MARIETTA, Ga. (BP) -- Parents of Boy Scouts should remove their children from the organization, Atlanta-area pastor Ernest Easley advised in his Sunday sermon.
Troop 204's affiliation with Roswell Street Baptist Church also will end, Easley said.
"I never dreamed I'd have to stand up publicly and say to parents: Pull your kids out of the Boy Scouts," Easley told Baptist Press May 28.
"If you would have asked me that five years ago, 10 years ago, I would have laughed," Easley said. "And even as I was saying it Sunday morning, I thought, I cannot believe I'm having to address this and encourage parents to pull their children out of the Boy Scouts of America.
The tie between Roswell Street Baptist Church and Troop 204 dates back to 1945.
Now, however, children are at risk, said Easley, now in his 12th year as senior pastor of the Marietta, Ga., church. He also is chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee. Easley, the church and Troop 204 were the focus of a Baptist Press article May 7 exploring the potential impact of a vote to permit openly homosexual boys in Scouting. On May 23, the BSA's 1,400-member National Council voted to adopt the membership policy, 61-39 percent, as proposed by BSA national leaders.
"My greatest concern is the protection of boys," Easley said. "This decision opens the floodgate for a potential increase in sexual abuse of children."
And openly homosexual men will become Scout leaders, Easley predicted.
"Having made this decision, the Boy Scouts will face all kinds of pressure and litigation to accept openly gay leadership in troops across America. I can't see now how the Boy Scouts legally can prevent homosexual leadership from invading the ranks of the Boy Scouts of America," Easley said. The Scouts, he noted, have now abandoned the tradition that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 2000 in permitting the Scouts to decline membership to openly gay leaders and members.
"As far as our church family, they're sad about it, but it's an easy decision to make when a congregation affirms God's Word," Easley said of the end of Roswell Street Baptist Church's relationship with Troop 204 -- a possibility he had been discussing with church leaders in view of the scheduled BSA vote on gay membership. The break likely will come when the Scouts implement their new policy on Jan. 1, 2014.
"If we're a church that affirms God's Word as the inerrant Word of God that we're going to live by, that we're going to raise our families by, that we're going to do church by, then it may be sad, but it's a simple decision.
"We are not going to put our arms around organizations that openly oppose the moral guidelines taught in God's Word," Easley said.
"I think most boys at age 8, 9, 10, 11 -– they're all vulnerable. And all the more reason to stand firm and to affirm God's Word to protect them. That's our responsibility as adults to protect them. If we let the guard down and not protect them -- they're going to have a hard enough time living for God in this world. And for us not to do everything we can to protect them, shame on us."
Easley, in his sermon, encouraged parents to enroll their boys in the Royal Ambassador program at Roswell Street or another church that has an RA program.
Royal Ambassadors is the Southern Baptist missions organization for boys in grades 1-6; Challengers, a tandem program, engages young men in grades 7-12 in missions education. The RA program was established by WMU, an auxiliary of the SBC, in 1908.
“I grew up an RA,” Easley reflected. “We had a very strong RA program in my home church in Dallas, Texas. I was a Cub Scout and an RA at the same time, and when it got to the point of moving up to Boy Scouts, I had to decide RAs or Boy Scouts.
“And I went RAs.”
Easley said Southern Baptists “really have an opportunity here to strengthen our RA programs and to get the boys in a program where they’re going to be protected, where there’s a high moral standard and where they will have an opportunity to learn about camping, missions, evangelism in the local church.”
The RA pledge states: "As a Royal Ambassador I will do my best to become a well-informed, responsible follower of Christ; to have a Christlike concern for all people; to learn how to carry the message of Christ around the world; to work with others in sharing Christ; and to keep myself clean and healthy in mind and body."
Steve Heartsill, managing editor for Royal Ambassadors, told Baptist Press, "Since the vote last week, we have received more than 25 requests via Facebook and email from churches and individuals interested in beginning an RA program. This is an increase from the typical number we receive on a weekly basis.
"Most of the inquiries are in regard to whether or not there are RA programs in their area, how to begin an RA program, and if RA materials can be used by churches that are not Southern Baptist," Heartsill said.
"We encourage those interested in learning more about RA to go to our website, www.wmu.com/ra, and go to wmu.com/getstarted to download a free starter kit that includes a sample unit," Heartsill said. "To find existing RA organizations in your area, people may contact their local Baptist association or state WMU office."
At the SBC annual meeting in Houston, WMU will be prepared to answer inquiries about various facets of the Royal Ambassadors program, said Julie Walters, WMU corporate communications team leader, who noted that the overarching theme of the WMU booth in the SBC Exhibit Hall, however, will be on the 125th anniversary of WMU and missions discipleship in general.
Easley was among numerous Southern Baptist leaders who expressed dismay over the Boy Scouts' move to open its ranks to openly gay participants in the weeks before the vote.
SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page, who had met with Scouting leaders and urged them to maintain the current policy, said he was "deeply saddened" that the BSA overturned its "constitutionally protected expressive message that homosexual behavior is incompatible with the principles enshrined in the Scout Oath and Scout Law.
"We know that the pressures exerted against the voting members of the 1,400 chartered organizations by homosexual activist groups have been unrelenting," Page said. "We are grateful for each voting member who voted in the minority, but our sadness for the Scouting organization as a whole cannot be overstated."
Page said the vote "ushers in a sea-change in the credibility of the Boy Scouts of America as a viable boys' organization for millions of Americans who believe strongly in the principles of biblical morality. To claim that the Boys Scouts is the nation's foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training suddenly rings hollow."
"We continue to pray for our country. We believe we are in desperate need of a genuine spiritual awakening that will transform lives through the power of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ," Page said.
Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter called it "a sad day in the history of an organization that for years stood on Christian principles, particularly for the thousands of Southern Baptists who grew up as Boy Scouts like myself."
"My prayers," Luter said, "go out to the parents and churches who have been forced to make decisions about being a part of the Boy Scouts organization. As Southern Baptists, our commitment to the Word of God and Christian values must take priority over what is 'politically correct.'"
Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).