Some Kentucky churches cut ties with Boy Scouts; no decisions in Lexington

tharrison@herald-leader.comJune 5, 2013 

At least three churches in central Kentucky — including one of the state's biggest churches — have said they are cutting ties with the Boy Scouts of America as a result of the organization's decision last month to allow gay scouts. So far, churches in Lexington don't appear to be following suit.

James "Chip" Armishaw, the scout executive/CEO of the Blue Grass Council of the Boy Scouts of America, said no one in this region had broken ties with the Boy Scouts as of Wednesday. Armishaw also said he has not heard from any group that wants to renew its charter to sponsor Boy Scout troops, but that typically does not happen until later in the year.

Local church officials said they have not made a decision.

The Catholic Diocese of Lexington, which serves 50 counties in Central and Eastern Kentucky under Bishop Ronald W. Gainer, does not have plans to pull sponsorship for any Boy Scout troops sponsored by its churches, diocese spokesman Thomas Shaughnessy said.

"According to Catholic teaching, any kind of unjust discrimination against people who feel a same-sex attraction is never justified," Shaughnessy said. He said the Catholic Church objects to "homosexual acts as immoral," but it does not object to gay people in general.

"Within the frame of Scouting, there's nothing to do with sexual activity," Shaughnessy said. "So it's really a non-issue. The Catholic Church also teaches that any heterosexual person should not engage in any sexual activity outside of marriage. All people are called to live a chaste life."

There are at least seven sponsored troops in parishes of the Diocese of Lexington, he said.

"We don't know all the implications, so at some point there may be a different decision, but at this point, Scouting will continue in our parishes," Shaughnessy said.

Several church officials and members of organizations that supervise Scout programs declined to comment or failed to return phone calls. One official hung up on a reporter.

Still, there are those who have been vocal about their decisions.

Earlier this week, pastors at Severns Valley Baptist Church in Elizabethtown and Rineyville Baptist Church told The News-Enterprise that they will not renew their charters with the Boy Scouts when the agreements expire later this year.

Senior pastors and deacons of Severns Valley, a church that has more than 4,000 members, voted unanimously Sunday to cut ties, said Jeff Wilson, an associate pastor. Wilson told the News-Enterprise that the new Boy Scout policy doesn't adhere to Biblical and church standards. Rineyville Baptist Church Pastor Mitch Ash said the Boy Scout policy isn't in line with the beliefs of the church.

The paper also reported that Southeast Christian Church in Louisville has said it will cut ties with the Boy Scouts. Church leaders said alternative programs for boys are under consideration.

In Lexington, Chris Hahn, lead executive pastor at Southland Christian Church, said "nothing's changed at this point." Southland sponsors both a Cub Scout pack and a Boy Scout troop.

"We have not made a decision up to this point not to renew our charter," Hahn said.

Hahn said the church kept in contact with its Boy Scouts of America liaison throughout the review of the policy. The church has to renew the charter each year, so at some point, they will discuss whether to renew.

Hahn would not comment about the Boy Scouts of America's decision to allow gay troop members.

In May, the approximate 1,400 voting members of the Boy Scouts of America's National Council approved a resolution to remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone, according to a statement from the Boy Scouts of America.

"The resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting," the statement read.

The resolution received more than 60 percent of the 1,232 votes, according to the Boy Scouts of America. The policy change will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

The ban on gay leaders in the Scouts remains the same. The statement said a change in the current membership policy for adult leaders was not under consideration.

Armishaw, the head of the Blue Grass Council, told the Herald-Leader in an emailed statement that he thinks the update to the policy will allow all kids who want to be a part of Scouting to experience the life-changing program.

Despite differing opinions on the policy, Armishaw's email said, everyone can agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting.

"At the Blue Grass Council, I take great pride in creating an environment where people and religious organizations, who may disagree on a variety of topics, still work together to achieve life-changing benefits to youth through its program," he said.

Taylor Harrison: (859) 231-1324. Twitter: @heraldleader.

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