Paul Greenberg

Arkansas has been ground zero for news about the Boy Scouts controversy. But unlike most news about the Boy Scouts, this news hasn't been the good kind. Note how CNN covered the story about the Baptist church here in Arkansas that canceled its charter with the local Boy Scout troop. It seems the church disagreed with a decision by the national Boy Scouts of America to tolerate homosexual boys in its ranks. The church's leaders decided it would violate their principles to continue sponsoring the Scouts, so the boys were shown the church's door.

The local Boy Scouts hadn't done a thing to bring about the national organization's change of policy. They were never asked their opinion on the matter. But they paid the price just the same.

Happily, it wasn't a terrible price. In less than 10 days, another church of a different denomination stepped up to offer the Scouts a place to meet. In a twist to the story, the new church was the original sponsor of that particular troop, and the name of the church (North Pulaski United Methodist) was still featured on the local troop's flag. So there's no need to even change the troop's banner. Remarkable how these things work out. Some might call it providential.

So has CNN covered the rest of this story and the happy ending? Not that I've noticed. Well, sure. It's CNN, it's the National Media, it's the never-ceasing 24/7 hunt for controversy and conflict. What's more, this tidbit of news also fit into the ideological temper of our increasingly christophobic society: Christians bad, homosexual kids persecuted. When things work out for all concerned, thanks to good church people, that may not help ratings. What does help 'Move The Dial', as they unfortunately say, is disagreement, division, and all the bad feelings they can engender.

Meeting in solemn assembly in Houston, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution denouncing the Boy Scouts of America for deciding to tolerate openly homosexual boys in its ranks. But this convention of Baptists in Houston has no more right to tell the BSA what to do than the BSA has to dictate to it. Roger Williams, who is to Baptists as John Wesley is to Methodists, would surely understand. For he was a champion of the separation of religious and civil spheres in our society.

If there's a single, illuminating principle that should guide all in this still simmering controversy, it's a mutual respect for freedom of association. Churches have the same freedom of association that we all have in this country. If a church feels the BSA has put it in an untenable position, it has every right to pull the plug on its own Scout troop. What such churches, or their national convention, can't or at least shouldn't do, is tell the BSA it has to live by their rules, think the way they think, or repudiate their leaders because they hold different beliefs from the Southern Baptist Convention.

It seems the Southern Baptist Convention -- by an overwhelming vote -- approves of freedom of association in the United States of America when it allows churches to disassociate themselves from the national Boy Scouts of America. But when it comes to the Boy Scouts' own freedom? Like the right to adopt its own policies? Not so much.

As the song says, you can go your own way. You can even go your own way wagging your finger at the heathens who disagree with you. What you can't do, not in this country, is impose your own beliefs on others.

Let me not end today's column without noting and approving a statement made at that convention in Houston. It came from one Charlie Dale, a representative of the Indian Springs First Baptist Church in Alabama, the lone speaker at that impressive gathering to oppose the resolution denouncing the Boy Scouts of America. Noting that the Scouts disapprove of sexual activity in general on the part of boys, Mr. Dale said of the homosexual kids:

"I don't think we'd kick such a boy out of our Sunday Schools. I don't think we should hold the Boy Scouts to a standard we would not put on our churches. Such a boy needs our love. Let's show them what real Biblical manhood is about and love them."

Brother Dale even drew some applause from the crowd. He certainly gets mine.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.