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Scouts await decision on gay membership

Stephen B. Thornton for NBC News

Pack 215 Cub Scouts recite the Pledge of Allegiance after posting the colors at their pack meeting in the family life center at Eagle Heights Baptist Church on Tuesday in Harrison, Ark.

Cub Scout Pack 215 in rural Arkansas is waiting for a vote that could mean big changes for their tiny outfit.

That’s because of a decision being made Thursday at the national Boy Scouts of America annual meeting that will have ramifications for their pack and other Scout units across the country: whether or not to end its controversial policy banning gay Scouts.

The 1,400 delegates of the National Council will vote on the policy at the BSA meeting in Grapevine, Texas.

More than 70 percent of Boy Scout units are sponsored by a religious group, some that do not want to allow gay youth to join. One is Pack 215, chartered by the Eagle Heights Baptist Church in Harrison, Ark. The church’s pastor has said it will not stay on as sponsor if the policy is changed.

“This would be inconsistent with the biblical values and the essence upon which we operate our ministries,” said Pastor Jay Scribner, who said he would work with the pack to help it decide next steps should the policy change.

Scribner said the decision to pull sponsorship would come “with a heavy heart, but at the same time, with firm biblical convictions.”

The pack first learned of its potential fate in February from Scribner at the yearly Scout Sunday service, after the Boy Scouts initial announcement that it was thinking to include gay adult leaders as well as youth. After a vigorous public debate over the possible change in the longstanding membership guidelines, the private youth organization shelved the decision until the national meeting Thursday.

Stephen B. Thornton for NBC News

Pack 215 Cub Scout Dylan Heimer takes off in a soccer-dribbling contest pitting scouts against parents at their pack meeting Tuesday at Eagle Heights Baptist Church in Harrison, Ark.

 “We are faced with a very hard decision,” Pack 215’s Cubmaster, Carol Gilley, said last week. “This has been weighing heavy on my mind for a long time ... I finally told myself God is bigger than this problem so I'm just giving it over to God and I pray, I pray about it -- that things stay the way they are.”

Some councils, which oversee the Scouting units, have publicly said they will not continue if gay youth are allowed, while others have called for not only youth but adults to be included. Some have also urged a local option – similar to what was done when blacks and women were first allowed in the BSA – that would let each charter partner decide.

For Gilley and others in her pack, talking about homosexuality with their children is a non-starter. Gilley said they refer to the debate as “the issue” around the boys rather than using the word “gay,” and pack secretary, January Studyvin said she is dreading having a “gut-wrenching conversation” with son Daylon, about the fate of the pack.

“We’re a small pack, and our Scout family is just not Scouts it’s an extension of our family … all of our children our close to the other parents,” Studyvin said. “We want to try to keep it going and making it work … keep it going at a personal level … no official awards, no official uniform. But (it) keeps them together and keeps them doing something … we have a lot of boys in our pack that this is all they do.”

Eagle Heights Baptist Church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Church. One of the SBC leaders, Dr. Frank Page, last week implored the Boy Scouts not to change the policy. But The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints – the BSA's biggest charter partner-- has given tacit endorsement to the plan; the National Catholic Council on Scouting has yet to take a position. The United Methodist Church did not respond to a NBC News' request for comment.

But BSA spokesman Deron Smith said the proposal was “in line” with the beliefs of most of BSA's major religious chartered groups.

“Some have asserted that the proposed change for youth runs counter to values of and raises concerns among Scouting’s religious chartered organizations,” Smith said. “We are unaware of any major religious chartered organization that believes a youth member simply stating he or she is attracted to the same sex, but not engaging in sexual activity, should make him or her unwelcome in their congregation,” he said.

Ralph Reed, a conservative Christian and lifelong Scout, has helped the BSA arrange conversations with the faith community on the proposal, Smith said.

“We know many have strong religious beliefs about this issue, and the purpose of these discussions was to promote a dialogue based on mutual respect and a shared appreciation of Scouting,” he added.

But he acknowledged that there could be some tough times ahead for the organization founded in 1910.

“Regardless of the results of the vote, the membership policy will not match everyone’s personal preference. The Boy Scouts will undoubtedly face challenges; however, Scouting is bigger than this single issue, and good people can disagree and still work together to accomplish great things for youth,” he said.

But as Pack 215 plans the annual promotion ceremonies for the boys at the end of the month, its future is unclear. If passed, the resolution would take effect Jan. 1, 2014, giving the pack some time to contemplate its next move.

“We're just like one big extended family and we talk and we know for a fact if Boy Scouts decides to change their policy we're going to lose our charter organization,” Gilley said. “We're stressed about that, but what eases my mind about it all ... (is that) we're still going to have this family group.”

If you are a current or former member of the Boy Scouts and would like to share your thoughts on how your troop, pack or council is handling the possibility of a change in the membership policy, you can email the reporter at miranda.leitsinger@msnbc.com. We may use some comments for a follow-up story, so please specify if your remarks can be used and provide your name, hometown, age, Boy Scout affiliation and a phone number.


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