When the Boy Scouts of America march off in the direction of gay rights on Jan. 1, an Auburn scoutmaster and his troop won’t be with them.
Scoutmaster Jim Brass says his troop, No. 835, is leaving the Boy Scouts because of the national organization’s decision to accept openly gay members starting on New Year’s Day.
“I met with our board and parents and the older scouts, and everybody felt uncomfortable with it,” Brass told The News Tribune on Saturday. “To stay in the Scouts would have said we endorse it.”
The BSA’s new policy was approved in May, with support from 60 percent of the 1,400 voting members of the organization’s National Council.
The vote followed bitter nationwide debate and was accompanied by an announcement that the BSA would continue to exclude openly gay adults from leadership positions.
Under the new membership policy, youths can no longer be barred from the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts or coed Venturers program solely because of sexual orientation.
Brass said that when the BSA made the decision to allow gay youths, he called a meeting of the 835 Troop Committee, made up of parents and community members.
“It was pretty instant,” he said. “Everybody understood we needed to do something. At the same time, all of our hearts are broken because we have so much invested in the Scouting program.”
The troop will operate under the Auburn-based nonprofit organization Help Northwest, which Brass already manages.
Brass, 57, said he started in Scouting when he was 8 years old with Troop 64 in Milton.
“I haven’t moved very far,” he said.
He spent most of his career working in social service, he said. Currently, he said, he manages properties in Auburn and is a volunteer pastor at Pacific Community Church.
“I learned some of life’s most valuable things in Scouts — things that schools don’t teach,” he said. “One of the things in the Scout law is to be reverent, and we feel that Scouting is now denying that.”
Brass said he’s been the scoutmaster of Troop 835 for six years. Currently there are 12 members of the troop, he said — six girls and six boys from the Pacific, Milton and Auburn areas.
When his troop goes camping, he said, boys’ and girls’ tents are set up a short distance apart. For them, he said, doing something similar with openly gay scouts would be “too weird.”
“Our kids said the idea creeped them out,” he said. “We feel we have to obey God rather than people. We always have to be faithful to what God calls us to do.”
Brass said he has received no response from the national Boy Scouts organization with regard to his troop’s action.
“Our object is not to harm Scouting in any way,” Brass said. “We would love to have them change their policy and for us to go back to them.”
Brass said he’s frustrated with the way Troop 835’s defection has been portrayed in news reports. They tend to simplify his group’s reasoning, he said, and make it appear they are not loving people.
“It might appear we’re homophobic,” he said, “but that’s absolutely not the case. It’s just that we’re not going to endorse a lifestyle that goes against biblical principles. That doesn’t mean that we don’t love anybody. We just don’t endorse that lifestyle.
“If somebody walked up to my door right now, and he was a drag queen,” Brass said, “I would do everything I could for that person. I would give him food or whatever it was he needed.
“That doesn’t mean I’m going to take him on a camping trip with us.”
There are about 1 million adult leaders and 2.6 million youth members in Scouting in the U.S.
Of the roughly 110,000 Scout units, 70 percent are sponsored by religious organizations, including several conservative denominations that had long supported the BSA’s exclusion of gay youths and gay adults.
Rob Carson: 253-597-8693
The Associated Press contributed to this report.