In the wake of the rising controversy over the decision of Father Brian Grady, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Crystal Lake to end his church’s sponsorship of a Boy Scout Troop and bar them from its facilities, the Social Justice Committee of Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry, has issued a plea for tolerance, compassion, and inclusion.
“We were saddened and disappointed by the sudden unilateral action of Father Grady. Not only did it adversely affect the troop and its young men, it was a significant over reaction based on what appears to be his individual misinformation and prejudices,” said Patrick Murfin, Social Justice Committee Chair in a statement for the press.
The recent Boy Scouts of America (BSA) National Council decision to allow gay youth to become and remain Scouts only offers that option to local unit sponsors, Murfin pointed out. Troops sponsored by religious organizations with doctrinal or moral objections are not required to admit gay Scouts. “Nothing forced Father Grady or his church to admit them,” he pointed out. “He apparently is upset that other sponsoring bodies, including churches with a more welcoming attitude, would be able to make a decision in conformity to their own beliefs and moral understanding.”
Grady was the first Catholic pastor in the Chicago area known to have banned Scouts. Neither Bishops of the Church or Rockford Diocese officials have issued any such instructions. While critical of the BSA decision most have been supportive of continued Catholic participation.
“Unfortunately, this decision seems to have been made on the basis of personal prejudices and misinformation,” Murfin said. “His primary justification, in his own words seems to be ‘For a young boy to [be] placed in a situation where he has to share a tent or be exposed to other boys that are openly homosexual is not only unjust, but immoral.’ That reflects a gay panic over-reaction and a serious misunderstanding that equates homosexuality with predatory sexual behavior. That is not backed up by research and is the kind of stigma that has led to the isolation and despair of gay youth.”
The Committee applauded support by other religious bodies in the county for greater inclusiveness, including the offer of the McHenry County Jewish Congregation to host a troop. “Unfortunately the experience has so shocked the affected Scout Master that he is now afraid to seek sponsorship from another Church. Father Grady’s actions have succeeded in blackening the name of all religions.”
Murfin said that “we are disappointed that the recent BSA decision does not allow gay Scouts to continue with the program as adult leaders and volunteers. Wonderful Eagle Scouts who would have gone on to be role models for generations of youngsters will find themselves cut off from the program they love. Openly gay leaders would also offer support to isolated and fearful Scouts.”
Tree of Life recently has recently been a leader in support of marriage equality, including sponsoring high profile roadside vigils in McHenry, Crystal Lake, and Woodstock. The Unitarian Universalist Association to which the congregation belongs has long been a staunch supporter of equal rights for gays, lesbian, and transgender people and families. It has also been engaged in over a decade of conversation with the BSA over equal opportunity to participate in the program by gay youth and adults as well as atheists and non-traditional theists.
“Our minister, the Rev. Sean Parker Dennison, is a transgender man who exemplifies the loving and inclusive spirit of our faith. Our families, children, and youth all look to him with respect and affection. And our Youth Group offers a supportive environment for everyone, including those bullied and marginalized because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation.”
For more information call the Tree of Life office at 815 322-2464, Patrick Murfin at 815 814-5645 or visit treeoflifeuu.org .