December 3, 2020

Century-old church-troop relationship may cease due to anti-gay rules of Boy Scouts of America

A 103-year-old relationship between Boy Scouts of America (BSA) Troop 301 and the First Congregational Church of Webster Groves may come to an end in September.

In 2008, the church adopted an open and affirming clause that states, “We respond to God’s call by welcoming everyone regardless of ability, age, ethnicity, race, gender identity, sexual orientation or socioeconomic background. And therefore this Church may not deny anyone access to its programs on any of those bases.”

Rev. David Denoon of the First Congregational Church of Webster Groves listens to speakers during the church’s vigil in support of the two same-sex marriage cases facing the U.S. Supreme Court. Denoon is one of seven members on the church’s resolution committee to help determine the fate of the church-troop relationship. Since the committee’s creation in July, the group has met twice a month. Denoon said the committee has not yet reached a decision. PHOTO BY BRITTANY RUESS

In July of 2012, BSA released a statement that it would not revise its policy on the inclusiveness of members who are openly homosexual. The BSA National Council reviewed the policy for two years before it released the statement last July.

The BSA National Council concluded, “While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals.”

This resolution caused Rev. David Denoon of the First Congregational Church to rethink the church’s relationship with BSA and Troop 301.

Denoon organized a volunteer committee comprised of members of the church after BSA’s July 2012 decision. The committee’s goal is to meet as needed so that by June or July of 2013 it will have made a draft resolution stating whether to renew the BSA charter for Troop 301. Then, the resolution will be presented to and voted on by the congregation in August or September 2013.

“We’ve got a couple of ways to go and we have not decided which way that would be,” Denoon said. “But if we decide to not renew the charter, we would in all likelihood ask them to find a new home.”

Denoon said the First Congregational Church’s resolution committee is made up of seven members, including Denoon. The committee has thus far met about twice a month since forming in July.

“My sense is that the reason these people have volunteered to be on this committee is because they want to cry out to the (BSA) National Council to change their policy,” Denoon said.

One council member, Charlie Brader, has been involved in BSA since he was a Cub Scout in 1949. He is a unit commissioner of Boy Scout Troop 303 and Cub Scout Pack 303 of Webster Groves.

“The (committee members) want to be able to give an honest and thorough exam of the issue,” Brader said, “in order to make a presentation to the congregation so that the congregation can make a decision.”

Brader said he is interested in the historical relationship between Troop 301 and the First Congregational Church, and he favors renewal of the charter.

“If it came to the congregation not to continue the relationship, that would be unfortunate,” Brader said. “It doesn’t affect my religion at all, but it is one of those pieces of history that would no longer exist.”

Troop 301 Scoutmaster Mike Grzyb has been with the troop for five years. This is his first year as scoutmaster. He said he has heard only good words about the church and the ways it helps the community. He hopes the troop can continue its historic relationship with the First Congregational Church.

Denoon said the church could cut off programming with BSA and not allow Troop 301 to use its facilities. If that were to happen, Denoon would provide a different opportunity to members of the church by changing their programming to either the Scouts for Equality or Baden-Powell Service Association (BPSA). Both organizations accept members of all sexual orientations.

Scouts for Equality was created as an alumni association of ex-Boy Scouts of America. It goal is to end the BSA’s ban on accepting gays, as stated on its website.

BPSA was formed in the United Kingdom in 1970. It is designed from the original policy, organization and rules created by Robert Baden-Powell, who wrote the original Boy Scouting Handbook in 1910 .

The BPSA is more inclusive than BSA. Its policy states, “Membership in BPSA will not be restricted based on gender, race, color, sexual orientation, religious beliefs (or no religious beliefs), age, national origin or any other differentiating characteristic.”

Another possibility is Denoon taking on more of a leadership role in Troop 301. He would attend troop meetings to ensure the views of the troop mirror those of the church.

The committee hasn’t informed Troop 301 and Grzyb about the possibility of the relationship ending, but plans to before the end of April.

Denoon, who has been with the church for three years, said a “dry patch” has hit the number of church members who are associated with Troop 301. He said to begin programming with either Scouts for Equality or the BPSA would be a good option if more members of the church were involved in BSA.

“I think we would feel a general sense of obligation to move in that direction,” Denoon said. “But since we don’t have any boys involved, I think our choice is more black and white.”

Grzyb said his troop members’ religions or their ties to the church are something he has never asked or worried about. He said members’ religions haven’t been an issue.

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