United Methodist Men's top leader said he has faced criticism, questions and confusion since releasing a statement Jan. 29 affirming how changes proposed by the Boys Scouts of America would be implemented.
Gilbert Hanke said he has even heard from some United Methodist scout leaders who are threatening to quit scouting altogether.
The Boy Scouts of America is considering ending the national membership standard that excludes gay scouts and leaders and leaving that particular question up to charter organizations.
The furor that followed Hanke's statement on the proposed changes by Boy Scouts of America prompted him to make another public statement on Jan. 31 emphasizing two points:
- United Methodist Men endorsed the implementation of the proposed model because it allows local churches to continue to make decisions and operate as they are.
- United Methodist Men played no part in helping Boy Scouts of America formulate the proposed changes. The agency was only informed of the proposal.
United Methodist Men is responsible for promoting the use of scouting ministries and civic youth-serving agencies across the denomination.
"The reason we endorsed this model of implementation is because it allows your local church to continue to operate exactly like it is operating today," Hanke said in the Jan. 31 statement. "You choose the leaders, you recruit the scouts; the leadership of your troop and pack reflects the traditions and values of your faith community."
His second statement also clarified that United Methodist Men leaders did not seek the proposed change to the Boy Scouts of America's policy.
Hanke also told United Methodist News Service that some members read earlier statements that suggested the Commission on United Methodist Men has endorsed the Boy Scout of America's proposed changes. That is not the case. Such an endorsement would require the vote of the commission's board, which did not have any knowledge of this proposed change at its last board meeting.
What Hanke does endorse is moving the responsibility for selecting leaders and scouts to the local church level rather than changing the national standard and forcing it on churches and other charter organizations.
Hanke told United Methodist News Service his intent in his original statement was "to relieve anxiety."
"But instead of relieving anxiety, I increased it," he added. "I know some people are hurt by what they think I said, and I wanted to set the record straight. My intention was to bring unity and not division. We already have too much division."
Homosexuality has sparked debate in the denomination for decades.
Since 1972, the Book of Discipline - the denomination's law book - has identified the practice of homosexuality as "incompatible with Christian teaching."
Church law prohibits "self-avowed practicing" gays and lesbians from serving as clergy, but the book is silent about whether they can serve as lay leaders in other roles in the church.
The Book of Discipline also affirms that all people are "individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God." The book proclaims a commitment to be in ministry for and with all people.
The Book of Discipline additionally supports "the rights and liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation."
Long history with scouting
Larry Coppock, United Methodist Men's national director of scouting ministries, said that Boy Scouts of America historically has operated by giving local control to its chartered organizations.
Just as McDonald's has national standards but leaves operations up to local franchises, Coppock said, Boy Scouts puts local chartered packs, troops and crews in charge of choosing leaders and recruiting members.
Scouting has been a longtime commitment of the denomination.
The Book of Discipline points out, "Civic youth-serving agencies and scouting ministries offer another setting for ministry to children, youth, their leaders and their families."
The United Methodist Church is second only to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as Mormons) in the number of congregations that host Boy Scouts of America groups. As of 2012, 6,700 United Methodist congregations served 363,876 young people through 10,868 Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops and Venturing crews. The United Methodist Church hosts more Cub Scout packs than any other religious group.
Hanke encourages those thinking of quitting Boy Scout leadership to reconsider. "Who would not want to mentor young men in their Christian development?" he said. He added that he prays these men will continue to work with scouting ministries.
Hanke can personally attest to the importance of Boy Scouts in his life and faith journey. He was a Boy Scout as a youngster and was a leader for his son's Cub Scout Pack. His son, now 29, eventually achieved the honor of Eagle Scout and presently works for Boy Scouts of America.
"I know how this changes lives," he said. "I see the invaluable reflection of devout Christian scout leaders on my son's life and his career. I see it on myself from my scout leaders."
Hanke's full statement
January 31, 2013
An additional statement from Gilbert Hanke, General Secretary of the General Commission on United Methodist Men
Many questions have been raised about the proposed changes in BSA as it relates to allowing gays to participate as scouts and as leaders. We know that there are strong and legitimate concerns on both sides of this issue. Some of the statements that I made in initial press releases have morphed into new content and so I want to attempt to provide some clarity.
This is a BSA decision which we did not ask for; our meeting with BSA leadership was to inform us of what they were considering.
Once they made the decision to propose this change there are basically two ways this could have been implemented. One would have changed the national standard to force all charter organizations (in our case, local churches) to accept gay scouts and gay leaders. The choice they made was to move that decision to a local level. The reason we endorsed this model of implementation is because it allows your local church to continue to operate exactly like it is operating today. You choose the leaders, you recruit the scouts; the leadership of your troop and pack reflects the traditions and values of your faith community.
If you have concerns that BSA is considering this change in policy, please contact BSA.
My statements were designed to assure members of the UMC that if BSA makes this change it will not change the way scouting is conducted within our denomination. Feel free to contact me by email or by phone if you have additional questions for me.
Gilbert C. Hanke
*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.