Is the purpose of scouting to build membership at a church?

I attended a free, public webinar the other day.  It was titled “Baptist Scouting Ministry: Growing & Retaining Membership in Baptist Churches“.

It was hosted by PRAY Publications, the people who provide various workbook programs for scouts (and other youth organizations) to learn more about their faith practice, and earn an emblem to wear on their uniform.  IF you want to hear the recording for yourself, click here (https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/1336582082908574722)

As a scouter, and a Baptist, I have become increasingly troubled by the presentation message and it pains me to pen this article since I know the people who promoted and conducted the webinar (and believe them to be good hearted, but mis-directed on this topic).  I trust that they’ll understand that my criticism is focused on their message, not the messengers themselves.

Spring Summer 2013 182

It got started with this concept; “To be most effective, we must be bi-lingual:  speaking “scouting” fluently with a Faith-Based-Initiative accent.  In other words…answering “what’s in it for us” for Baptists (and other faith-based organizations).

As a Scouter, I think it’s logical that while trying to get new CO’s to launch a scouting unit, we ought to “sell” them on the benefits of hosting a scout unit.  However, the next slide suggests that the mission statements of BSA and the Baptist faith are aligned or complimentary.  Specifically quoting from the Southern Baptist Convention “…our missional vision is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and MAKE DISCIPLES of all the nations.” [“make disciples” was bolded and in red]  Google defined “disciple” as a personal follower of Jesus during his life, esp. one of the twelve Apostles.

slide 3

So by BSA preparing young men to make ethical choices over their lifetime by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law, we’re also making disciples who will spread the message of Jesus?  Would a Muslim or Jewish troop agree with this analysis?  Or would we simply update the slide to say Scouting is designed to help scouts spread the teachings of the Koran/Quran or Torah depending on which local group charters the unit in his hometown?

The slides went on to show 2012 Southern Baptist Convention statistics of declining membership and make the link that launching a scouting unit would “reach young families; brings them into the Church Building!”  The assertion is unmistakable that scouting units are designed to become recruitment centers and incubators for the particular faith practice of the CO — so if I go to neighboring troop #5 (first BSA troop sponsored by a Roman Catholic church in the USA!) I’ll learn how to cross myself, pray to the Holy Mother, and practice group communion from a single cup, et.al.?  I don’t think so.  (Hey, Troop 5, we love you guys — see you on the Klondike Course)   

Further, the same slide continues by suggesting a connection between scouting and the local church whereby “Manpower” and “Money” flow from one to the other.  Hey, if you’re short on deacons, get a scout group in there are recruit some dads!  Maybe they’ll donate in the offering plate, too!

While I can describe each slide in detail, it would take pages of analysis and no one wants to read that much, right?  Suffice to say, the program continues to make references to building deeper connections between the unit and the CO (which on the surface makes sense to me as a Scoutmaster and Eagle, but….some suggestions seemed to cross a line).

Here are direct quotes from the slides:

  • “Scouting continues to be a highly effective resource for ‘Engaging the Culture’ and for ‘EVANGELISM'”
  • “As much as 60% of the members/families in an average Scout unit have no current faith affiliation” (so recruit them to Baptistic Beliefs if the CO is Baptist)
  • “A personal reflection on church growth: 300 people in less than 5 years” (scouting packs the pews of the local church)
  • “By action of the BSA National Executive Board on 10/30/13, doing one’s “duty to God” will be regularly highlighted all along the advancement trail to Eagle Scout.”
  • RECs Complete Picture“All youth members must now affirm the Declaration of Religious Principle as has been previously required of adults” (didn’t they do that already?)
  • “Religious Emblems Coordinators at council, district and unit levels will encourage all Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Venturers to complete their religious emblems….’Baptist ministers often testify that Scouts have come to faith as well as clarify a call to vocational service while working on these emblems'”
  • “Scouting asks no more of local Baptist Churches than to deal with Scouting youth who are struggling with same-sex attraction in the same manner as they would any other members of the church youth group….offer guidance, counsel them….” [but the FAQ published by BSA says not to single anyone out or make them feel uncomfortable](http://www.scouting.org/filestore/training/membership/pdf/Unit_Implementation_FAQ.pdf)

Side note — I didn’t write these slides, just quoting from them…..Hey, I work with people of all ‘persuasions’ and that’s OK by me in the work place — but to suggest that churches (particularly Baptist churches) are OK to counsel youth on this issue is sending a confusing message from BSA — is orientation an issue or not?  Is BSA actually saying “You can join, but our church CO’s have the right to institute reparative therapy at their will and we’ll defend the CO if you sue them.” Although I’ve overstated it for dramatic effect, that was implied in what I heard, but maybe I’m wrong.

  • Diversity flags“Scouting’s adult membership standards have NOT changed” (Hey, Baptists!  We still discriminate since admitting gay adult leaders would “become a distraction to the mission of the BSA” — note, Baptists, that we no longer feel it to be a moral or ethical issue, just a distracting one.  That means if you charter units, we may later change our stance on this, too.  But for now, let’s make hay while the sun shines!)
  • “Scouting does not now accept for membership those who consider themselves to be transgender”huh?  This is included in a slide titled12 Key Items Baptists Want to Heardidn’t know I wanted to hear that, but hey, I guess they did a survey.
  • “every Baptist pastor in your council received a copy of the letter from [CSE] Wayne Brock” [just curious, from whose mailing list?]
  • The program wraps up with a discussion of the SBC convention and how they refused to kick BSA to the curb or endorse any alternative programs; therefore, Baptists ought to be ready to “full steam ahead” with BSA at their side…

A discussion of resources includes the following items:

    1. BCS Course # 129 “Emphasising Duty to God in Scouting” (College of Commissioner Science)
    2. Bryan on Scouting Blog article
    3. Scouting Magazine article
    4. Duty to God at National Jambo
    5. PRAY Publishing resources for the REC program
    6. “Coming soon…Faith-Specific videos to help prepare for approaching faith-based organizations that are not currently chartering scout units.”

