After the Boy Scouts? For a few, camping with doctrine

When considering the forces pulling at the Boy Scouts of America, one thing journalists really needed to consider was a simple statistical chart that can be found (.pdf) on the organization's homepage. Here are the crucial numbers found at the top of this file: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- 37,856.

United Methodist Church -- 10,868.

Catholic Church -- 8,397.

Presbyterian Church -- 3,597.

Lutheran Church -- 3,827.

Baptist churches -- 3,981.

These are these numbers? That would be the number of Scouting units hosted by these particular religious groups.

I am well aware, as I have written in a previous post, that this chart doesn't tell us everything in terms of Scouting's internal divisions and tensions. Once again, that is this "Presbyterian Church"? How many of those are liberal Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations, as opposed to congregations in the Presbyterian Church in America, or the Evangelical Presbyterian Church or, for that matter, more doctrinally conservative PCUSA flocks in the Sunbelt or elsewhere in flyover country?

The same question can be applied to that "Lutheran Church" reference. Are these part of the liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or the conservative Missouri-Synod Lutheran Church? And those "Baptist churches," are they Southern Baptist, American Baptist, independent Baptists, from one of the two National Baptist conventions or what?

But one thing is certain, given the realities shown in that chart. In keeping with trends in its own work, the Mormon leadership endorsed the policy of accepting openly gay Scouts, but no openly gay Scout leaders. The Mormon compromise was victorious.

Now, who comes next?

The United Methodists, that's who. Outside the Sunbelt, there are few United Methodist congregations that will not accept, if not hail, this decision (unless they believe it does not go far enough).

Then how about your generic suburban American Catholic congregations?

In most of America, ordinary Catholic parishes rarely take stands about anything. Unless bishops revolt, I would expect very few Catholic parishes to shun the Scouts. Some will. Most will not. Watch the bishops, because there could be a story there -- but I doubt it.

So what's the big religion story in this? Essentially, the Mormons won the day. If anything, this vote represents another fascinating step in the ongoing journey of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints into the safe mushy middle of American religion, that great shopping mall of the soul.

The BSA leaders decided to go with the Mormons, United Methodists and suburban American Catholics. The clear losers? The Southern Baptists and other traditionalist groups, including America's few truly conservative Catholic parishes.

So did anyone out there in mainstream media land pay attention to the religion groups and their role in hosting Scout units? Are you kidding me? This is a legal, cultural and political story.

It the religion angle is of interest to you, there is no need, whatsoever, to look at the muted victory story in The New York Times.

The Tribune Newspapers daily report that ran in The Baltimore Sun (the newspaper that lands in my front yard) is a bit better, in that it features quotes from a wider variety of voices -- especially among conservatives who are planning to to open alternative organizations to compete with the Scouts. I found this section of the story especially poignant:

Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, said the Boy Scouts will next need to address the issue of allowing gay troop leaders, but called the vote a "good first step."

"They're moving on so they can refocus the organization's mission on developing young leaders, and not to have the first thing you associate with them be their ban on gay youth and gay leaders," Evans said.

Opponents vowed to fight the new policy, which they warned would damage flagging membership and funding. Some of the protesters who opposed lifting the ban had gathered in Boy Scout uniforms on the road leading into the hotel. A few returned Thursday, looking crestfallen.

"It's a disaster," said William Tarbell, 68, a Boy Scout unit commissioner from Reno, taking off his 60-year-old broad-brimmed Scouting cap. "I will no longer wear it." ...

John Stemberger, president of the conservative Florida Family Policy Council, said opponents planned to meet in Louisville, Ky., next month to discuss forming an alternate youth group "that does have timeless values." While standing at a news conference in his Scout uniform, he announced, "This will be the last time I wear this uniform."

And at the very end, there was another nod towards the next stage in this, yes, religion-linked story.

Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, said, "Our sadness for the Scouting organization as a whole cannot be overstated." Southern Baptist leaders have been gearing up to absorb boys who leave Scouting into their own youth group, the Royal Ambassadors.

In other words, in an age in which the U.S. Justice Department continues to attempt to separate "freedom of worship" from "freedom of religion," journalists can expect openly doctrinal, religious, niche forms of Scouting to emerge -- with little crossover between the competing religious flocks. How many traditional Catholics will send their children to Royal Ambassador events, year after year? Not many.

This angle was, no surprise here, anticipated by Religion News Service the other day -- in an Adelle Banks news feature about existing religious groups for boys. Check it out.

Oh, and one more thing: In terms of moral theology, both Catholics and Mormons emphasize that same-sex orientation is not the same thing as same-sex activity or conduct.

Thus, has anyone asked the leaders of the new Boy Scouts of America how they are defining -- in written guidelines communicated to churches, parents and unit leaders -- that crucial term "openly gay"?

Just asking. There could be a story there. You think?

Please respect our Commenting Policy