BOY SCOUTS

On Boy Scouts, Tampa church pulls welcome mat

 
 
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carlton@tampabay.com

It is an old church, one of those Tampa stunners you happen upon along Hyde Park’s cobbled streets red-bricked and stain-glassed, a church of gleaming wood floors and a sanctuary that makes you whisper. This church has weathered nearly 90 years of a city growing up around it.

And for decades, the tall church between downtown Tampa and its wealthiest neighborhoods has sponsored the proud Boy Scout Troop 4, a bit of history in itself.

Over nearly a century, thousands of Scouts learned about rowing and camping and friendship in Troop 4 before they went off to become a city’s fathers and grandfathers, its lawyers and leaders.

Then, four years ago, the old First Christian Church sold and became Holy Trinity Presbyterian.

Last May, the Boy Scouts of America voted in a policy still reverberating across the country, saying no Scout could be kept out simply for being gay.

It seemed a no-brainer to those of us who believed Scouting was about mentoring all kinds of kids, but fallout from more conservative churches was not unexpected.

So last week word came to Troop 4 from the church that had long been its home: By year’s end, no more stacking canoes, displaying trophies or holding meetings in the old “Scout hut” they built at the church back in 1963.

If gays are officially welcome in your midst, you are no longer welcome in ours.

The letter tried to be nice. Church leaders called the Scouts “kind, responsible occupants.” But there was that “unpleasantness occasioned by the Boy Scout policy change,” putting the Boy Scouts of America at “cross-purposes with our commitment to the Scriptures.” You understand.

Apparently that part in the Boy Scout oath pledging “duty to God” wasn’t enough. The Scouts were out.

Which begs the obvious question:

Is it Christian to kick them out due to this newly inclusive policy because it includes those of whom you disapprove?

Or more succinctly: What would Jesus do?

Calls poured in to Pastor Steve Casselli last week, equal parts supportive and definitely not. He says the decision was difficult, but it was the Boy Scouts of America that changed, not the church. And that’s true.

“So what would Jesus do?” he says to my question. “Jesus would speak the truth, and love, and he would not withhold the hard edges of his truth.”

Despite that historic, controversial vote, 97 percent of the organizations that charter Scouting troops in eight counties including Hillsborough and Pasco are staying put right now. And not to worry for the brave Scouts of Troop 4 and whether they will have a place to meet besides next to a campfire. Former scoutmaster Brian FitzGerald says they have gotten calls and emails about “a number of possibilities.” Still it seems a sad end to some history.

So maybe this is like a Biblical parable, one about hope for changing minds and hearts over time, even ones locked inside a very old church.

Sue Carlton is a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times.

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