Everybody Welcome. Seriously. Everybody.
We are an Open and Affirming Church, committed to supporting Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, and Transgendered people and their families in Denver and beyond. First Plymouth Congregational Church designated itself an Open and Affirming (ONA) church in 1999. Simply put, our policy is:
In keeping with the life and teaching of Christ Jesus, we joyfully and unconditionally welcome all people of any age, gender, race, culture, ability, or sexual orientation into our community of faith and affirm the worth of all people as unique individuals made in God’s image. We are open to the special gifts that each person brings and invite each one to participate in the life of our church.
On December 9, 2012, First Plymouth member and Eagle Scout, Rolf Asphaug delivered the following message during the worship service regarding the Boys Scouts of America’s recent decision to ban gays from participating in the Boy Scouts:
I’m an Eagle Scout and a life member of the National Eagle Scout Association. My wife and I have two boys, who are both Cub Scouts. I’m the chair of their local Cub Scout Pack, and as such I’m the one who signs on the dotted line that other adults are suitable to be Scout leaders.
Jane and I are members of First Plymouth Congregational Church, one of more than a thousand “open and affirming” congregations of the United Church of Christ. Nearly 30 years ago the UCC’s General Synod adopted an open and affirming resolution encouraging UCC congregations to welcome LGBT members into their life and programs. This isn’t a matter of politics or sociology, it’s a matter of religious faith grounded in the Bible. I could quote you chapter and verse from numerous books in the Bible supporting First Plymouth’s position on this, but I think this 2011 UCC declaration says it best:
“The Church acts faithfully when it regards all humans as equal in worth and dignity and when it seeks the just treatment of all in societies and by laws and public authorities.”
I’ll bet you’ve already guessed where I’m going with this…
As a gay Eagle Scout recently said: There are a thousand good things about Scouting. Yes, it’s sorta nerdy at times – when I put on my full uniform I look like Fred Flintstone at a Water Buffaloes convention. But there’s no other youth organization that’s so good at teaching boys enduring, bedrock values such as doing one’s best … honor … duty … helpfulness … trust … environmental conservation … fitness … racial diversity … religious diversity … and reverence.
The final words of the Scout Law, unchanged since 1911 are: “A Scout is reverent.” In other words, A Scout is true to his faith. And the second main principle of Scouting, the Scout Oath, also unchanged for generations, calls for Scouts to do their “duty to God” and to be “morally straight.”
Hmmm … “Morally straight.” What does that mean? Well, according to the Boy Scout Handbook, that term has nothing to do with straight versus gay. Instead the concept of being “morally straight” means: “Your relationships with others should be honest and open. You should respect and defend the rights of all people. Be clean in your speech and actions, and remain faithful in your religious beliefs.”
Consider those points carefully: To be a Scout means to be reverent, and being morally straight means to be honest and open, defending the rights of all people, and staying true to your religious beliefs.
This is why our family is so deeply troubled by a decision earlier this year by the Dallas, Texas leadership of the National Boy Scouts of America to publicly re-affirm a long-hidden official policy prohibiting anyone who is “openly and avowedly” gay or lesbian from being a Scout or a Scout leader. It’s incredibly sad and ironic that the Dallas decision would require us to disrespect the rights of others, to value dishonest and secretive behavior over living an open and honest life, and to be unfaithful to our religious beliefs.
This Dallas decision is sadly ignorant, discriminatory, and perpetuates the basest of stereotypes. It means that the tragic, furtive, hypocritical Larry Craigs and Ted Haggards of the world are welcome in Scouting … but as for honest, open, and deeply moral and spiritual Americans such as U.S. Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin, Congressman Jared Polis, Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Monica Marquez, and thousands of openly gay or lesbian American servicemen and women serving our country with honor in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines: sorry, but all of you are flatly banned from Scouting … precisely because you are living your lives openly and honestly in accordance with Scouting’s bedrock principles!
Hundreds if not thousands of Scouts and families have already left Scouting in protest over this recent decision. And in my family, we are praying about what to do. Before this decision was issued, I had intently read every bit of literature, taken every bit of training, reviewed every website I could find, and approved literally dozens of other adults for leadership positions in Scouting without ever seeing a hint of an official policy banning leaders because they are gay or lesbian. I’m not naïve: I knew that there are Scout units and Scouters out there who are personally extremely anti-gay. But for the local units I’ve been involved in, it just hasn’t been an issue. However, now that the folks in Dallas have seen fit to issue something official for the whole national organization, this civil rights, moral and yes, religious issue can no longer be ignored.
We haven’t wanted to quit Scouting – not yet, anyway. We feel that our boys are still too young to understand, and we’re still trying to work from within by sending letters and letting people know where we stand, just as there are some members on the national Scouting board of directors who are still trying to get Scouting to change its ways. From a 75,000 member Midwestern Scout council to little individual Packs and Troops, local Scout units have adopted their own nondiscrimination policies.
But ultimately, Scouting will be judged by its national policies. Please say a prayer for today’s Boy Scouts of America. Pray that its national leadership comes to understand what it means to be honest and open in one’s relationships with others, to respect and defend the rights of all people, to remain faithful in your religious beliefs, and to be reverent. Because those principles – not some misguided discriminatory beliefs, not a dorky uniform, and not a medallion on a strip of cloth – are what it truly means to be a Scout.