The Boy Scouts of America welcomed gay adults into leadership positions on Monday, but the issue is far from settled on the local level.
The new policy, approved by the BSA’s 80-member National Executive Board in a teleconference, takes effect immediately.
In a partial compromise, the national organization approved an exemption that allows church-sponsored Scout units to pick their own leaders. About 70 percent of Scout troops nationwide are chartered by churches, and it’s anyone’s guess how many will allow gay scoutmasters and leaders.
The Mormon church, the country’s largest sponsor of Scout units, said it might leave the organization.
In the Twin Cities area, the picture is unclear. Several churches contacted Monday weren’t aware that they might have to make a decision about allowing gay leaders in the Scout troops they sponsor.
In a statement, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said it had not issued any guidance to Catholic churches sponsoring Scout troops.
Troop 346 in Minnetonka serves several other western suburbs, including Wayzata, Hopkins, Chanhassen and Eden Prairie. It’s sponsored by All Saints Lutheran Church, whose pastor of community life said he hoped the troop would act to be inclusive.
“We don’t have a policy other than ‘All are welcome,’ ” said the Rev. Antonio Machado of All Saints. “As a congregation, this is where we stand. Including everybody is what the Christian church should be about.”
Nonetheless, Machado said, the troop and its leaders have the power to make that decision themselves.
“We have certain expectations of them, but in this case we have to respect what that particular group and its leaders and parents decide,” he said.
“My hope would be that we have respectful conversations. My sense would be, should that scenario ever unfold [rejecting gay leaders] where our church is not aligned with whoever is here, we have to find a place that aligns itself with us, unfortunately,” he said.
“I often say, Jesus didn’t ask me to be his gatekeeper.”
Other chartering organizations that are not church-affiliated appeared to be on board with the BSA ruling.
A spokeswoman for Rotary International said its policy explicitly prohibits taking a stand on political issues.
However, membership in Rotary itself is open to all. The group’s manual of procedure states: “No club … may limit membership in the club on the basis of gender, race, color, creed, national origin or sexual orientation.”
Lions Clubs International said that the decision to sponsor a Scout troop is at the discretion of the individual Lions Club and that the international organization “does not have a position on this issue. … The decision to continue sponsoring a Scout troop will be made by each Lions club on a local, individual basis.”
The Northern Star Council, which oversees scouting in the Twin Cities area and western Wisconsin, is one of the largest councils in the country, with more than 40,000 Scouts and 1,100 troops. The council supports lifting the ban on gay scoutmasters.
“Sexuality is outside the scope of scouting, and our focus must remain on our important work with young people,” the council’s Scout executive, John Andrews, said in a recent letter to scouting leaders and chartering organizations. Added council spokesman Kent York: “Appropriate behavior has been our council’s only standard and will continue to be.”
American Legion Post 600 in Champlin sponsors a Boy Scout troop and two Cub Scout packs. Post Commander Daryl Harmon said the post would have no objection to gay leaders. “If it’s OK with the committee, we’re behind it 100 percent,” he said.
Zach Wahls grew up in Iowa City, Iowa, and became an Eagle Scout. He’s straight, but he has two mothers. Two years ago, Wahls co-founded Scouts for Equality. He applauded Monday’s decision lifting the ban on gay Scout leaders.
“If your organization is going to be predicated on developing leadership skills, you have to lead,” he said. “Scouts are not in an uproar over this. It is a small and shrinking minority that is making noise.” But chartering organizations carry great weight in scouting, he added: “They go out of their way to protect the chartering partners.”