Boy Scouts of America

An amicable parting? Joint statement on Mormon Church leaving Boy Scouts ignores values clashes

An amicable parting? Joint statement on Mormon Church leaving Boy Scouts ignores values clashes


What differences?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America issued a joint statement this week announcing an end to a century-old partnership between the two entities.

Go ahead and read the entire statement. See if you notice any hint of the clashes over values that brought the relationship to the breaking point:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America have been partners for more than 100 years. The Scouting program has benefited hundreds of thousands of Latter-day Saint boys and young men, and BSA has also been greatly benefited in the process. We jointly express our gratitude to the thousands of Scout leaders and volunteers who have selflessly served over the years in Church-sponsored Scouting units, including local BSA districts and councils.

In this century of shared experience, the Church has grown from a U.S.-centered institution to a worldwide organization, with a majority of its membership living outside the United States. That trend is accelerating. The Church has increasingly felt the need to create and implement a uniform youth leadership and development program that serves its members globally. In so doing, it will be necessary for the Church to discontinue its role as a chartered partner with BSA.

We have jointly determined that, effective on December 31, 2019, the Church will conclude its relationship as a chartered organization with all Scouting programs around the world. Until that date, to allow for an orderly transition, the intention of the Church is to remain a fully engaged partner in Scouting for boys and young men ages 8–13 and encourages all youth, families, and leaders to continue their active participation and financial support.

While the Church will no longer be a chartered partner of BSA or sponsor Scouting units after December 31, 2019, it continues to support the goals and values reflected in the Scout Oath and Scout Law and expresses its profound desire for Scouting’s continuing and growing success in the years ahead.

Nope, I didn't catch any sign of strain either. I suppose that's a real nice statement, from a public relations standpoint. 

Meanwhile, back in the real world ...

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Boys will be boys and now girls will be Boy Scouts. Any holy ghosts in this 'historic' news?

Boys will be boys and now girls will be Boy Scouts. Any holy ghosts in this 'historic' news?

This is huge news. Historic even.

At least that's how major news media outlets characterized the Boy Scouts of America's decision to accept girls.

To read accounts by national newspapers such as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, most everybody greeted this gender-friendly development with enthusiasm -- with the notable exception of the Girl Scouts (a separate organization not excited about the looming competition).

Is there a religion angle to this story? Several of them, in fact? (You think?)

Believe it or not, the question of how faith-based groups so prominent in Scouting -- think the Mormons, United Methodists, Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, etc. -- reacted to his change was conspicuously absent from the coverage I read. That's strange since about 70 percent of Scouting units are sponsored by religious groups.

Religion ghosts, anyone?

The lede from the New York Times:

The Boy Scouts of America announced plans on Wednesday to broadly accept girls, marking a historic shift for the century-old organization and setting off a debate about where girls better learn how to be leaders.
The Boy Scouts, which has seen dwindling membership numbers in recent decades, said that its programs could nurture girls as well as boys, and that the switch would make life easier for busy parents, who might prefer to shuttle children to a single organization regardless of gender.
“I’ve seen nothing that develops leadership skills and discipline like this organization,” said Randall Stephenson, the group’s national board chairman. “It is time to make these outstanding leadership development programs available to girls.”
The decision was celebrated by many women, but criticized by the Girl Scouts, which said that girls flourish in all-female groups.

The closest the Times gets to the holy ghost is right here:

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Is this a news story? National Catholic Scouting committee has rejected trans policy shift

Is this a news story? National Catholic Scouting committee has rejected trans policy shift

Welcome to another edition of what could become a regular feature in these confused times for mainstream journalism. The problem is that I don't know what we would call it.

We could call this feature "Got News?" However, we tried that already here at GetReligion and the concept never caught on. The whole idea was that there is often valid news -- often highly important news -- reported in alternative news publications (think denominational press services), yet these stories rarely seem to get covered in the mainstream press.

Then again, the "Got News?" concept doesn't really work when journalists in mainstream newsrooms spot a story, then cover that story, but then fail to offer follow-up reports that let news consumers know about important developments that same ongoing story.

As any experienced journalist knows, it is very rare for major story to break then just freeze. If there is a big news earthquake, there tend to be aftershocks. What would we call this concept -- Got Aftershocks?

This brings me to the Boy Scouts of America. Again.

The other day, I wrote a post about a New York Times report about the decision to begin allowing transgender boys to join the Boy Scouts. This was an interesting report in that -- rare for the Gray Lady -- it focused almost totally on the views of conservative critics of the change and contained next to zero material from voices on the winning side of the debate.

I called that post: "Boy Scouts push trans button: So in which pulpits and pews are people celebrating?" In other words, for reporters covering religion, there were big questions that needed to be answered as the aftershocks of this decision spread into the religious groups that host Scout troops. While some conservatives would head to the exit doors, I wondered how people would respond on the religious left and in the often muddled middle. Thus, I wrote:

If you know anything about Scouting, you know that -- in addition to the Baptists -- the key players are Catholics, Mormons, United Methodists and, to a lesser degree, Episcopalians. So if the goal is to figure out what happens next with this story, readers really needed to hear from leaders in those flocks, especially from progressives who actively supported the changes.
In other words, we need to hear from the winners who now get to put these policies into action. 

