Bishop L. Jonathan Holston, resident bishop of the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, released this statement regarding the future of local church involvement with Scouting ministries:
My friends, Scouting has been a vital ministry in United Methodist churches here in South Carolina and around the Connection for more than 100 years. We know that the involvement of committed disciples of Jesus Christ in Scouting ministry has had a profound and abiding impact on the lives of young people in our communities.
We also know that great harm has been inflicted on far too many of those youths by individuals who took advantage of the deep well of trust that our churches built up over the past century. That pain and betrayal can never be fully washed away.
That said, we feel that, moving forward, the potential for good in continuing our relationship with Scouting will outweigh the risk of further harm, and we look forward to the opportunity to reclaim – day-by-day, encounter-by-encounter, relationship-by-relationship – the confidence and trust that has been eroded these past decades.
A federal judge has approved the Boy Scouts of America’s bankruptcy plan, which includes, among others, these commitments by The United Methodist Church:
- A $30 million denominational contribution to the $2.6 billion survivor settlement fund
- A commitment to hear the experiences of survivors who participated in United Methodist-sponsored troops
- A review of all Safe Sanctuaries policies in United Methodist congregations and annual conferences
The South Carolina Conference already has taken steps to comply with the settlement and to help local churches whose members wish to continue their involvement in Scouting ministry in a responsible way that ensures the safety and welfare of everyone involved.
First, we have initiated a review of the conference’s Safe Sanctuaries policy to ensure that we are doing everything possible to protect children, youth and vulnerable adults entrusted to the care of our ministries. Once that review is complete, we will provide a process to help guide local churches in reviewing their own Safe Sanctuaries policies.
Second, The United Methodist Church is assembling a task force – relying on those with specialized skills in training – to develop a plan to allow victims a safe forum to share the abuse they endured and the impact it has had on their lives.
Third, conference agencies already have moved to honor the South Carolina Conference’s share of The United Methodist Church’s $30 million contribution to the survivor settlement fund – currently set at $364,168.
Finally, we want to ensure that local United Methodist churches whose members wish to continue hosting and supporting Scouting have safe and responsible options to do so. In the past, local churches have served as Scouting “chartered organizations.” Legally, that meant churches owned and operated their Scouting units. According to an agreement negotiated between The United Methodist Church and the Boy Scouts of America, traditional charters are no longer a viable option for local churches.
Moving forward, local churches are strongly encouraged to define their relationship with Scouting units using one of two legal agreements – both of which were tailored carefully to comply with and conform to liability insurance coverages that now exist. The Boy Scouts of America was part of the team that drafted these options:
- Affiliation Agreement – With this type of relationship, the church agrees to support the Scouting program through prayer, financial gifts and volunteer service. It will host a Scout Sunday, advertise the Scouting program and volunteer needs, welcome Scouts and provide opportunities for Scouts to participate in the church’s youth programs, and promote religious awards. What makes this different from being a “chartered organization”: All scouting assets will be transferred to the local Boy Scouts of America council, which would own the unit.
- Facilities Use Agreement – With this type of relationship, the church simply hosts the Scouting program. The church can still support the ministry of Scouting by providing space, storage, communication, membership growth, faith opportunities and opportunities to raise money. Again, what makes this different from being a “chartered organization”: The local Boy Scouts of America council (or another group) would own the unit, which would have its own tax identification number, bank accounts, equipment, etc.
Each local Church Council should decide which relationship is appropriate for their church – carefully considering the insurance agreement that is in place and the level of commitment they believe can be sustained. Local church leaders who would like more guidance on this point should contact their district superintendent.
Through the General Commission on United Methodist Men, an interim agreement is in place that extends all insurance and indemnification protections through March 2023. Local churches are encouraged to finalize their relationships with local Scouting units by Dec. 31, 2022.
We will continue our efforts to maintain compassionate support for survivors of abuse, while safeguarding the security of local United Methodist churches affected by the Boy Scouts of America bankruptcy case. We are grateful for God’s grace and guidance and the dedicated work of many throughout this difficult process to date.
Friends, we trust, believe and know that – despite human brokenness and frailty – God continues to work through us and within us. Please join me in continuing prayers for all of those victimized by abuse, as well as the countless lay volunteers, and local church staff and clergy who remain committed to providing a safe space for youth to experience the love of Christ.
Grace and peace,
L. Jonathan Holston
South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church