USA Today‘s front-page headline (5/31/13):
Churches Sever Scout Sponsorship
The online headline, over Bob Smietana’s piece on the reaction of church groups that sponsor Boy Scout troops to the Scouts’ announced plan to accept gay Scouts was longer but no less sweeping:
Religious Regretfully Sever Scout Sponsorships
That’s bad news for the Scouts, since as the article points out, “about 70 percent of Scout troops are chartered by a faith-based group.” Must be tough, losing seven out of 10 sponsors all at once.
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.
The piece actually quotes more people who are happy with the change, or are willing to go along with it. A Catholic bishop says the Scouts’ new policy, which accepts the participation of gay Boy Scouts (but not Scout leaders), “is not inconsistent with church teaching, which upholds the dignity of each and every human being, regardless of sexual orientation.”
A minister from the United Church of Christ says that breaking with the Scouts over the new policy “sends a terrible message to youth of any sexual orientation.”
The executive director of Members of the Churches of Christ for Scouting disagrees with the policy change, but says churches should “not take their ball and go home.”
Given that most people in the United States are religious in one way or another, it’s unsurprising that religious reactions to the Boy Scouts’ change in policy are as broad as the reactions of the country as a whole: Some are outraged, some are enthusiastic, some are ambivalent. (I’ll bet you could find religious leaders who wish the change had gone further and ended discrimination against adult leaders who are gay as well.)
But too often in corporate media, “churches” means the most conservative churches and “religious” means the most reactionary forms of religion. Thus the subhead of the print version of the story is a quote, “‘We are not willing to compromise God’s word'”–attributed to no one, as though it’s…the word of God.
The fact is that many people dispute the idea that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin–or urges believers to shun sinners. Those people don’t get a subhead on the front-page of USA Today.
FOOTNOTE: That link on “dispute” goes to a fascinating document by Mel White, a former ghostwriter for Jerry Falwell who became an advocate for a more inclusive Christianity after coming out of the closet. He points out that many passages in the Bible don’t say what homophobic Christians want them to say. For example, what was the sin that got Sodom destroyed? Sodomy, right? Not according to Ezekiel (16:48-49): “This is the sin of Sodom; she and her suburbs had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not help or encourage the poor and needy. They were arrogant and this was abominable in God’s eyes.”