Soon after this, there was an important reaction from a major religious group -- as in the Roman Catholic committee that works with Scouting programs. This would be important news, right?

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Boy Scouts push trans button: So in which pulpits and pews are people celebrating?

Boy Scouts push trans button: So in which pulpits and pews are people celebrating?

So the Boy Scouts have made another move to dance with the Sexual Revolution, opening the doors to transgender boys.

As you would expect, there are all kinds of religion angles to this important culture-wars story. As you would expect, the New York Times led with words of praise from "critics of the organization who for years have called for more inclusive membership rules." The story also understands that, while some people celebrated the decision, others were grieving.

The twist in this particular Times report -- "Conservatives Alienated by Boy Scouts’ Shift on Transgender Policy" -- was that the story focused almost exclusively on the voices of the losers, thus missing a key element of where this story may be headed in the future.

Yes, you read that right -- the Times pretty much ignored the views -- religious and cultural -- of key leaders on the victorious Religious Left. Maybe that angle will get ink in future coverage? Here is a crucial piece of background material, which follows extensive comments from the Rev. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention:

Whether the new rules would lead to an influx of transgender scouts seemed uncertain. Besides one highly publicized case of a transgender boy being excluded from a New Jersey Scouting unit, there had been limited attention on the issue before this week. Boy Scouts officials declined to be interviewed, and would not comment on how many youths the decision might affect.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Boy Scouts said it was “no longer sufficient” to rely on a birth certificate to determine gender. “The B.S.A. is committed to identifying program options that will help us truly serve the whole family,” said the spokeswoman, Effie Delimarkos, adding that those efforts would remain “true to our core values, outlined in the Scout Oath and Law.”
For many years, the Boy Scouts have found themselves facing conflicting forces on issues of sexuality and inclusion. The Scouts contended with a pattern of declining membership, canceled corporate donations and public criticism over the group’s restrictions on gay youths before easing those rules in 2013. And the move this week to allow transgender youths was hailed by some as a positive, overdue step toward equality.

So the Southern Baptists -- a major player in terms of churches hosting Scouting programs -- are disappointed and this latest BSA policy shift may push more religious conservatives toward the exit door (to alternative programs such as Trail Life USA.

But who are the other major players, on the religion side of this debate?

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A year after Boy Scouts' decision to allow gay adult leaders, some awkward language from AP

A year after Boy Scouts' decision to allow gay adult leaders, some awkward language from AP

Is the awkward, passive language intentional or just bad writing?

That's my question about a single line that stands out to me in an Associated Press story on the Boy Scouts of America.

A few of our posts at that time: here, here and here.

Kudos to the AP for revisiting the decision at the one-year mark. 

However, this is one of those stories that feels squishy — as in broad, sweeping statements supported by quicksand — from the beginning. Throughout the piece, there are more anecdotes than hard data. Feel free to read the whole piece and tell me if I'm wrong.

The lede:

NEW YORK (AP) — There were dire warnings for the Boy Scouts of America a year ago when the group's leaders, under intense pressure, voted to end a long-standing blanket ban on participation by openly gay adults. Several of the biggest sponsors of Scout units, including the Roman Catholic, Mormon and Southern Baptist churches, were openly dismayed, raising the prospect of mass defections.
Remarkably, nearly 12 months after the BSA National Executive Board's decision, the Boy Scouts seem more robust than they have in many years. Youth membership is on the verge of stabilizing after a prolonged decline, corporations which halted donations because of the ban have resumed their support, and the vast majority of units affiliated with conservative religious denominations have remained in the fold — still free to exclude gay adults if that's in accordance with their religious doctrine.

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Concerning Mormons sticking with Boy Scouts, a little creativity goes a long way

Concerning Mormons sticking with Boy Scouts, a little creativity goes a long way

Inverted pyramid, you're still the one.

A staple of news writing for more than a century, the inverted pyramid "puts the most newsworthy information at the top, and then the remaining information follows in order of importance, with the least important at the bottom."

For example, most news organizations went the straightforward, "who, what, when, where, why and how" route with Wednesday's news concerning the Mormon church sticking with the Boy Scouts of America.

From The Washington Post:

The Mormon church announced Wednesday that it will remain in the Boy Scouts, a month after the church expressed major concern about the Scouts lifting a ban on openly gay adult leaders.

From The New York Times:

The Mormon Church announced Wednesday that it would continue its close association with the Boy Scouts for now, ending speculation that it would sever ties because of the Scouts’s decision last month to let openly gay men and women serve as leaders.

From The Deseret News:

SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church will continue to charter the nation's largest Boy Scout organization.

