We don’t want you here.
So much for the basic Christian ideals of acceptance, humanity and grace.
With much ado, the Boy Scouts of America last week abolished its policy against admitting openly gay boys. What’s followed has been the expected backlash of homophobes, bigots and patently mean people who have no valuable purpose other than to spread venom. Like the plague, it’s best to ignore them.
Instantly, the Scouts’ decision put churches that host Scouting troops in a quandary. Should they take an overtly public stand on homosexuality and kick the Boy Scouts to the curb? Or should they carry on with the belief that rational thinking and humane acceptance will override bigotry?
A sizeable collection of mainstream churches and faiths in the United States has chosen a tolerant path. The National Jewish Committee on Scouting, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Metropolitan Community Church all urged full repeal of the Boy Scouts’ longtime ban on openly gay members, ABC News reported. The Mormon church — which sponsors more Boy Scout troops than any other church in America — has endorsed the policy change.
Then there are others.
In Alabama, the Rev. Mike Shaw of Pelham’s First Baptist Church told AL.com that “we don’t hate anybody.” But his church, which hosts a Scouting troop, has told Scout leaders they’ll no longer be welcome there once the policy is enforced on Jan. 1. His explanation: “We’re not doing it out of hatred. The teachings of the Scripture are very clear on this. We’re doing it because it violates the clear teaching of Scripture.” First Baptist of Helena is also asking its Scouts to find another meeting place.
Nationally, the trend is spreading. In Louisville, Ky., the Southeast Christian Church is locking its doors to Scouting. The Assemblies of God, which ABC News describes as the world’s largest Pentecostal group, has openly criticized the Boy Scouts’ decision and predicted a widespread decline in Scouting participation because of the backlash. Leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention says its 47,000 member churches likely will be advised to stop hosting Boy Scout troops when it holds its annual meeting this summer.
Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee, told ABC that “we don’t hate people ...”, which has become a quasi-cliche among those who, in the same breath, are slamming the doors on teenagers they welcomed just moments before. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
How’s that for a message to send to America’s youth: Shun those who think and act differently. Don’t reach out to any and all. Don’t tolerate, discriminate.
I’ve lived in Alabama longer than anywhere else, and my next notable birthday will be my 50th. (Alas.) That said, the fading memories of my family’s Methodist church in Tennessee I’d like to keep.
It was there, at St. James UMC, that I learned everything good about Christianity, love and kindness and fellowship, the “Gloria Patri” and the Affirmation of Faith. It was there I was baptized and confirmed.
But I’ve never forgotten that some of my church’s membership turned its back on a dying, gay man.
Over time, I’ve forgotten his name but not his face. He was sick from HIV, and through a few friends he began attending our Sunday morning services. He knew his time was short.
Our church’s youth group welcomed him with open arms. He sat with us on Sunday mornings, on the sanctuary’s right side, on an orange-colored upholstered pew near the back. He had a sense of humor and made us laugh; he talked to us, not down to us. To me, he symbolized what a Christian church should be — a place of comfort for those who need assistance, a place where people of grace welcome all and shun no one.
Some of my former church’s adult members failed him, treated him as a leper, as if his sexuality or the virus he carried were contagious through congregational worship. People avoided him. Few shook his hand. It was a complete, utter embarrassment to a Christian faith.
The man died. In some ways, in my mind, so, too, did my former church.
Churches can treat the Boy Scouts as they wish. Church leaders can point to the Scriptures and say they don’t hate. They can shun whoever they wish, for whatever reason.
But to young people more influenced by adults’ actions than their words, the message is clear.
Don’t come around here.
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.