The Tennessee Fellowship of Christian Athletes apologized Friday for the way it handled the case of a LDS teen who was not allowed to accept his school's FCA Male Athlete of the Year award because of his religious affiliation.
The state's FCA chapter said, however, it stands by its decision.The FCA said in a statement it "deeply regrets that the handling of the award nomination . . . has caused pain to that student and his family, to the FCA Huddle, and to others in the school."
Aaron Walker, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was voted athlete of the year by his peers at Page High School. He has participated in FCA activities for the past two years and is a member of his school's basketball and tennis teams.
LDS Church officials in Salt Lake City said the incident was "another sad case of exclusion by definition."
Church spokesman Don LeFevre added that the FCA's decision "would be amusing if it were not so disclosing, for it tells us more about the organization than about the young man."
Walker was to have received the award at a banquet Thursday but was told about two weeks ago he could not receive it because he is LDS.
"The guidelines for the nomination were not communicated clear-ly on the front end," the FCA's statement said. "We have learned from this experience and will carefully spell out the guidelines at the beginning of our nomination process in the future.
"Further, while there are many similarities between the beliefs of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Mormon church, there are fundamental differences in our beliefs that led to this decision."
LeFevre, however, disputes those differences. `
`The very foundation, history and name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bear ample testimony that God the Father and his son, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to atone for the sins of mankind, are at the very center of the theology and worship that Aaron Walker embraces," he said.
Steve Robinson, Tennessee's state director of the FCA, said Friday the organization's leaders plan to meet Monday with representatives of Page High to clarify their position, and declined to comment further.
Walker and his FCA classmates skipped Thursday's awards dinner in protest.
Walker, 18, told The Tennessean of Nashville he had never hidden his religious affiliation.
"I've filled out FCA forms before and said I was a Mormon, but I guess they just didn't look at it or something," he said. "I don't think I'm going to be involved in the FCA anymore, they just totally turned me off."
Kevin Harlan, national FCA senior vice president for programs at the organization's Kansas City headquarters, said the policy is nationwide.
He said the FCA does not consider Mormons to be Christians, and its national policy prohibits LDS Church members from holding FCA offices or receiving awards.
Walker was vice president of his FCA group.