Read Keith’s latest article, reprinted from the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, July 2013.
Churches are lining up these days to distance themselves from the Boy Scouts of America after the organization lifted its ban on allowing homosexual youth to join and participate in its programming. Almost immediately some clergy, including in our own United Methodist Church, began to move toward the removal of the Boy Scouts from their congregation’s ministries.
Richard Land, former president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told CNN that there was a “100 percent chance” that there would be a resolution about disaffiliation with the Scouts at the [Southern Baptist] convention and that there was a “100 percent chance” that “99 percent of people” would vote for it.
Tulsa, Oklahoma’s largest United Methodist Church is considering similar action. “We’re leaning in that direction. I don’t know exactly what we’ll do,” said the Rev. Tom Harrison, senior pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church.
So, dear churches and clergy, how will you respond when the question comes, “What will your church do in light of the decision of the Boy Scouts to allow homosexual youth to participate in its programs?”
My answer is: “We will say, ‘Thanks be to God!’”
Several years ago, while writing a paper for a Doctor of Ministry course, I came across a mound of literature handed to me from a Clemson University professor related to the suicide rate of homosexual youth and young adults. The studies showed a much higher rate of suicide in the population compared to their heterosexual counterparts. And much of the material suggested that the difference could be explained by the lack of support from influential adults. I recently read a similar finding in a published paper by Arianna Schaaff, a student at the University of New Hampshire, wherein she states clearly the challenges of homosexual youth and young adults when it comes to increased rates of suicide:
Rejection from parents is significantly tied with increased suicide rates among homosexual adolescents… This may be so influential on the mental health of adolescents because parents are expected to express unconditional love, despite the actions of the child. If an adolescent reveals his/her sexual orientation to a parent and is rejected, they may feel as though because of this failure of acceptance in the family, society outside the family will be even less accepting. This also pertains to the findings that show suicide rates being significantly lowered when there is support of adults, such as parents and teachers, present in response to an adolescent’s sexual orientation. Important adult figures may be more highly valued than peers by adolescents; therefore, the acceptance of sexual orientation by these figures may be significantly more crucial to the mental health stability in adolescents.
I remember the day long ago as I was watching my son play baseball and my cell phone rang. It was a student from a ministry I was leading at a nearby university. He had shared with me that he was telling his parents about his sexual identity. He called to tell me how they responded. He was no longer welcome into their home or family. Like the response of many Christian communities today, he was “disaffiliated,” according to his parents. And I received his tears that day aware of the pain their rejection brought to this young man.
Perhaps the Boy Scouts of America is aware that one of the gifts they might bring to adolescents who are dealing with a variety of developmental and social issues is a safe place to explore one’s identity without fear of repercussion from being open and honest. Maybe the leadership knows that all youth need adult mentors and friends as they grow and mature, regardless of sexual orientation.
Perhaps, too, this is what the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline is getting at when it says, “We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”
I am blessed to serve in a place where the youth ministry is vibrant and the people are warm and accepting. Indeed, one of the questions we ask persons in our baptismal liturgy is: “Will you serve as Christ’s representative in the world?” “We will,” we say so easily. Perhaps it’s time for us to remember our baptisms and offer the same care for our youth and young adults as we see in the divine embrace of Jesus. The Boy Scouts are inviting us to welcome all of our youth into the embrace of our churches. And I can only say:
Thanks be to God.