Seven questions about Boy Scout gay policy coverage

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Headlines over the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to allow openly gay members are still flying fast and furious.

There’s been so much recent coverage, actually, that it’s impossible to critique all of it in a single post. So I thought I’d ask seven questions related to the decision and news coverage of it.

1. Does the new Boy Scout policy conflict with Catholic teaching?

No, according to a Religion News Service report:

(RNS) The U.S. Catholic Church’s top liaison to the Boy Scouts of America is telling Catholic Scout leaders and troop sponsors that the BSA’s new policy welcoming gay Scouts “is not in conflict with Catholic teaching” and they should continue to support scouting programs.

2. Why did religious groups that opposed allowing gay Boy Scouts suddenly change positions?

The “On Faith” section of the Washington Post tackles this question:

What gives?

Experts say the Scout vote embodies the struggle going on today in traditional religion over homosexuality. There is a strong desire and effort to be more welcoming — and even affirming — of some equal rights, but not to back off completely. But that’s proving tricky to do.

Who are the “experts” who say that? This piece offers interesting analysis but provides inadequate attribution, it seems to me.

3. Will Southern Baptist churches leave the Boy Scouts over the new policy?

A mass exodus appears likely, according to CNN:

The Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, will soon urge its 45,000 congregations and 16 million members to cut ties with the Scouts, according to church leaders.

The denomination will vote on nonbinding but influential resolutions during a convention June 11-12 in Houston.

“There’s a 100% chance that there will be a resolution about disaffiliation at the convention,” said Richard Land, the longtime head of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, “and a 100% chance that 99% of people will vote for it.”

“Southern Baptists are going to be leaving the Boy Scouts en masse,” Land continued.

4. Exactly how new are the Royal Ambassadors, an alternative scout group highlighted by the New York Times?

The Times (just two weeks behind RNS) suggests:

For more than a century, the Boy Scouts of America has had something of a monopoly on neckerchiefs, knot-tying, merit badges and all manner of backcountry skills for boys, treating snakebite and frostbite alike.

No more. The protracted debate over whether to allow gay scouts and scout leaders has angered many church leaders and parents across the political and religious spectrums. The result is a surge of enrollments in alternative outdoor and character-building programs that cater to pagans and Pentecostals and everyone in between.

The Royal Ambassadors, as the Old Gray Lady portrays it, are one of those presumably new groups.

How new?

CNN, unlike the Times, notes that the explicitly Christian group was formed in 1908.

5. Just how excited is the Washington Post over the Boy Scouts’ new policy?

Maybe it’s just me, but an in-depth Post story on the issue seems to drip with enthusiasm for the policy change, starting with the headline:

Long road to Boy Scouts’ shift on gay policy 

The story summary up high:

Scout leaders, gay activists, religious conservatives and historians of Scouting point to five key factors to explain the shift: a dramatic turnabout in public opinion about the morality of gay relationships and same-sex marriage, a groundswell from corporate leaders insisting on equal access for gays, shifting attitudes inside the two largest religious denominations within Scouting, a steady decline in troop membership and a sense that Scouting’s image had morphed in the public mind from Mom and apple pie to an exclusionary group with a narrowing appeal.

6. What is the real-life impact of the Boy Scouts’ new policy on families who view homosexuality as a sin?

While much of the coverage has focused — appropriately — on whether specific denominations and congregations will stop sponsoring troops, NBC News takes a different approach and interviews individual families struggling with the decision.

The result is a story that goes beyond the cardboard-cutout caricatures of some reports:

The father of a Cub Scout sat his son on his lap late last week and told him news that tore up both their hearts: The family was leaving the Boy Scouts.

Aaron Butler, the leader of his 8-year-old son Evan’s Cub Scout Wolf den in Roseau, Minn., said he didn’t explain to his eldest son exactly why they were walking away from an organization they loved so much, but he told NBC News that it was because of last week’s controversial decision by the Boy Scouts of America to allow gay youth to participate.

“It was a big disappointment … he cried for about 10 minutes because I told him that the Boy Scouts were not honoring their own law,” Butler said, referring to the BSA oath that he interpreted as barring gay people. “They say it — ‘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,’” he said.

7. How many incarnations can a single Bob Smietana story make?

In my last post on Boy Scout coverage, I noted the differing versions of Godbeat pro Smietana’s story that ran in USA Today and The Tennessean.

Well, it turns out that Smietana’s story found one more life — on the RNS wire.

Just in case you’re curious, the latest headline:

Churches move to cut ties to Scouts after gay policy change

Maybe the above questions (and the links provided) will spark some conversation on journalism and media issues by GetReligion readers.

By all means, comment away.

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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.

  • Jerry

    I have one more question to add to that list: what did various religious leaders and groups say before the decision and what are they saying now? I’m reminded of all the “sky is falling” predictions about military chaplains with gays being allowed to serve openly and the apparent lack of consequences at least for the bulk of chaplains. Did something like that happen here?

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    There has been a lot of talk in Catholic circles and among Catholic parents about urging the Knights of Columbus to reinvigorate its Squires program. The feeling is that the Scouts are more interested in pleasing a few corporate donors than in doing what is best for helping boys become moral, Christian young men. I have yet to see a story in the mainstream media about this angle of the story.

    • JoFro
    • Donalbain

      Scouting should be about helping boys become Christian young men? Interesting.. maybe keep that part quiet around your Jewish friends.

    • Andrew Kosmowski

      That would be of value where parishes had KofC councils.

      • TheodoreSeeber

        Just about every state deputy I know of would be happy to help you form both a KofC council and a squires circle in your parish.

  • tmatt

    The key to the whole question is that no one knows what the word “open” means in the phrase “openly gay youths.” At this point, Catholics are the key. Keep waiting for the hierarchy to speak.

    • JoFro

      “Open” usually in gay-agenda speak, means supporting and promoting homosexuality. It also means that you cannot claim homosexuality is a disorder and can be open to legal action if you do. If that is the case, the Catholic hierarchy better wake up! Then again, they’ve said nothing about the Girl Scouts, so why expect them to say anything against the Boy Scouts? There are still Catholic churches that host the Girl Scouts and one leader, who happens to be pro-choice, was even given a high honour by Cardinal Dolan – don’t expect much from the Catholic bishops!

    • Donalbain

      Openly gay means gay and not keeping it a secret.

    • Andrew Kosmowski

      The initial comments from the National Catholic Committee of Scouting
      http://nccs-bsa.org/comment/NCCSComment52313.php

      Further comments:
      http://www.nccs-bsa.org/comment/Response-EPM-130529-v2.pdf

  • Kodos

    As I said in another GetReligion post on this topic, I think two extremely important questions to ask everyone involved are:

    1) “Do you think that the BSA should allow gay scoutmasters?” and after hearing the answer, following up with:

    2) “What are you going to do about this?”

    These questions would allow gay activists – who so far have been adamant in their intent to change the new policy – to explain their strategy for the coming months and years. These questions would also allow BSA members who are OK with the new policy but are opposed to gay scoutmasters to articulate their thoughts about compromise and the limits thereof.

  • Bob Smietana

    So far there hasn’t been a mass exodus of Baptists from Boy Scouts in Nashville. And the local Royal Ambassador leaders don’t want to fill their ranks with disgruntled scouts. This could be a case for Baptist where the national leader want one thing and the local churches something else.


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