September 23rd, 2021

too old to cry

Church and Scouting Update

I continue to field calls – and make calls – from/to United Methodist pastors and Scouters regarding the bishop’s letter urging them not to renew their BSA charters past 12/31/21. I would like it noted that the leadership of the Conference did not bother to talk to the Conference Scouting Coordinator (me) or anyone else I know of involved in UM Scouting ministry.

You say, but they were acting upon legal advice. Huh. The ad hoc lawyers speaking for/to UM churches in the BSA bankruptcy case may be trying to cut the best deal they can, but there is a question whose interests they represent. They are advising GCFA and the Council of Bishops, I presume, but GCFA and the COB (and the Conferences) charter no units and therefore have no exposure in the legalities we are navigating. Not only that, but it's at least possible that those bodies fear being too helpful to local charter partner churches, lest they establish a tie and get sucked into things via ascending liability.

Folks, if your church winds up on the hook for some ancient case it’s been named in, severing ties now will in no way get you off said hook. Meanwhile, going forward, BSA’s Youth Protection policies and procedures are in most cases superior to the Safe Sanctuaries policies covering UM youth groups, Sunday Schools, and recreational ministries. If you supervise your ministries properly, you’re not going to have any more trouble with this one than that one, and why shouldn’t you supervise them all properly anyway?

I asked the Conference mugwumps about this. What advantage do we get from dropping charters? And the answer I got, under the verbiage, is that this might pressure BSA to make sure our interests are protected in the final settlement. So, it’s a 2x4 to the ear wielded by BSA’s largest charter partner. I’m sure it got their attention.

But there’s only so much BSA can do. Before 1976, BSA didn’t have national insurance on charter partners. According to the prevailing legal doctrine of “charitable immunity,” churches didn’t have the exposure they now have. When it became obvious that courts were changing the standards, BSA covered all their charter partners with BSA’s insurance. BSA just announced that they had reached a settlement with all the claimants that claims after 1/1/76 would be covered. So the outstanding problem is these ancient cases from before the days of insurance.

In the end, the churches – at least, those who have exposure here – are going to have to band together and negotiate a settlement that lays this ghost once and for all. Are we talking just those charter partner churches that have claims from before ’76? Are we talking all churches who ever had a BSA unit? Are we talking whole denominations? I don’t know. Nobody does. What I do know, is that if your church’s future is tied to its past this way, you need to lawyer up and make sure you’re dealing with whoever’s at the table. That may mean that the ad hoc UM lawyers are on the right trail for you, but it may not. When it comes down to it, you need your guy talking for you.

Meanwhile, if there’s no advantage to dropping your charter, then why do it? Why not do the ministry you signed up to do? Ask the tough questions – of both The UMC and BSA – and then do what makes sense to you. Don’t be put off by self-serving blather. Know what you’re doing, and why. Then DO IT.