By JIM SALTER
ST. LOUIS (AP) - The 2.3-million-member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is allowing its 6,200 individual congregations to decide for themselves whether to sponsor troops with the Boy Scouts of America.
Missouri Synod President Matthew C. Harrison released a letter on Monday advising congregations to make their own decisions. The letter followed an announcement earlier this year by the Boy Scouts of America that it was changing its policy to admit gay youths to scouting programs.
Harrison said in in a statement that the church had signed an agreement with the Boy Scouts allowing the church to remove from troops boys who advocate what the Synod calls "a moral view that is inconsistent with the church."
Congregations that wish to participate with scouting "should do so only after careful consideration and with a commitment to provide guidance and direction for the troop," Harrison wrote.
But Harrison also noted that both the Boy Scouts of America and Trail Life USA, a Christian-based alternative scouting program, seek to instill wholesome, positive values in young men. "To this end, the church may be involved," he wrote.
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is based in St. Louis.
Boy Scouts of America spokesman Deron Smith said in a statement that the organization has "tremendous respect" for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod's congregations and their beliefs.
"We are thankful for our valuable and productive relationship on behalf of boys, young adults, and their families - a relationship that has held strong for more than 75 years and remains unchanged," Smith said. "We appreciate the opportunity to communicate with the Church and come to a mutual understanding. America needs Scouting, and we look forward to continuing our work together to accomplish great things for youth."
The May decision by the Boy Scouts has generated debate among many denominations. In June, the Southern Baptist Convention announced that it opposed the new policy. The denomination believes that marriage is between a man and a woman and condemns homosexuality as a sin.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports the new Boy Scouts policy. The Mormons sponsor more Scout units than any other organization.
The Boy Scouts of America website says more than 2.6 million boys are involved in scouting, along with more than 1 million adult leaders. About 70 percent of the 116,000 Scout units in the United States are sponsored by religious organizations.
Smith said less than 1 percent of the units dropped sponsorship after the May announcement.