From CNN:

(CNN) The Mormon church will remain affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America despite the organization's decision to allow gay troop leaders, church officials announced Wednesday.

From The Associated Press:

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Mormon church announced Wednesday it will maintain its longtime affiliation with the Boy Scouts despite the organization's decision to allow gay troop leaders — preventing what would have been a thundering blow to the national association.

None of those ledes will win a Pulitzer. But they get straight to the point. And in a click-happy world, that's usually helpful.

But what might happen if a journalist tried a different approach?

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Backpacker heads out into the woods and gives Trail Life USA a fair shot

Backpacker heads out into the woods and gives Trail Life USA a fair shot

There is the Boy Scouts of America story, which is complex and getting more so every minute -- especially among decision-makers for American Catholics and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Journalists are covering these stories, of course.

Then there is another story that could be covered, one that focuses on the people in religious flocks that are not interested in compromising on centuries of basic doctrines about marriage and family. There have been a few stories about these folks, but, so far, they have been rather thin and packed with stereotypes.

The former Boy Scout in me is interested in knowing what happens to the folks who have left. I'm interested -- as an Eastern Orthodox layman -- in some of these other options because I know that many members of Orthodox parishes are starting to look for ways out of the Boy Scouts. But do they want to join some kind of hyper-Evangelical Protestant alternative?

I'm happy to report that a freelancer linked to Backpacker Magazine -- a bible, of sorts, for people who wear out more than their share of hiking boots and rain slickers -- has turned out a serious story about Trail Life USA, one of the largest of the faith-friendly alternative camping-and-outdoors operations.

The key: This story focuses more on what boys are doing in these troops out in the woods, as opposed to what their lawyers are saying in courtrooms. There are sections of this piece that will make the palms of Unitarian Universalists or urbane Episcopalians sweat.

I also appreciated that reporter Patrick Doyle, who works out of Pittsburgh, didn't focus on a Trail Life unit in, let's say an evangelical megachurch in Bible Belt, Mississippi. He focused on a troop in a northern setting, based in a mainline Protestant flock. Here is the overture, focusing on the roots of this troop:

Boy Scout Troop 452 has been meeting at Concord United Methodist Church in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, as long as there’s been a troop, nearly 70 years.
But this isn’t the usual weekly gathering of the boys and their scoutmaster, Richard Greathouse. This meeting is just for their parents.

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Mormons, Southern Baptists and the new math facing the Boy Scouts of America

Mormons, Southern Baptists and the new math facing the Boy Scouts of America

When I was growing up as a Southern Baptist kid in Texas, it was almost unheard of for a healthy Southern Baptist congregation not to have a Boy Scouts troop for boys in its neighborhood. At the same time, almost all of these churches had a Royal Ambassadors program, a Southern Baptist-sponsored project built completely on biblical themes and promoting national and international missions work.

In other words, while the RAs were covering openly Christian material, the Boy Scouts were viewed as a semi-secular, but faith-friendly, organization that would not conflict with what the church was teaching.

That was a long, long time ago. I was shocked -- as the gay Boy Scouts coverage began to rise two or three years ago -- to discover that only 4,000 or so Southern Baptist Churches in America still had Boy Scout troops.

I thought of those numbers when reading a very interesting comment, by a long-time reader who is a Mormon, on Bobby's recent survey of coverage of the Boy Scouts vote to allow noncelibate gays to hold leadership roles in local troops, while also allowing religious groups to opt out of that change. John Lambert wrote:

In this article we learn that one of the LDS Church's issues is that outside of the US there are very few places it has managed to set up a working relationship with the boy scouts.
On the other hand, journalists have to bear in mind that the LDS relationship to the boy scouts is different than some groups. The LDs Church uses the boy scouts as the activity arm for the Aaronic priesthood. It is intertwined with the religious mission of the Church very deeply.

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Boy Scouts, church-based troops and the threat of lawsuits — about that big vote on gay leaders

Boy Scouts, church-based troops and the threat of lawsuits — about that big vote on gay leaders

Could the Boy Scouts of America's decision to accept gay leaders hasten the exodus of troops sponsored by conservative religious groups?

Could traditional believers who maintain ties with the Boy Scout face lawsuits if they limit scoutmaster roles to heterosexuals?

Those questions gain prominence in the aftermath of Monday's big vote.

The New York Times' latest lede is simple and to the point:

The Boy Scouts of America on Monday ended its ban on openly gay adult leaders.
But the new policy allows church-sponsored units to choose local unit leaders who share their precepts, even if that means restricting such positions to heterosexual men.

Despite this compromise, the Mormon Church said it might leave the organization anyway. Its stance surprised many and raised questions about whether other conservative sponsors, including the Roman Catholic Church, might follow suit.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply troubled by today’s vote,” said a statement issued by the church moments after the Scouts announced the new policy. “When the leadership of the church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August, the century-long association with scouting will need to be examined.”

But in what seems to be a trend lately, the Times had to run a correction on its original story (click here to see the previous versions)

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