Editor’s note: On Feb. 27 , the church council of The First Church in Belfast, United Church of Christ, sent a longer version of the following letter to both Boy Scout of America councils in Maine: Katahdin Area Council and the Pine Tree Council.
I write to share with you our thoughts and hopes regarding the issue of the Boy Scouts of America and your policy regarding the exclusion of lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender individuals as members and leaders of Scout troops. It is our perspective that they should have the same access to membership in the Boy Scouts of America, the same ability to engage in all of its programs and activities and the same opportunities and responsibilities for leadership, as well as the same level of accountability as heterosexual individuals.
It is deeply troubling to our congregation, given our church’s commitment to all who worship and minister with us for full inclusion in all of our church’s activities and programs, that the present policy means some of our own parishioners are excluded from participating in an organization we sponsor.
We have come to our beliefs and positions based on the precepts of our Christian faith and the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, which are the guide for that faith. For we see in these scriptures Jesus associating with and including those who in their time were marginalized and ostracized, engaging with women and caring for lepers, the lame and the blind — those whose physical ailments and differences made them “unclean” in their culture.
We hear his commandment to love one another and to know the love of God as the most basic and fundamental value that we share. We hear the words of Paul the Apostle, that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female: for all are one in Christ Jesus,” (Galatians 3:28), and we hear the call to break down all barriers that separate us.
We acknowledge that our brothers and sisters of the fundamentalist and more conservative branches of Christianity will also name passage and verse to substantiate the idea that God sees homosexuality as a sin and that we should therefore not condone such behavior or way of being as acceptable. But we are keenly aware that there have been times when Biblical scripture has been used to uphold terrible societal evils.
One example of this is the institution of slavery. You will not find a passage in scripture that states clearly that slavery is wrong, and yet we now know this to be self-evident and true. The Bible was also used to oppress people of color during the 1950s and 60s in order to stop integration and to keep from giving all people in this country equal status regardless of race, creed and color. It was used to keep women “in their place” and to validate treatment of them as second class.
In 2010, our congregation voted to become an “open and affirming congregation,” meaning that we are inclusive of all people. The decision was not hastily made. We spent more than a year in discernment, reading, researching, listening to one another, inviting speakers to share their views with us and praying for God’s guidance.
But also this was not the first time The First Church in Belfast, UCC, had broached this topic. At least two other times since the mid-1980s, discussions were held about this. God has been moving us toward this point for a long time.
Here, we have been proud to say that we support and host a Cub Scout Pack. We’ve sponsored Pack #30 since 1959 — 54 years! But we have struggled with the policy and practice of the BSA to exclude boys from scouting and adults from positions of leadership within the organization, based solely upon their sexual orientation. Since becoming an “open and affirming congregation,” we have had to re-examine how our ministry supports inclusivity in the organizations we sponsor or to which we offer resources.
Our desire was that we would maintain our support. Likewise, it has been our practice to each year observe Boy Scout Sunday and lift up its ideals, but unless the exclusionary policies are changed, it would be hypocritical for us to continue that practice.
We were hopeful last year when there seemed to be a possibility of some in-depth discussion about the issue within the Boy Scouts of America, but then saddened by the quick decision to retain the exclusionary policies. Our worshiping community’s choice to become “open and affirming” compels us to refrain from supporting organizations with such exclusionary policies.
Rev. Joel M. Krueger leads The First Church in Belfast, United Church of Christ.