Boy Scouts: Hollywood vs. some vague army of Americans

On one level, the recent Reuters “special report” on the financial issues haunting the 10,600-acre Summit Bechtel Family National Reserve in West Virginia breaks quite a bit of new and important ground about the current challenges faced by the Boy Scouts of America. It’s a must read and it’s clear that this expensive project is — to one degree or another — in trouble.

But on another level, it’s just plain haunted. Period.

The larger context for this hot-button story is crucial, of course.

BSA membership totals are down and, to its credit, the Reuters team includes one fact on that front that has been missing in most other reports about this era in Boy Scout life — the reality that an organization offering camping, exercise, family values and wholesome educational projects is being forced to compete with the video game and Internet culture. Are there merit badges for hitting top levels in Halo and World of Warcraft?

The story also, of course, has to deal with the ticking time bomb of gay rights and the attempts by Boy Scout leaders to please the cultural, moral and religious left. Here is one of the crucial passages:

The Summit shortfall is part of a broader financial crunch facing the Boy Scouts as the organization shrinks. That decline has been exacerbated by the protracted gay-membership battle. A compromise adopted by Scout leaders in May — allow gay youth, but not gay adults — appears to be doing little so far to ease the pressure.

Conservative troops are threatening to secede; one splinter group said this week it is forming a rival to the Scouts. Liberal troops are meanwhile establishing more-inclusive policies. Many corporate donors continue to sit on the sidelines, even as some regional Scout councils face severe deficits, according to Boy Scout executives and council members across the country.

“We cannot support an organization that has a policy that is discriminatory,” said Joanne Dwyer, a spokeswoman for CVS Caremark, which stopped all funding to local Boy Scout councils and the national organization a decade ago.

The story does a very good job of describing the powerful legal, financial and cultural forces that are pushing against the Boy Scout leadership from the left. Special attention is given — and justifiably so — to the cultural principalities and powers based near that big white sign on a hillside in Southern California. Want to drop a big name?

Will the Boy Scouts ever be able to get a returned phone call from ET’s master? How about the Middle American powers that be at The United Way?

Maybe not.

Thirteen years ago, the Los Angeles Boy Scouts Council was flush with donations from well-heeled charities and wealthy Hollywood film directors.

Then, in 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Boy Scouts of America had the right to bar gays from their ranks. The United Way, which once gave $1 million a year to the local council, ended its funding, according to a former council president.

Some of the Hollywood glitterati also fled — including film director Steven Spielberg, an Eagle Scout who once credited the Boy Scouts with inspiring him to make his first film. After the Supreme Court decision, Spielberg resigned from the Boy Scouts’ advisory board and stopped contributing to the local council, stating that it was “a real
shame” to see the Scouts “actively and publicly participating in discrimination.”

A representative for Spielberg said the director had no statement to make on whether he would resume participating in the Scouts.

So, what about the other side of the equation? Who are the people who are tugging at the Boy Scouts from the moral and cultural right, trying to get the historically family and faith-friendly group to stay the course?

Alas, the forces on this side of the story are given a simple political label — “conservatives.” That’s all, folks.

What about religion and the thousands of Scouting branch organizations hosted by religious congregations? It’s like this crucial online chart (.pdf here) doesn’t exist.

Search the story for “Mormon” and what do you get? Zip.

Search the story for “Baptist” and what do you get? Zero.

Search the word for “Catholic” and what do you get? Nihilum (OK, or nusquam).

As far as that goes, there is no coverage given to the fact that religious groups that lean toward the cultural left are also involved in these debates. Search for “United Methodists” and what do you get? I think you already know the answer to that, since most journalists seem to assume that the religious left does not exist (except when these denominations hold their summer meetings to debate gay-rights resolutions).

To my amazement, this report never addresses the role that religion has played in the history of Scouting.

So what we have here is a struggle between two powerful camps in American coverage — “conservatives” vs. a whole lot of interesting secular groups. And that whole Boy Scout oath thing, the controversial language about faith?

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.

This has nothing to do with the context for this story, for the forces that are shaping this Boy Scout era of tension and decline. Religion? Not worth mentioning.

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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.

  • Aldo Elmnight

    BSA is over. The good news about the boondoggle in West Virginia is that it will bankrupt the BSA and allow it to die a quick death rather than linger on the morally corrupt path it is on.

    • tmatt

      And what does that have to do with the media questions in my post?

  • PeterTx52

    “We cannot support an organization that has a policy that is
    discriminatory,” said Joanne Dwyer, a spokeswoman for CVS Caremark,
    which stopped all funding to local Boy Scout councils and the national
    organization a decade ago.”
    unfortunately I’m forced to get my prescriptions at CVS otherwise I would take my business elsewhere.. I can’t support an organization that goes against my values. so I’ll continue to get my prescriptions there because I have to, but everything else I’ll purchase elsewhere. now if I can only find Ms. Dwyer’s email address to let her know of my decision

  • http://nathaniel-campbell.blogspot.com/ Nathaniel M. Campbell

    Minor note: Correct would be “nihil” (which is an indeclinable noun, so no additional endings are appropriate; and “nusquam” means “never”.)

  • TomD

    The Devil divides and dispirits . . . by his fruits you shall know him.

  • Chris Shearer

    Article had “faith-based” and “bible” (and that was in a subject’s quoted remarks). Whatever happened to the words “church” and “religion”?

  • elle

    I would love to see some of those quoted not say “Boy Scouts have made decisions that don’t follow the Bible”. How about these people say WHAT isn’t being followed. Chapter, verse, something. I don’t know if that is something journalists would clarify, or if it’s because they are interviewing people who don’t know how to give information. I can’t say our family is thrilled with the decision, but our oldest is at NatJam anyways. The article didn’t say anything about the cost of ATTENDING this event. $3499 per scout (for our council, it may vary because of travel costs) That’s 104,970 for just the 30 boys in our Jamboree Troop.

    • Richard Mounts

      Elle,

      Expecting the average journalist to ask for clarity like chapter and verse in the,Bible is like expecting a monsoon in Death Valley. I think that’s tmatt’s point. Too few journalists have enough knowledge of the Bible or religion to feel comfortable including such questions in an interview.

      More importantly most journalists ideas about religion in general are extremely negative. Where religion and social issues intersect is a place journalists either avoid, or the place where journalists give up objective reporting and go for advocacy in favor of the politically liberal view. Think MSNBC and the New York Times.

  • finishstrongdoc

    The real story here is how our American values are being eroded by the Barbarian Ruling Elites, who wish to remake America, and the world, in a purely secularist, godless image. Business decisions today are based on whatever these Elites wish to advance, and which to deny advancement. This attitude runs counter to our historical narrative as the Shining City set on a hill. American exceptionalism has nothing to do, directly, with business, per se, but with good fruits of Liberty being necessary results of the pursuit of happiness in righteousness.

    Though Christians may disagree on some things, they all agree that none are righteous without the guidance of that Unseen Hand in history, who makes nations, and organizations within those nations, rise and fall. Sometimes unrighteous nations rise, and unrighteous groups arise within those nations, so that God alone may be glorified.

    ~Luke 20:16~ He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When the people heard this, they said, “God forbid!”

    God bless America. Again.

  • Steve

    There are a ton of “ghosts” and loose ends in this story, religion being just one. For example, why is membership declining? Is it really because the BSA may not be tech savvy? Is it linked to the business of youth sports (something that in itself deserves investigation)? What’s going on in flyover land? I’d also add that they didn’t follow the money angle they were almost focusing upon very far. Why are donations down? Is there a connection between donations and the BSA policy? What or who is behind the issue with United Way and is it nationwide or local?


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