Boy Scouts: Hollywood vs. some vague army of Americans

On one level, the recent Reuters "special report" on the financial issues haunting the 10,600-acre Summit Bechtel Family National Reserve in West Virginia breaks quite a bit of new and important ground about the current challenges faced by the Boy Scouts of America. It's a must read and it's clear that this expensive project is -- to one degree or another -- in trouble. But on another level, it's just plain haunted. Period.

The larger context for this hot-button story is crucial, of course.

BSA membership totals are down and, to its credit, the Reuters team includes one fact on that front that has been missing in most other reports about this era in Boy Scout life -- the reality that an organization offering camping, exercise, family values and wholesome educational projects is being forced to compete with the video game and Internet culture. Are there merit badges for hitting top levels in Halo and World of Warcraft?

The story also, of course, has to deal with the ticking time bomb of gay rights and the attempts by Boy Scout leaders to please the cultural, moral and religious left. Here is one of the crucial passages:

The Summit shortfall is part of a broader financial crunch facing the Boy Scouts as the organization shrinks. That decline has been exacerbated by the protracted gay-membership battle. A compromise adopted by Scout leaders in May -- allow gay youth, but not gay adults -- appears to be doing little so far to ease the pressure.

Conservative troops are threatening to secede; one splinter group said this week it is forming a rival to the Scouts. Liberal troops are meanwhile establishing more-inclusive policies. Many corporate donors continue to sit on the sidelines, even as some regional Scout councils face severe deficits, according to Boy Scout executives and council members across the country.

“We cannot support an organization that has a policy that is discriminatory,” said Joanne Dwyer, a spokeswoman for CVS Caremark, which stopped all funding to local Boy Scout councils and the national organization a decade ago.

The story does a very good job of describing the powerful legal, financial and cultural forces that are pushing against the Boy Scout leadership from the left. Special attention is given -- and justifiably so -- to the cultural principalities and powers based near that big white sign on a hillside in Southern California. Want to drop a big name?

Will the Boy Scouts ever be able to get a returned phone call from ET's master? How about the Middle American powers that be at The United Way?

Maybe not.

Thirteen years ago, the Los Angeles Boy Scouts Council was flush with donations from well-heeled charities and wealthy Hollywood film directors.

Then, in 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Boy Scouts of America had the right to bar gays from their ranks. The United Way, which once gave $1 million a year to the local council, ended its funding, according to a former council president.

Some of the Hollywood glitterati also fled -- including film director Steven Spielberg, an Eagle Scout who once credited the Boy Scouts with inspiring him to make his first film. After the Supreme Court decision, Spielberg resigned from the Boy Scouts’ advisory board and stopped contributing to the local council, stating that it was “a real shame” to see the Scouts “actively and publicly participating in discrimination.”

A representative for Spielberg said the director had no statement to make on whether he would resume participating in the Scouts.

So, what about the other side of the equation? Who are the people who are tugging at the Boy Scouts from the moral and cultural right, trying to get the historically family and faith-friendly group to stay the course?

Alas, the forces on this side of the story are given a simple political label -- "conservatives." That's all, folks.

What about religion and the thousands of Scouting branch organizations hosted by religious congregations? It's like this crucial online chart (.pdf here) doesn't exist.

Search the story for "Mormon" and what do you get? Zip.

Search the story for "Baptist" and what do you get? Zero.

Search the word for "Catholic" and what do you get? Nihilum (OK, or nusquam).

As far as that goes, there is no coverage given to the fact that religious groups that lean toward the cultural left are also involved in these debates. Search for "United Methodists" and what do you get? I think you already know the answer to that, since most journalists seem to assume that the religious left does not exist (except when these denominations hold their summer meetings to debate gay-rights resolutions).

To my amazement, this report never addresses the role that religion has played in the history of Scouting.

So what we have here is a struggle between two powerful camps in American coverage -- "conservatives" vs. a whole lot of interesting secular groups. And that whole Boy Scout oath thing, the controversial language about faith?

On my honor I will do my best To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

This has nothing to do with the context for this story, for the forces that are shaping this Boy Scout era of tension and decline. Religion? Not worth mentioning.

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