Summary

First I want to congratulate the PRAY team for hosting a very smooth webinar.  They did a great job of communicating their ideas (and I’m being completely sincere as a Communications MBC — look at requirement #2 b).  I really believe they felt that they’re offering a good, solid message to Baptist Pastors and Scouting Volunteers.

Unfortunately, I felt that the message was contrived and was loaded with sales puffery to sway a CO into thinking scouting is something that it’s not.  Boy Scouts of America has never explicitly expressed a mission to serve as a recruiting tool for any one faith practice (Can I get an “AMEN” on that? LOL).  Based on my understanding of scouting history, the early involvement of the YMCA influence of James West made it difficult for Roman Catholics to (initially) get behind the program for fear that their boys would be turned into Baptists or told that their faith practice wasn’t acceptable.

Spring Summer 2013 181I do think that scouting units should have a closer relationship with their CO and that there are many real benefits to a better, stronger, clearer relationship.  I’m just not convinced that going beyond promotion of the REC (Religous Emblem Coordinator) positions is warranted or profitable for either the CO or the scouting families who participate in BSA.  To suggest a deeper promotion of a particular faith practice indicates either that scouting thinks it’s a “Christian” or “Muslim” or “fill in the blank” organization rather than a “non-sectarian” group.  So which is it?  Can Scouting have it both ways and be credible to everyone?

Further, if a group of families wants to dig deeper into holy scriptures of their particular, shared faith, that’s wonderful.  If they want to make their scout meeting an extension of the CO’s “expressive message” (or somehow vice-versa) perhaps they’d be better served at an organization “LIKE” Trail Life USA, Christian Service Brigade, Royal Rangers, Calvinist Cadet Corps, Pathfinders (7th Day Adventist), Campfire USA, Navigators USA, Spiral Scouts or Rainbow scouts, et.al. (each offering a strong, but distinctive program that rivals what BSA can provide).

So is the purpose of my District Executive to recruit churches to charter scout units to pack their pews on Sunday, to make disciples of scouts, to proselytize about Jesus to the 60% who declare uncertain faith alliance, and to guide confused youth to a better understanding of their sexual preference while at a Baptist scout unit?

Scout is helpfulOf course, the sarcasm in this question is plainly evident.  I’m just not sure I feel comfortable as a Baptist or as a BSA volunteer sharing this sort of slideshow with either my Pastor or at the upcoming Round-table meeting.  It seems like a desperate attempt to appease and even play the “pied piper’s flute” to get Pastors to see something in scouting that we never promoted before the membership change occurred.

Further, can a Baptist church really reconcile the fact that they sign a contract each year, yoking themselves (2 Cor. 6:14) to a non-sectarian organization who promotes “all ways to God are equal” (as opposed to John 14:6) and that “same sex orientation, preference, etc.” is NOT a moral or ethical issue, but one of distraction/non-distraction based on the age of the person (as opposed to Romans 1:18-32)?

For me, I’m left asking the question “Does this slideshow send an underlying message that BSA is a “Closeted Christian” organization?” (NO) or is this just clever marketing towards “Christians” to grow membership by becoming (as stated in presentation) “bi-lingual” (aka speak with forked tongue?) (PERHAPS, and if so, does it uphold the Scout Oath and Law?)

How do you feel about these assertions — are you “good with it” or does it seem to be a reach?

slide 27

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Our Troop # comes from Psalm 1:1-3 - describing the men we want our scouts to become
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7 Responses to Is the purpose of scouting to build membership at a church?

  1. Joe Bollig says:

    I think it is an attempt to shore up support and repair relationships with the churches after the membership standards change. Nobody is saying, but I think they’re spooked by Trail Life USA, and they’re worried that church support has declined and will erode more in the future, and the loss of their near monopoly. Recently in our area, the BSA Council put together a lunch with two area Catholic Bishops to lobby for support and creation of new Venture units. (Don’t know what the outcome was.) My gut tells me that despite strong efforts to reassure, and many promises, BSA executives know that more changes are coming and they want to hold onto as much church support as possible. Bottom line, I think the BSA is conning the churches, using them to keep membership up until society transitions to a secular-minded majority. Then, like in the UK and Canada, they can tell the churches to take it or leave it.

    • Troop113 says:

      Mmmm, I think you’re right, Joe. I think that PRAY was working on the Religious Emblems Coordinator thing for a while (before the membership issue emerged), but this seems an attempt to leverage that initiative to get a full foot in the door of the “parsonage” and grab clergy while they can do so. I don’t blame BSA for protecting their interests, but the manner in which this is happening seems “untrustworthy” to me. Speaking with a forked tongue isn’t a way to build a relationship on solid footing.

      As a colleague stated to me he feels that some Catholic Bishops struggle with feeling like they’re abandoning the boys instead of abandoning BSA, when, in reality, the courageous few would boldly persuade their local flock to leave BSA altogether in favor of a stronger, better, explicitly “Christian” program (whether it be TLUSA or another program). The goal being to genuinely sustain and nurture the young men as they grow up instead of continue to compromise and yield ground on seemingly small issues here or there (death by a thousand paper cuts).

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • Troop113 says:

      You’re welcome … i just hope my remarks seem reasonable … during the ewebinar it seemed very sensible, but over the next 48 hours (especially as i talked about the program with friends) it troubled me more and more. Again, i think the presenters had noble intentions but may have over stated their position (passion for BSA overcoming propriety)????

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