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Photo by Nguyen Truong, Cubmaster.

Scoutmaster Geoffrey McGrath walks with Davonn Abaga and Denzel Abaga, two members of the Cub Scout pack, during an outing to Mount Rainier National Park. Photo by Nguyen Truong, Cubmaster.

Updated April 21: Church stands with gay scout leader

By Kathy L. Gilbert
April 8, 2014 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

Rainier Beach United Methodist Church will continue holding regular meetings with 15 youth who signed up to be Scouts despite an April 21 statement from Boy Scouts of America, Inc., revoking the church’s charter because they have a gay scout leader.

On April 1, BSA sent a letter to Geoffrey McGrath and the Rev. Monica Corsaro stating they had violated a longstanding leadership standards policy that does not allow gays to be scout leaders. News that McGrath was gay became public March 31.

Corsaro said the church and McGrath have obtained legal counsel and plan to continue to hold meetings at the church every Monday and Thursday.

“Our first priority is consistent quality leadership and meeting times with our kids and that will continue,” Corsaro said. “Again Boy Scouts of America are not treating Rainier Beach United Methodist Church as a chartering partner and, indeed, not respecting our religious tenants as their by-laws claim they do.” 

McGrath said revoking the charter means “BSA will not permit the troop and pack to use its programs or insignias nor to represent itself as running units sanctioned by Boy Scouts of America, Inc.

“If BSA won't have us, perhaps we'll want to adopt a different camping/skills/service program, or else adopt our own. Or seek to work under the aegis of an existing or new BSA Unit,” he continued.

The April 21 statement from Deron Smith, director of communications for the BSA, stated the church was no longer authorized to offer the Scouting program.

"We are saddened by this development, but remain committed to providing all youth with the best possible Scouting experience where the Scouting program is the main focus,” Smith said. “We have already identified a new chartered organization to sponsor the units and are contacting the parents and leaders of the units to inform them of the change."

“Partners discuss issues and conflicts. There have been no discussions between us in this matter,” Corsaro said. “We are getting support from all over the country and we hear a rally is being planned in Houston this weekend (April 26-27).” 

Breaking news

When it became public that McGrath was gay, BSA sent a letter to McGrath and Corsaro on April 1, stating McGrath was no longer eligible to be a Scout leader.

"As a part of our longstanding leadership standards policy, the Boy Scouts of America does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of our members. We don't believe the topic of sexual orientation has a role in Scouting and it is not discussed unless it is deliberately injected into Scouting. Recently, this individual provided both Scouting national leadership and the media with information that led to his removal as a leader. The BSA does not have an agenda on the matter of sexual orientation; we remain focused on working together to deliver the nation's foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training."

History of scouting in umc

The United Methodist Church is second only to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the number of congregations that host Boy Scouts of America groups. The United Methodist Church hosts more Cub Scout packs than any other religious group.

The Boy Scouts, as well as Girl Scouts of the USA, Big Brothers Big Sisters Amachi Partnership, Camp Fire USA and 4-H, are supported by United Methodist Men.

Boy Scouts of America leaders voted last year to lift the organization's longstanding ban on openly gay youth in the Scouting movement. The ban on openly gay adult leaders was retained. More than 70 percent of Scout units are chartered to religiously affiliated groups, reports Boy Scouts of America. Those charters comprise 62 percent of the group's 2.7 million youth members.

McGrath, an Eagle Scout, volunteered to lead the scouting programs for the church and community because “the 12 points of the scout law and the scout oath are foundational to my character.

“My faith in those things and its transformative power is fully intact. The only curious thing is having to get the corporation, the BSA, to recommit to its own values,” McGrath told United Methodist News Service.

Violation of qualifications

In 2013, the National Council of the BSA lifted its ban on homosexual youth being part of scouting but retained their ban on open or avowed homosexuals serving as volunteer leaders.  

After receiving the letter, Corsaro responded the church stood by their decision to name McGrath Scout leader.

“I don’t consider that a policy. An email does not a policy make for me,” said Corsaro. “He (McGrath) is experiencing prevenient grace (a belief that God ‘s grace is offered before conversion) in a way he has never experienced it before.”

McGrath grew up in a different faith and was rejected by that church when he came out as gay. He was also rejected by the BSA for the same reason when he was younger but allowed to keep his Eagle Scout status.

“I felt like I had been wandering for many years in the wilderness. At Rainier Beach United Methodist Church I’ve found a church where I can be beloved for who I am and I can answer my call to provide service with everything that is in my heart,” McGrath said. Rainier identifies as a member of Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial caucus working to change The United Methodist Church’s position on homosexuality.

Concern for the kids

The scouting program started at the church in November 2013. Troop 98 has five members with two more who are planning to join. The Cub Scout pack has eight members “with a couple more in the pipeline.”

“My biggest concern around all of this has been the kids,” McGrath said. “These children are from broken homes, have been through many transitions, many are immigrants, many are struggling economically and the last thing they need is additional insecurity around something that is important to them.”

McGrath and co-leaders called and met with all the parents after the news broke March 31. They had their regular scout meetings on April 3

“These kids I suspect are like me when I was a kid. My whole universe was oriented around the scouting program.”

Corsaro said McGrath is “a full vow-taking member of The United Methodist Church” and also the church’s finance chair, serving the larger community.

 McGrath said the whirlwind kicked up by the news has been a “trial” but the love and support he has received from the congregation, neighborhood and others “has felt like manna from heaven. It is a wonderful thing to be welcomed to the table and no longer have to beg for crumbs.”

*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615)742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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