Members of First Congregational Church of Webster Groves want Troop 301, the Boy Scout of…
Fragile fate: Resolution committee confident in re-signing of Troop 301’s charter
Robert Moody is the fourth generation of his family to be a member of the First Congregational Church of Webster Groves (FCCWG). His father was a Cub Scout Pack 301 Leader while he was a Cub Scout, which FCCWG sponsored but has since disbanded. He believes its open and affirming church will vote to retain a 103-year-old continuous charter of Boy Scout Troop 301 and push for change in the Boy Scout of America’s (BSA) anti-gay policy.
The BSA National Council reiterated its stance against openly gay scouters and scout leaders, in July 2012. Nine volunteer members of FCCWG, including Moody, formed a resolution committee after the BSA’s decision and began a discussion about the relationship between the church and BSA Troop 301.
The church is accepting of all members. Its “Open and Affirming” resolution signed in 2008, states “We respond to God’s call by welcoming everyone regardless of ability, age, ethnicity, race, gender identity, sexual orientation or socio-economic background.”
Moody believes BSA is only in the first quarter of a process that took FCCWG 12 years to get through, until they became open and affirming. He said the congregation is asking if it is right to sponsor an organization that has a view opposite of the church.
“We have a congregation now that includes gay couples who have children,” Moody said. “I find no particular conflict between the policy of the (BSA) and the policy of our church because I think our umbrella is big enough to include the scouts as they too continue on the journey.”
Moody said the process for the church to eventually become open and affirming was not a quick process. Herbert Niemeyer, the moderator of the church and member of the resolution committee, was one of the first church members to bring up the policy conflict between the church and BSA. He said he understands that almost nothing happens quickly in a congregational church because so many people are included in the discussion — that is why he loves it.
“People in the church were involved in the civil rights movement for African-Americans, and it’s a tradition,” Niemeyer said. “That’s why I love that church because it’s an alive church, and involved church, and a church of yesterday, today and tomorrow.”
The resolution committee made its first presentation to the congregation on April 28. The congregation voiced its opinions on what steps should be taken to evaluate the relationship between FCCWG and Troop 301. Niemeyer and Moody said, after the meeting, they feel there will be change needed in the policy or structure of Troop 301, but the church will sign the charter to continue sponsoring the troop.
Barney Kitchen was one member of the congregation that spoke out. Kitchen said he initially thought any BSA sponsor had to completely abide by the BSA policies, including not allowing gay members. If that was the case, Kitchen said his vote would be to sever ties with Troop 301.
“If (the resolution committee) say ‘We know people of integrity can disagree,’” Kitchen said. “We are going to talk about this and deal with each other in the spirit of love, and trust that growth will take place.”
Kitchen said from listening to Niemeyer speak, he feels the resolution committee will carry over the church’s open and affirming policy to the troop.
There were some congregation members that believed this discussion was a waste of time.
Yvonne Logan, a member of the congregation, said she has been involved in the peace movement for more than 50 years. Between 1981-85 she served as president of the Woman’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and is still actively campaigning against nuclear weapons.
Niemeyer and FCCWG Minister, Rev. David Denoon said Logan is possibly the largest activist in the church.
“She is tenacious, well-spoken and faithful in a brilliant extreme,” Denoon said. “That ‘don’t do anything’, just jarred me because that was the last thing I expected her to say.”
Logan was the very first congregation member to speak on the open floor. She said, “I would like to recommend that we do nothing.”
She believes that since the congregation had already decided to re-sign Troop 301’s charter in February, there isn’t any more to discuss.
“I just felt that, that was enough,” Logan. “I just think it is an awful lot of people’s time to spend on what is not really a problem.”
Niemeyer said the opinions of the congregation support his belief — the process of creating this resolution will take the time in cooperation with BSA.
“I’d like to see us work within the scouting organization,” Niemeyer said. “As First Congregation has for over 100 years. You don’t quit a hundred year relationship on a whim. You just work through it.”
BSA vote in May could change congregation’s decision.
Niemeyer said FCCWG cannot move further into the creation of the resolution until a the BSA National Council casts a vote that may alter their anti-gay policy.
About 1,400 members of the BSA will meet in Irving, Texas to discuss and are expected to vote on allowing openly gay scouters to be in boy scouts. If passed, the motion will only change their stance for scouters, but will continue to exclude openly gay scout leaders.
When this issue was brought up to the FCCWG a few congregation members were upset that BSA would separate their opinions on children and adults. One member, who didn’t want to comment on her view of continuing to sponsor Troop 301 or not, said it is “saddening and unacceptable” that BSA would only take this half step to becoming open and affirming.
Niemeyer agreed with the congregation member.
“Why would you want to have a young man go through the program till he’s 18,” Niemeyer said. “Think about becoming a leader and then be told ‘no you cannot?’”
Minutes from the resolution committee meetings show they have discussed their situation with the CEO of the Greater St. Louis Area Council, BSA, Ron Green. They also stated he plans to be present at the church’s next open forum on June 2.
The approximately 1,400 voters for the BSA National Council are made up of representatives from all of the nearly 300 local councils, as the official BSA website reports. Green’s secretary, Vicky Hillemeyer said she believes the Greater St. Louis Council has nine voting members because they are a larger council. She said most local councils have only one or two votes.
Moody said he is pleased the national council is finally taking this first step. He believes the decision of that vote, will directly affect how they run the next open forum on June 2.
“If the boy scouts do not adopt the resolution, it will make our conversation at the church perhaps a little bit harder,” Moody said. “But in the end, based on what I heard our members say (at the April 28 meeting) I think we will reach the position saying we’re going to continue to be a charting organization.”
He also believes personally and from the congregation said when they sign the charter for Troop 301, they will also become a strong voice to push complete change in the anti-gay policy of BSA.
“It will be a closer vote if the boy scouts don’t say yes in May,” Moody said. “Even the people who spoke strongly about how annoyed they were with the continuing band on gay leadership, and I’m not speaking for them, but it would surprise me if they vote to quit being a sponsor.”