated with First Baptist Church at Orange Park will have to find a new sponsor. The church's pastor, the Rev. David Tarkington, wrote in his personal blog that the church loves the organization and is proud to have hosted troops and packs for more than three decades. But the bottom line is allowing gay Scouts opposes their biblical beliefs, he said, and continuing to support the group would be "hypocritical at best."

In a phone interview, Tarkington referred back to the blog and said the action is just about who they are. He said he plans to allow the troops to stay through the summer while they look for a new home.

"We are definitely pro-Scouts, and we do have gay people that attend our church regularly," he said. "We welcome them but we do not affirm the lifestyle."

The Southern Baptist Convention does not rule as a hierarchy, said Florida Baptist Convention spokeswoman Barbara Denman, so they will not tell churches what to do - but the convention's position that homosexuality isn't biblical is well-established, Denman said.

Jeff Gruentzel, pack leader of the Orange Park church's Cub Scouts, said he's sad to hear the news but he understands and respects the stance.

Top officials at the United Methodist Church have supported the potential change, however, in keeping with its belief that the rights and liberties of people are not dependent on sexual orientation. At Lakewood United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, no change will take place, said the Rev. Tim Farman.

"God didn't put me on this earth to judge people," Farman said. "Jesus offers love to everybody. If the Scout troop decides to accept homosexuals, we honor and support that."

Cindy Watson, executive director of JASMYN, a nonprofit safe haven for gay, lesbian, transgender and questioning youth, is hopeful attitudes like Farman's prevail for children often fearing rejection because of their sexuality. Any time an institution makes statements against including gay youth, said Watson, it forces them to be dishonest about who they are.

"The reality is, gay and lesbian people are already members and active in all kinds of faith communities," Watson said. …

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