When my oldest son was a Boy Scout, the entire experience was couched in church settings.
His pack meetings took place in church halls, and ceremonies were scheduled in church sanctuaries and auditoriums. His pack leaders often doubled as congregational lay leaders, and the boys were asked once a year to don their uniforms and lead a special “Scout Sunday” worship. When the boys recited the oath, the “Under God” portion no doubt resonated within their surroundings.
I was surprised, then, by The Associated Press’ story on new statistics released Wednesday that show a 6 percent membership decline in the last year — a year during which new rules were put in place to accept and protect openly gay Scouts, from Cubs to Eagles.
The story had a Dallas dateline, undoubtedly tied to the organization’s national headquarters in nearby Irving, Texas. Beyond that obvious connection, what better area in the country to find a wide array of faith groups willing and able to speak intelligently about the impact of the change on troops with which they might have alliances or sponsorship?
We hear from Scouting spokesman Deron Smith, who admitted the change might be partially responsible, but blamed the loss of thousands of boys and their families more on day-to-day time demands and the relevancy of its programs — and over the course of the last decade, not just nine months. And Smith touted the positives of the organization, as you might expect:
He pointed to several successes in 2013 for the Boy Scouts, which opened a new permanent site for its annual jamboree of Scouts from around the world and was featured on a National Geographic television series.
“Last year was a milestone year for the BSA in many ways,” he said.
He added that accepting openly gay boys “allows us to serve more kids.”
Well, not by the final count. Still, the most telling graf of the entire piece is yet to come — and without attribution, even!
BSA made the change as it faced mounting public pressure in a nation that is growing more accepting of gays and gay marriage. While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints backed BSA, the Southern Baptist Convention expressed its disapproval and left it to individual churches to decide whether to remain with the Boy Scouts.
A small number of Scouts eventually left over disagreements about homosexuality. Some went to Trail Life USA, an organization set up after the change by conservatives and Christian groups. Trail Life claimed about 425 “pre-chartered” groups around the country late last year. It has not said how many youth members it has.
Maybe we should ask a Trail Life spokesperson, perhaps get him to weigh in?
But John Stemberger, Trail Life’s founder, accused the Scouts of hiding the true impact of the policy and predicted BSA would eventually open its doors to gay leaders as well.
“There’s not a whole lot of people that are calling it straight in terms of the policy and what it does,” he said.
After I mopped up the water I spewed everywhere, not daring to hope anything so funny would be included in this particular report, I took a moment to get serious again and reflect on what is missing in this story: a chance to ask people of faith on both sides as well as in the background about a longstanding relationship with an organization that may now run counter to their beliefs. At least talk to a Mormon or Southern Baptist, painted with broad brushes earlier.
Wouldn’t it be nice to hear from the boys in uniform, their parents and the people in the pews providing their facilities about how they feel?
I know, silly me. It’s so much easier to join the lament over “no time, no interest” instead of asking the folks involved.