Asking the Boy Scout questions that matter the most

If you know anything about the politics of gay rights, you know that there is absolutely nothing that the Boy Scouts of American can do right now that will not lead to major divisions in their organization. The key force that will cause a future split is, of course, the deep divide among mainstream religious groups on the moral status of homosexual behavior.

There is no safe ground for the Boy Scouts, none whatsoever.

It’s very clear where American public opinion is headed, at the moment. Thus, there are few if any surprises in the media coverage of that new Washington Post-ABC News poll, which asks two questions related to the Boy Scouts debate. Let’s walk through a short Post “On Faith” blog item on the results:

A wide majority of Americans support the Boy Scouts of America’s proposal to admit gay scouts for the first time, and most oppose the organization’s plans to continue to bar gay adults from serving as scout leaders, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The century-old group’s National Council will gather later in May to vote on the plan, unveiled last month, which would allow gay scouts but maintain a ban on gay scout masters. In splitting the decision, the group may be trying to modernize while continuing to appeal to a diversity of views on homosexuality — seven in 10 scout groups are chartered by religious institutions.

So, with that seven-in-10 statistic, what are the most crucial follow-up questions that the authors of this poll needed to ask? It’s clear what the real issue is here, but it does not appear that the poll team was interested in the hard facts (poll .pdf here) behind the news.

Opposition to banning gay scout leaders ranges by religious group and along well-worn political fault lines. A 56 percent majority of Catholics oppose the continued ban on gay scout masters, a number that rises to 75 percent among people who identify as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular. By contrast, Protestants are closely divided, 49 percent supporting and 47 percent opposing the ban on gay scout leaders. While the new survey did not ask Protestants whether they identify as “born-again or evangelical Christians,” surveys have consistently shown evangelical Christians are more conservative than mainline protestants on issues of homosexuality.

Once again, it is absolutely useless to ask where American Catholics stand on just about anything without asking a detailed question about Mass attendance. It Boy Scout troops are hosted by Catholic parishes, that means that the key players in future decisions are almost certain to be people — parents with children — who not only attend, but help lead, those parishes.

How many sacramentally active, weekly Mass Catholics oppose the ban on gay Boy Scout leaders? If the goal of the poll is to investigate the future of the Boy Scouts, that’s the crucial question on the Catholic side of the aisle. Frankly, I was stunned at that anti-ban 56 percent number — stunned that it was not higher.

The key statistics that the poll did not investigate can be seen in a chart at the Boy Scouts website (the “On Faith” site does contain a link).

Where are most Boy Scout troops based? Total units linked to congregations in:

* 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.

I know, I know. Even some of these labels are all but meaningless — but the realities on the ground point toward the real divisions that are out there.

What is a “Presbyterian Church”? Is that a liberal Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) church in Chicago or a conservative Nashville flock in the same denomination? Anyone who knows anything about United Methodism knows that churches in Georgia have little or nothing in common with those in California. Lutheran churches? Are we talking about Evangelical Lutheran Church parishes in Minneapolis or Missouri-Synod congregations in Texas?

The Washington Post-ABC poll, in other words, yields little or nothing in the way of information that is useful to Boy Scout leaders as they seek a way to keep their organization intact (or journalists who want to do accurate, balanced coverage of that story). Will the Boy Scouts collapse under the cultural/media opposition to their core beliefs?

The key is what is unfolding in Nashville, which I first spotted — of course — by reading Baptist Press the other day. Welcome to the future.

NASHVILLE (BP) – The Middle Tennessee Council of the Boys Scouts of America has voted to affirm Scouting’s current national membership policy as “a core value of the Scout Oath and Law.”

Hugh Travis, the Scout executive for the 37-county council, said in a May 6 news release that its delegates “will not vote to approve the resolution” — to allow openly homosexual youth as Scouts — “but to retain the current membership policy.”

Meanwhile, Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, has issued a statement underscoring his opposition to what the national Scouting organization has touted as a “compromise” by dropping its plan to allow openly gay Scout leaders.

Also, The Tennessean has a very helpful follow-up report that, among other specifics, points toward the polls that matter the most. That would be the internal polls Boy Scout leaders are conducting among parents, troop leaders and religious sponsors. These numbers, of course, lean toward traditional beliefs — but also show signs of painful divisions.

A survey of parents, Boy Scout leaders, churches that sponsor troops, board members and donors guided the local decision, Travis said. Of about 3,000 surveyed, 66 percent said openly gay youths should not be allowed to participate in Scouting. About 15.7 percent said gay Scouts should be allowed. The rest were neutral. Seventy percent of survey respondents said it was inappropriate for a gay Scout and a straight Scout to share a tent.

Can the Boy Scouts survive? What groups might emerge from the wreckage?

That’s the story, at this point. The Washington Post-ABC News poll offers little information that sheds light on those questions.

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.manning.923 Stephen Manning

    One more example of a society that has become obsessed with the victimized minority group. It’s insane. As a gay man –part of a tiny minority of less than 4%– I am saddened by the lack of compromise the “LGBT” tribe has shown. Gay marriage, now this, regardless of the effect. As I look back on the last 50 years, tho, I have to blame the media for its part in ramping up this theme of the victimized minority as THE issue. First Blacks, then women, the disabled, gays…illegal immigrants. It will never stop. And you guys giving all the free publicity has made the US a bizarre nation driven not by its majority, but its endlessly complaining minorities.

    • David D

      Are you implying African-Americans should not have fought for legal equality? Or women? Not clear on your prescription here.

  • Jerry

    One issue I’ve seen discussed very very seldom in the media is the very different policy of the Girl Scouts. Why is sexual orientation such a life-and-death issue for the Boy Scouts and not for the Girl Scouts? Is there a scriptural rationale for this? Or is something else at work?

    http://www.weau.com/news/headlines/Scouting-diversity-Girl-Scouts-accept-gay-leaders-members–190930431.html

    • Guest

      That something else is that no one really cared about the Girl Scouts other than the cookies. I don’t even say that in jest.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.manning.923 Stephen Manning

      Initiating boys into manhood is a much more complex task than accompanying girls into womanhood. You’ll find initiation rites for males far more often than for females. Western culture has lost its initiatory structures and the BSA is one of the few left that sorta carries on this task of teaching boys how to be men. When you fiddle with it, especially on a question of sexuality, it provokes people. (How scripture applies I have no idea.)

  • helen

    The Girl Scouts sold out to “feminism” long ago. (I can’t think of a single one of our churches which support/ed a Girl Scout unit.) That’s what will happen to the Boy Scouts. The Mormons, who use Scouting as their Youth program, (will not buy the gay thing and cannot be intimidated; they are a minority, too, you know) will probably buy up the national camps for a dime on the dollar.

    This isn’t about gays; it’s about destroying Scouting for most boys. There really are people who don’t want things, but don’t want anyone else to have them either.You met them in grade school, where to some extent they used to be controlled in the interest of fairness. Not any more. :(

    About those overpriced cookies: the troop, of which that cute little girl who sold them to you is a member, gets maybe $.25 of your $4.00. (I can remember when it was a nickel out of $2.50) The rest goes to “support the organization”. [You wouldn't put up with those odds for any other charity. Well, maybe the Red Cross!]

    And you can get the mint chocolate cookies all year at the grocery store. :)

    [Camp Fire girls actually learned about the outdoors and the environment, as I remember.]

    • Jerry

      Campfire also does not exclude lesbians. http://www.campfire.org/inclusionPolicy.aspx So the question I asked remains. Why are so many treating the Boy Scouts as different THEOLOGICALLY than the similar organizations for girls?

    • JoFro

      I believe the Boy Scouts of Canada saw a drop in membership after they sold out to the gay rights campaigners. And if that isn’t enough reason, the number of lawsuits brought about by boys abused by homosexually-inclined scout leaders is also causing a lot of damage to the institution over there

      • Mike

        Scouts Canada has been in decline since well before policies allowing gay members (decline has occurred since at least 1990, policies allowing gay members started around 1999). If this issue continues to make the news I hope journalists research such facts rather than making spurious claims about the effect of such policies. It may also be worth noting that a church (Christos Metropolitan Community Church) sponsored the first group comprised entirely of gay scouts.

        Speaking of spurious claims I’d also point out that people that abuse children aren’t homosexually inclined; they are pedosexually inclined (played with the suffix to show the distinction). This would be the same logic that applies to heterosexuals who abuse children. While these orientations might overlap for some people, one does not imply the other. I do not know the number of lawsuits in Canada regarding this, but I would point out the fact that the distinction between the two orientations means barring homosexuals would not have any actual effect on the problem.

        • JoFro

          A community church? Yup! That’s about right. It’s the same with mainline Protestant churches in America that are some of the biggest supporters of homosexuality and homosexuals and gay marriage. Heck, check out the Episcopal Church and the Unitarian Church. Here’s a line about the MCC from their Wiki article – “MCC sees its mission being social as well as spiritual by standing up for the rights of minorities, particularly those of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBT). MCC has been a leading force in the development of Queer theology.” – those last two words sum up pretty much why they would have sponsored the first group of gay scouts!

        • JoFro

          And the decline a few years before allowing gay members should be expected – the Boy Scouts of Canada began allowing in 1972, female members as part of its Rover Section. This was expanded in 1984 to include the Venturer Section. In 1992, co-ed Scouting was an option for all program sections and became policy for all sections in 1998. Basically, long before they allowed gays, they already began diluting the masculine aspect of the Boy Scouts, to become just Scouts Canada – so, no wonder there was already a decline. It was inevitable that gays would soon be allowed!

          • Mike

            Now you are shifting the goalposts – from gays being responsible to females being responsible to ‘diluting the masculine aspect’ being responsible. While there may be a valid concern in there, failure to clarify terms and stick with one argument leaves you with little more than a conjecture that an ill-defined something is eating away at scouts.

            It could be something you suggest, or it could be something else entirely. It might be interesting to see if any investigative reporters (or anyone else really) have looked into what exactly might be factoring into the decline, especially if Canada is drawn in as a comparison to the Boy Scouts situation in the U.S.

  • helen

    The question that matters most? Why should people who are not and never have been involved in the Boy Scouts dictate policy for them? It’s still a private organization. If it can be pushed around on gay issues, our conservative churches will be next.

    [Oddly, many conservative church members don't see that what happens to the Boy Scouts matters to them!]

    • RayIngles

      Note that the Boy Scouts have received a lot of sweetheart deals with
      local and state governments, along with access to the public schools for
      recruiting purposes. If the BSA chooses not to be open to the public,
      it’s likely to have to forego those benefits. I wish the articles were a
      little clearer on that.

      Note further that, even by the numbers reported
      above, there’s at least a not-inconsiderable minority of people who are
      already involved in Scouting who are interested in
      some policy changes, too.

  • mom of scout

    My son, a scout (life) has no problem including those who have a different sexual preference. What I do have a problem with is when scout leaders are verbaly abusive to a parent in front of an entire troop, and nothing is done about it. SHAC moved my child to another troop, and never addressed this problem. By doing that the council showed me, my son, and every boy in that troop that men can be verbaly abusive towards women (or anyone) and do not have to be accountable for it. Where’s the scouting in that!!! All I did was stand up for the boys being constantly chastised, and we got the shaft! No apolgy from this leader, who should have written a letter of apology to my son and me. Guess how they will speak to these new boys! This message is only about this one leader, who also sent very nasty emails to me. Obviously the boy scout council finds this acceptable. I do know there are many wonderful leaders out there, too bad my son did not have one.

  • mom of scout

    what was wrong with the statement I made that you deleated it? It was an honest statement with proof of facts!

  • mom of scout

    As a parent of a boy scout I have every right to make a statement just like you do. Stop deleating mine!

  • mom of scout

    My statement was also about discrimination from boy scout leaders, but toward women. Why won’t you leave that up?

  • mom of scout

    you sir are as phony as the scout leader I had to deal with, and not very Christian.
    You discriminate against women. Obviously no one bothers with your webpage site and I’ll take my statements live on twitter, facebook and the rest. I pray for youl

  • mom of scout

    you need to GET RELIGION

  • mom of scout

    check out D-Rant.com


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