St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in East Greenwich, R.I., told Cub Scout Pack 4 last week it can no longer use church facilities because of the Boy Scouts of America’s reaffirmation earlier this summer of its exclusion of gay men and boys.
Pack 4 had been meeting in the St. Luke’s church hall for three years.
“We came to a unanimous conclusion that the appropriate response was to say to the institution that we as a community of faith cannot allow them as an institution to operate here and have their meetings here given that they have as part of their institutional policy discrimination,” said Rector Tim Rich of St. Luke’s in an interview Thursday.
Rich, , said he was disturbed by the BSA reaffirmation that same month that gay men and boys are not be allowed in scouting.
“From the lens of faith, which is how I view things, it rejects that certain of God’s children are unworthy to be included,” said Rich. “It’s quite the modern-day representation of everything I think Jesus fought against. So, from a faith standpoint I just really reject their decision.”
Rich met with the Vestry – the church’s lay leaders – and they voted unanimously in favor of his decision.
“If we’re going to talk the talk, we’ve got to walk the walk,” said St. Luke’s Senior Warden (head lay leader) Arlene Serdakowski. When asked if she thought it would turn some people off from St. Luke’s, Serdakowski said no.
Jeff Lehoullier, Pack 4 Cubmaster, said he understood the decision but that it put the pack in a difficult position.
"I understand the decision but it happened right before school started so we’re scrambling to find a way to meet," Lehoullier said. "I don’t agree with the Boy Scout policy. I’m a parent volunteer trying to provide fun activities for the boys every month."
He said Pack 4 doesn't discriminate. "Our little group is not discriminatory either. We don’t check credentials at the door."
Narragansett Council, the BSA affliate for Rhode Island, said in a statement it has challenged the national organization to make a thorough review of its policies.
"The Narragansett Council is proud of the leadership we have shown in seeking to have our membership policy reviewed. However, we must abide by the National Council's decision, while we continue to seek further consideration," the statement read. "To the best of our knowledge, no one, neither scout nor scouter, in the Narragansett Council has been dismissed due to sexual orientation."
Tim Rich’s last position was as assistant to Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. He admits his 10 years in that role shaped his thinking.
"Frankly, the only way there’s going to be systemic change around discrimination when it comes to sexual orientation is when the straight white males are willing to stand up and say, 'This isn’t okay,'" Rich said.
He said he knows how difficult this issue can be for people.
"The rhetoric can get ugly. I mean, I get that people feel passionately about this issue," Rich said. "I want to engage this issue in a way that is respectful. I’m not looking to make a big public stink about this. I want to do this constructively."
To that end, Rich made a distinction between individual scouts and the BSA institution.
"I recognize how many kids are positively formed by their participation in the Scouts, are inspired to do good work by the Scouts. So I would support any individual youth who comes to me to do their God and Country badge, to do their Eagle Scout project or to do community service. I don’t want individual kids to feel like they’re turned away," he said.
"So, I want to support the youth but I want to challenge the institution at the same time."
Rich also noted what he sees as an incongruity in the Scouts policy.
"One of the leading causes for suicide for adolescent boys is as they struggle around sexual orientation and feel ashamed and feel inadequate," he said. "It boggles my mind that an institution that has great concern for the well-being of boys would take a position that is so harmful to a significant percentage of boys.”
Pack 4 East Greenwich is still without a place to meet, Lehoullier said. He said he welcomed any suggestions.
Editor's Note: In the name of full disclosure, readers should know I am a member of St. Luke's Church. In addition, my 19-year-old son was a member of Pack 4 and I was, in fact, one of his den leaders.