The Scouts had reaffirmed the no-gays policy as recently as last year and appeared to have strong backing from the conservative religious denominations that sponsor large numbers of Scout units. Under the proposed change, they could continue excluding gays.
Before Monday's announcement, the BSA conferred with some leaders of these religious groups, including the Rev. Frank Page, who leads the Southern Baptist Executive Committee.
According to Roger S. Oldham, a spokesman for the executive committee, Page then wrote to the Scouts "expressing his tremendous dismay at the decision."
"They had been working for months on this proposal and just days before they informed us," Oldham said in a telephone interview. "We would anticipate that there would be a very significant backlash to this as churches re-evaluate whether scouting comports with their values."
If the Scouts proceed with the change, Oldham said, SBC leaders were likely to issue a statement "expressing disappointed and encouraging our churches to support alternative boys organizations."
Neither the Catholic Church nor the Mormons' Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued official statements as to how they would respond.
Said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "The bishops hope the Boy Scouts will continue to work under the Judeo-Christian principles upon which they were founded and under which they have served youth well."
Were the change adopted, said BSA spokesman Smith, "there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation."
"BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families," he said. "Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs."