Churches dumping Boy Scouts over gay policy … or not?

Godbeat pro Bob Smietana wrote a story this week exploring whether churches will keep sponsoring Boy Scout troops or drop their affiliation given the organization’s new gay-friendly membership policy.

It’s a timely, logical religion angle. (Others who have covered that angle include ABC News and the Birmingham News.)

The lede:

For the Rev. Ernest Easley, the decision to cut ties with the Boy Scouts was simple.

The Bible says homosexuality is a sin. The Boy Scouts do not.

“We are not willing to compromise God’s word,” said Easley, pastor of the 2,300-member Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., which has sponsored Boy Scout Troop 204 since 1945.

Easley, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee, said his church will shut down its troop at end of the year, over a recently adopted policy to allow openly gay scouts. He’s urging other Baptists to do the same.

I first saw the story (one version of it, anyway) Thursday on USA Today’s website, where it carried this headline:

Religious regretfully sever Scout sponsorships

Huh?

At this point, I should remind GetReligion readers that reporters typically do not write their own headlines. So I’m assuming that Smietana didn’t craft that one.

But it struck me as awkward on more than one level. “Religious” seems especially vague. And while I assume the headline writer means that those severing ties are doing so with regrets, the statement also could be interpreted as an editorial comment, as in, “How dare they?”

On Friday morning, a truncated version of the same story (read: stripped to its bare bones) appeared on Page 1 of the USA Today dead-tree edition that I picked up in my driveway.

The headline on that version:

Churches sever Scout sponsorship

That prompted the media watchdog site FAIR to complain that the front-page headline was misleading:

Except the article doesn’t report what the headlines claim at all. The article quotes one church leader, of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia, who says he’s going to stop sponsoring a Scout troop. Then it says:

Roswell Street is one of the first churches to cut ties with the Scouts over the new policy. Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, a 23,000-member megachurch, has also announced plans to shut down its troop. Other critics of the new policy, which doesn’t take effect until January 2014, are taking a wait-and-see approach.

So: “Two Churches Sever Scout Sponsorship” would be a more accurate headline..

Meanwhile, the same lede that I copied above appeared on the story that Smietana wrote for his hometown paper, The Tennessean in Nashville, Tenn. (Gannett owns USA Today and The Tennessean.)

Except this was the headline:

Boy Scouts’ gay policy hasn’t driven Middle TN church sponsors away

Huh?

Are troops leaving or not? Well, as Smietana explained on Twitter, the national version of the story highlighted churches leaving, while the local version found less inclination to sever ties:

So there you have it. Bottom line: It’s a crazy world out there on the Godbeat. Especially when headline writers and multiple versions of the same story get involved.

About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    As a Catholic, when I read “Religious regretfully sever Scout sponsorships” I thought, “So, what Boy Scout troops are the Jesuits sponsoring?” Actually, I didn’t think that because I immediately understood what they were very clumsily trying to convey, but say “religious” to a Catholic and most of us will think of religious orders.

  • wlinden

    Is a “gay policy” a policy that sleeps with other policies?

  • Russ LaPeer

    Donors — now former donors — also rejecting BSA’s ethical capitulation.

  • Darren Blair

    Just had the monthly public affairs meeting for the local LDS stake.

    The church is, indeed, standing by the Scouting program still, and a few of the local leaders are looking to put out local-level news releases in regards to the upcoming summer scout camp.

  • FW Ken

    A bit more about the Catholics and Mormons. I liked this article for the variety of views.

    http://www.religionnews.com/2013/05/31/catholic-leaders-urge-support-for-boy-scouts-after-shift-on-gays/

  • James Stagg

    Check out the May 26th and 28th entries in Ed Peters’ Canon Law Blog. Makes a lot of sense: http://canonlawblog.wordpress.com/

  • Rev_Aggie_98

    Bobby, I think you maybe missing a subtext in the “Religious regretfully…” headline. While it is possible the writer was attempting alliteration, there could also be the subtext of religious=bad. In some circles, religious has become synonymous with fundamentalist/legalist. And as we have seen before they are used to say offhandedly these are bad people not to be listened to.

  • Jerry

    WaPo wades in with this headline Religious groups who supported gay Scout ban now are okay with changing it. Why? It’s a good question. Whether or not the article answers the question is “an exercise left for the reader” http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/wp/2013/06/03/religious-groups-ok-with-gay-scout-ban-for-years-now-say-no-problem-what-gives/

    • John Pack Lambert

      Reading this article I get the idea that the writer really has not been able to think about the issues from the perspective of Catholics and Mormons, and really sees a bigger problem then there is.
      Beyond this, the claim that Pope Francis supported civil unions has been disputed, while Mormons leaders have never endorsed civil unions as such, their actual statement seems more to endorse revisions in inheritance laws.
      Considering what has happened to a florist in Washington being persecuted by the state attorney general for not wanting to do the flowers for a same-gender wedding because she felt it would be endorsing a ceremony she objects to on religious grounds, I would say that the gave concerns about a change in the definition of marriage have played out.
      It seems to me the real issue is that Catholics, Mormons and others think sexual behavior should be limited to marriage and has specific marriage related purposes, while others feel sex is a necessary part of almost all lives. It seems it is the radical homosexual campaigners who have not acknowledged that their view is only one possible one.
      In the analysis of the boy scout policy there is actual acceptance that leaders are much more likely to be sexually active than 12-year-old boys, so the differing policy is actual widely acknowledged to be based on differing realities.

  • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

    Thanks to those who left comments and links to other stories. I’ve been traveling and just now saw them. Sorry for my delayed thanks.

  • John Pack Lambert

    One issue that should be kept in mind, is that at least among Mormons and Catholics the teachings are very clear that only homosexual actions are sinful, and the current boy scout policy is against any type of sexual actions by scouts, so it is not endorsing homosexual behavior. This was clear in the First Presidency letter endorsing the boy scouts, read in all Mormon wards sacrament meetings in the last few weeks.


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