Institute on Religion and Democracy
UM AGENCY OPPOSES BOY SCOUTS AND URGES CLEMENCY FOR CONVICTED MURDERER
October 12, 1999
United Methodism's public policy arm [The Board of Church and Society] has voted overwhelmingly to support the New Jersey Supreme Court's ruling to compel the Boy Scouts to accept homosexual Scout leaders.
At its October meeting in Washington, DC, about three fourths of the Board's directors voted to "affirm" the New Jersey court's decision and oppose the Boy Scouts' "exclusion" of "gays" from leadership roles. The Board claimed the Boy Scouts' policy conflicts with the United Methodist Church's Social Principles, which oppose "discrimination" based on "sexual orientation."
The Board's resolution made no mention of the United Methodist Church's opposition to homosexual practice. Nor did it observe the irony that the Boy Scouts' policy is nearly identical to the church's own policy against clergy who practice homosexuality.
Only 8 or 9 directors out of 35 present voted against the resolution. Several spoke strongly against it.
Wayne Banks, a layman from Buffalo, said his 30 years of work with the Boy Scouts led him to strongly affirm the Scouts' policy as a defense of children. He called the resolution "poorly constructed" and "one-sided" against the Boy Scouts. Banks also complained that the resolution was unveiled before the Board at the last minute, giving no time for thoughtful consideration or discussion.
Michael Mattox, a district superintendent from Little Rock, also warned that the resolution would place the Board in a "position of manipulation." He asked that it be tabled until a future Board meeting, but a majority of the directors voted against this proposed referral.
James Swanson, a pastor from Columbus, Georgia, said the resolution falsely claimed the Boy Scouts' policy was at odds with United Methodist beliefs. He commended the Boy Scouts for holding up a standard of sexual morality for young men, and said the policy did not just discriminate against homosexuals. Swanson also complained that the resolution's misleadingly spoke of the church's "partnership" with the Boy Scouts. That partnership is between the Scouts and United Methodist Men, he affirmed, and did not involve the Board of Church and Society.
The General Commission of United Methodist Men, at its directors meeting last month, reaffirmed its support for the Boy Scouts' policy. The Commission had previously signed a friend of the court brief on behalf of the Boy Scouts case in New Jersey and plans to do the same if the case goes before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Donald Hayashi, an associate general secretary of the General Council on Ministries, was present as an observer at the Board meeting and reminded the directors of the stance adopted by United Methodist Men. He also reminded the Board of the United Methodist stance that homosexual practice is "incompatible" with Christian teaching.
But Bishop Melvin Talbert of Sacramento said the stance of the United Methodist Men made it imperative for the Board to voice its opposition to the Boy Scouts' policy. The bishop urged that the resolution should be made available to the media.
The Rev. Bill Barney, a pastor from Albany, also spoke for the resolution, saying he knew of "exemplary" homosexual Scoutmasters and of heterosexual Scoutmasters who were pedophiles. He claimed the United Methodist Church only opposes homosexual practice but not homosexuality itself.
At its last meeting earlier this year, the Board voted to ask next year's General Conference to delete United Methodism's opposition to homosexual practice.
In another potentially controversial action, the Board without debate reaffirmed its support for a presidential clemency for convicted murder Leonard Peltier, a militant activist for American Indian causes who has been in prison for 20 years. The Board's general secretary, Thom White Wolf Fassett, said he had recently spoken to President Clinton and had given him a dossier on the Peltier case.
Fassett also said that the Board in November will make office space available in the United Methodist Building in Washington, DC for activists who will be lobbying for Peltier's release. The general secretary noted he had given numerous radio interviews to advocate on behalf of Peltier.
Peltier is serving two life sentences for the murders of two FBI agents in 1978 in South Dakota. The agents were searching for a colleague of Peltier's who was wanted for torture and robbery when they entered a compound where Peltier and other American Indian Movement militants resided. Peltier and his colleagues opened fire on the agents.
The two FBI agents were first wounded from a distance and then executed at close-range by shots into their faces. One was kneeling and apparently surrendering, while the other lay unconscious. Peltier fled to Canada but was extradited by Canadian authorities. He at first claimed responsibility for the killings but now professes that although he did shoot at the agents, he did not kill them. Prosecutors at his trial claimed that Peltier killed the agents because he incorrectly assumed they sought his arrest. At that time there was an outstanding warrant against Peltier for the attempted killing of a police officer in Milwaukee.
Appeals courts have upheld his conviction three times and the U.S. Supreme Court has twice declined to intervene. FBI Director Louis Freeh has publicly opposed any early release for Peltier, and two associations that include 15,000 current and former FBI agents have opposed any clemency, calling Peltier a "vicious thug and murderer with no respect or regard for human life." But Peltier has been acclaimed by a host of international left-wing organizations and movie stars, who claim he is a "political prisoner" and a "leader" of American Indians.
The Board of Church and Society is asking United Methodists to write President Clinton urging an immediate clemency for Peltier. Fassett compared Peltier's case to the President's recent clemency offer to 16 imprisoned Puerto Rican terrorists whose cause the Board had championed for several years.