UMC advises churches to end charters with Boy Scouts amid sex abuse lawsuit settlement

Scouts from Boy Scout Pack 77 salute the American flag during a Memorial Day ceremony at Joushua Tree Memorial Park May 28, 2012.
Scouts from Boy Scout Pack 77 salute the American flag during a Memorial Day ceremony at Joushua Tree Memorial Park May 28, 2012. | Wikimedia Commons/US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Lauren A. Kurkimilis

The United Methodist Church, a denomination that sponsors thousands of Boy Scout troops, recently told congregations to consider ending or altering their current agreements with the Boy Scouts of America as the embattled scouting organization settles a major sex abuse lawsuit.

The UMC’s Office of Public Information released a statement last week explaining that the mainline Protestant denomination had a long history with the BSA, dating back for more than a century.

Church leadership cited the recent BSA lawsuit filed by thousands of victims of sexual abuse. Earlier this year, BSA reached a settlement with a proposed payout of over $850 million to thousands of victims of sexual abuse. UMC fears that the BSA's bankruptcy and financial hit might eventually negatively impact UMC congregations that sponsor Boy Scout troops.

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“Questions remain about how that agreement might affect chartered organizations, including thousands of United Methodist congregations that have sponsored scouting programs,” explained the UMC.

“The interests of those congregations are represented by an ad hoc committee established to represent United Methodist interests, which is actively engaged in the bankruptcy process and related negotiations.”

The UMC noted that the BSA “did not include its sponsoring organizations, charter groups, in the agreement with the claimants,” thus leaving “as many as 5,000 United Methodist U.S. congregations — or more than 15 percent of U.S. congregations — exposed to potential lawsuits by the survivor claimants.”

As a result, the UMC ad hoc committee recommended that congregations with scout troops “agree to extend an expiring charter through December 31, rather than renew that charter,” “replace an expiring charter with a facilities use agreement that expires on December 31,” or “terminate an existing charter and replace it with a facilities use agreement that expires on December 31.”

“All of those options allow more time to see how the bankruptcy will impact United Methodist congregations,” stated the UMC office, adding that the denomination “grieve[s] for those who experienced harm.”

Over 80,000 claims were made from 1940 through 2018 by the court-established deadline. According to the UMC statement, some of those claims are potentially connected to scouting units sponsored by UMC churches. The BSA has seen fewer sexual abuse cases since implementing its current program aimed at ensuring the safety of children. UMC maintains that the percentage of claims related to UMC-sponsored scouting units is "proportionately lower than that of other chartered units."

“This tragedy is a reminder for all of us to be vigilant, update Safe Sanctuary policies and continue to review those policies to ensure congregations are following the policies and keeping all young people safe from harm," Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey said in the statement. 

In July, the BSA reached a settlement agreement with approximately 60,000 victims of sexual abuse that some experts believed might involve compensation well above $1 billion.

"It is important that people see this dollar amount, and know this is not the end; this is just the beginning," said Jordan Merson, an attorney helping to represent the victims, in an interview with USA Today. "There are billions of dollars in insurance money, and the fight to get that money is continuing."

At the end of 2019, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, previously the religious group that sponsored the largest number of BSA troops, cut its ties with the scouting organization.

In a joint statement with the BSA in 2018, the denomination said that the decision to halt the relationship was related to a decision by LDS Church leadership to “create and implement a uniform youth leadership and development program that serves its members globally.”  

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