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Scouting for a Solution at Mayflower Church
By Amy Radil
November 29, 2000
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Mayflower Church in southwest Minneapolis has sponsored Boy Scout Troop 187 for over 70 years, almost as long as the church has been in existence. The church also has one of the most liberal policies toward welcoming gay and lesbian members, and ordaining gay clergy. So in the months since the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the right of the Boy Scouts of America to ban gay scoutmasters, church members and others involved with the troop say their values are in conflict, and they're wondering how best to seek changes in the policy.

AT THE MAYFLOWER CHURCH in southwest Minneapolis, where support for gay rights runs strong, members of the Boy Scout troop posted a sign at their holiday wreath sale, informing buyers that no profits from the sale would go to the national Boy Scouts of America; all the money would be used to support the local troop. But church members say they're trying to figure out how to take stronger action against the ban.

Meanwhile, the troop's scoutmaster, Rob Pearson, says scout leaders continue to be busy with badges, campouts and the usual work inherent in keeping an eye on energetic boys.

"We try not to be distracted because we have a greater mission. Our mission is the boys," says Pearson.

At a recent troop meeting, one group of scouts worked on their Tenderfoot badge in a corner of the church basement, while another cluster practiced tying thick knots, lashing together canoe paddles with ropes. Pearson says the current controversy is a distraction from what he values about scouting, and something only the national organization can resolve.

"This is something that we have to, for better or worse, let the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America deal with; we at the local troop level can only continue to offer our program of advancement, leadership skills and love of the outdoors and the camping environment for the boys," says Pearson.

Church member Tony Dodge has two boys in the scout troop, but says he's asking them to think about whether they should stay involved. He says excluding gay leaders is wrong and in the end hurts the organization. It also contradicts the church's policy to be "open and affirming of each person's sexuality."

"There are talents in this church that other churches don't have because we are open and affirming and scouting, in the end, is going to lose by excluding people with lots of talent," says Dodge.

The church must decide whether to renew its sponsorship of the troop in February, and while most parents seem inclined to continue sponsorship, many like Dodge are trying to determine how best to exert pressure to change the policy.

While the boys held their meeting in the basement, a group of parents met upstairs in the church. Jesse Goin, whose 11-year-old son is a scout, says the situation is messy because it involves churches, politics, funding, and family decisions. He says his first impulse when he heard about the Supreme Court ruling was to pull his son out of scouts, a reaction he later decided would be selfish.

Goin says many parents are reluctant to force their children to make that sacrifice, and that makes changing the policy difficult.

"It's a conflict about, does my child become sort of a pawn or a player in acting out in a positive way my belief system or my value system, and I do think it will slow it down for that reason," Goin says.

The group agreed to submit a letter to the church and to the Viking Council, which oversees Boy Scout troops in Minneapolis, airing their disagreement with the ban. Parent and church member Ernie Neve advocates stronger action, saying he thinks the troop should tell the national organization it won't enforce the policy, and that scoutmasters will be hired regardless of sexual orientation.

"I think the risk is that the national might very well pull our charter" says Neve. "But I think we need to take that risk. That's the type of issue, that's the type of action which creates publicity, which creates people to look at this as an issue that needs to have some action on."

Neve says he's visited groups at other churches who are also debating whether to continue sponsorship of their Boy Scout troops. The parents say there's been little guidance or feedback on the policy offered by the Viking Council. The council was contacted for this story but declined to be interviewed.