The Boy Scouts' decision to include girls who identify as boys in their programs is a tragic but predictable step, said conservative Christian leaders.
"Tragically, the Boy Scouts seem to be continuing their trajectory toward embracing the moral priorities of the Sexual Revolution," said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "Many of us predicted that earlier decisions by the organization were the beginning of an organizational reinvention and hoped we were wrong. Those fears have now been justified.
"The church must be absolutely clear about God's good and beautiful design for men and women, even when our most cherished public institutions fail to do so," Moore told Baptist Press in written comments.
The Boy Scouts of America announced on Jan. 30 that it would accept transgender members. In a written statement, the BSA said it would no longer base eligibility for its programs on a child's birth certificate but on the gender identity designated in applying for acceptance.
"For more than 100 years, the Boy Scouts of America, along with schools, youth sports and other youth organizations, have ultimately deferred to the information on an individual's birth certificate to determine eligibility for our single-gender programs," the BSA said in its announcement. "However, that approach is no longer sufficient as communities and state laws are interpreting gender identity differently, and these laws vary widely from state to state.
"Starting today, we will accept and register youth in the Cub and Boy Scout programs based on the gender identity indicated on the application," the BSA stated.
A BSA spokeswoman told BP churches and religious organizations that partner with the Boy Scouts "will continue to have the right to make decisions based on religious beliefs. Additionally, we will work with families to find local Scouting units that are the best fit for their children."
The new policy followed two other dramatic departures in the past four years from century-old policies related to sexuality:
• In 2013, the BSA voted to permit openly homosexual scouts.
• In 2015, it approved the inclusion of openly gay and bisexual adults as unit leaders and employees.
The BSA protected the right of religious organizations to make decisions in accordance with their beliefs and to bar individuals living a homosexual lifestyle.
As with the other policy changes, the latest BSA action again drew dismay and opposition—and the possibility more scouts and sponsoring organizations will abandon Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and related programs for boys.
John Stemberger—chairman of the board of Trail Life USA, an alternative, Christian organization for boys that was formed in 2013—described the latest BSA decision as "profoundly sad but inevitable."
BSA leadership "assured its membership less than four years ago when they voted to allow openly gay boys in the program that this would never happen," he said in a written statement. "Now untold thousands of boys in Scouting will be directly exposed to the serious psychological confusion that is characterized by those claiming to be transgender."
Stemberger called for "great compassion for children suffering from gender dysphoria while getting them proper counseling and professional help." The Boy Scouts, however, are "encouraging and facilitating a recognized mental disorder that has far reaching consequences to the health and safety of children."
He also expressed concern about the "clear child protection issue" caused by boys and biological girls potentially "showering, dressing and camping in tents together."
"It's simply stunning that a leading youth organization which parents entrust the protection of their children with has opted to again appease political activists rather than follow clear, common-sense best practices for child protection," said Stemberger, who also is president of the Florida Family Policy Council.
Ted Spangenberg Jr., president of the Association of Baptists for Scouting (ABS), told BP he still encourages Baptist churches to charter Boy Scout units as a means of ministry.
"The fields are clearly 'white unto harvest,'" Spangenberg said in written comments for BP. "All Christian churches might ponder the question of 'what are we doing to minister to families struggling with transgender issues?'
"A Baptist church which has the courage, insight, and inspiration to charter a Cub Scout pack, a Boy Scout troop, or a Venture crew as a method of outreach and harvest in their community—to all of its children, adolescents, and youth and their families—deserves our appreciation and support," Spangenberg said.
As Scout leaders selected by such a church—"based on that church's standards—serve in these Scout units, they have a unique opportunity to be obedient to the Great Commission given by our Savior," he said.
"There is no doubt in my mind that all children, adolescents, and youth, particularly those who struggle with sexual orientation and gender identity—and the parents who struggle with their children in all aspects of their life— have a need for the help and hope that is available through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the ministry of congregations that are His," Spangenberg said.
About 60 percent of the ABS membership is Southern Baptist and the rest other types of Baptists, he said.
In addition to Trail Life USA, some Southern Baptist leaders have suggested Royal Ambassadors and Challengers as alternatives to Boy Scouts. Royal Ambassadors, also known as RAs, is the Southern Baptist missions organization for boys in grades one to six, while Challengers is for young men in grades seven to 12.
In 2013, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting responded to the BSA's decision to include openly gay scouts by adopting a resolution expressing "our continued opposition to and disappointment in the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to change its membership policy."
Messengers to the 2014 convention approved a resolution regarding transgender identity that "affirm[ed] God's good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one's self-perception." The resolution "regard[ed] our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of Almighty God and therefore condemn[ed] acts of abuse or bullying committed against them."
The resolution also said: "We invite all transgender persons to trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the Gospel."
The BSA reports it has nearly 2.3 million members and about 960,000 volunteers. Trail Life USA says it has 700 troops in 48 states.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.