Baptist Temple ousts Boy Scout troop over gay issue

Zaz Hollander
FILE. Anchorage Baptist Temple Bill Roth

The Anchorage Baptist Temple has dropped its sponsorship of a local scout troop over its opposition to the Boy Scouts of America's policy to admit openly gay scouts.

The decision leaves the members of Boy Scout Troop 1316 and Cub Scout Pack 316 without a place to meet. For several years, the scouts used the Baptist Temple's Anchorage Christian Schools facility on the church's East Northern Lights Boulevard campus.

In the last few days, several community organizations have stepped forward to offer a new meeting spot nearby, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Alaska and Congregation Beth Sholom, according to the group Christians for Equality, which counts more than 10 local churches and 60 individuals among its members.

The Baptist Temple, no stranger to controversy, notified troop members this week that the church was not renewing the Boy Scouts of America charter that enabled the troop and pack to meet there.

In May, the Boy Scouts of America's National Council changed a longstanding policy and voted to allow openly gay members to participate. The council maintained a ban on gay adult scout leaders.

The church's decision came now, months later, because "we were just hoping there would be enough repercussions that the Boy Scouts might reconsider, and they haven't," the church's chief pastor, Rev. Jerry Prevo, said Thursday.

Prevo said he wasn't worried about backlash. The Bible's message is plain, he said: "No homosexual will enter the Kingdom of God."

Numerous churches around the country severed ties with scout groups in the wake of the new policy. This appears to be the first example in Alaska.

Prevo estimated that about half the troop's membership attends his church services regularly. Some troop leaders told him they planned to quit scouting over the new policy, he said. At least one leader, however, said he wanted the troop to continue.

Scout representatives couldn't be reached Thursday. Troop and state council leaders were out of town or refused to comment. A representative of Boy Scouts of America in Texas did not return a call for comment.

An employee at the Anchorage office of the Great Alaska Council said Boy Scout troops meet in probably 100 different locations around town. The spots are usually closest to where the boys live.

"It's a hard decision because national made the decision," said Mike Saunders, the council's shop manager. "We just have to follow the policies. It's up to them as a charter if they don't want to be part of it."

Some parents of troop members asked the church for more of an explanation, according to a letter to parents from Rev. Tom Cobaugh, the Baptist Temple's education minister who serves as liaison with the Boy Scout troop.

"Troop 1316 and Pack 316 were ministries of the Anchorage Baptist Temple," Cobaugh wrote. "ABT has not changed its position because the Bible has not changed its position on sexuality (see Leviticus 18:22, I Corinthians 6:9). The BSA has changed. They caved on their position because of political pressure and the threat that it may affect their bottom line financially, through donations and/or their tax-exempt status."

The message of exclusion emanating from Prevo's church hurts young people in general and gay young people in particular, said Phyllis Rhodes, executive director of Identity Inc. and the Gay and Lesbian Community Center.

"It's unfortunate that he lets his bigotry displace children," Rhodes said. "It's hard enough to be a kid and then to have an organization that you are a part of kicked out of their space."

Gay kids already feel isolated, especially if they're not accepted by their families, she said. "We can do so much more if we work together, religious and gay people, if we're not spending our time shaming and defending."

Some Anchorage churches don't hold to Prevo's interpretation of the Bible when it comes to gay, lesbian and transgender people, said Rev. Peter Perry, senior pastor at the St. John United Methodist Church.

Perry said Christians for Equality offered help in June with meeting space for any displaced Scout troops. He hadn't heard of other examples besides the Baptist Temple.

"It's definitely an issue of Biblical interpretation," Perry said.

Asked about the Baptist Temple's reference to the words of Leviticus -- "Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable" -- Perry said the larger message of the Gospel was one of love and not judgment.

"If we look at the acceptance of Jesus and the way he welcomes the outcast into his community of faith, you have to put the Gospel stories, the grand sweep of the Bible, against seven passages that speak against it."

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