Monday, November 26, 2007

Boy Scouts and the Press

I had my first encounter with the press as a budding minister and, so far, I have to say I'm am very satisfied. Our local scouts hosted their second annual Ten Commandments hike the day after Thanksgiving. A group of 350 scouts, parents, and leaders walked to a number of churches in the local area, stopping at each to hear presentations by representatives of different religious traditions. Presenters included Jews, Catholics, Byzantine Catholics, Baptists, Episcopals, Lutherans, Christian Scientists, Hindus, and Buddhists. At each stop, we were asked to address one of the 10 Commandments and how our religion interpreted that particular rule, as well as briefly discuss our religion.

I was assigned the commandment against taking the Lord's name in vain -- which is enormously ironic since I am particularly fond of swearing. But, I explained that my interpretation of the commandment is that we should not judge or disrespect others vainly in the name of whatever we consider of ultimate importance (referring to Tillich's concept of Ultimate Concern). As an example, I asked the scouts to look at our principles in the hymnal and pointed out our commitment to the democratic process. I said that it would be wrong for me in the name of Democracy to disrespect another person's religion just because its structure was hierarchical.

In describing Unitarian Universalism, I told the scouts that the people they meet in one of our congregations might display a wide range of religious beliefs. I explained that they might find Christians, Jews and Muslims; atheists and agnostics; pagans, wiccans and pantheists; humanists and folks with many other views on the nature of god. Then, I told them that I am an atheist and that I do not believe that atheism and religion are mutually exclusive. That definitely raised a few eyebrows.

Funny, though, was that when the boys asked questions, they were mostly about the church building and our organ. One young man asked if Unitarian Universalists could also belong to another church. I explained that it was common for our families to have one UU parent and one parent of another faith tradition, and that these families often attend services at both churches.

A reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette attended the event. She asked me about the conflict between the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Boy Scouts. I explained my understanding of the situation and added that that conflict at the national level has not yet hurt our relationship with local scouting groups. Needless to say, I was amazed when the article came out the next day how much focused on what I had said. I was even more amazed at how well she quoted me and represented my comments. She not only mentioned my comments on atheism extensively, but also mentioned prominently our church's banner, "Civil Marriage is a Civil Right." So, I was able to address both of the major issues of contention with the Boy Scouts in, I believe, a constructive way.

Of course, it remains to be seen if there will be any follow up on the article or comments from readers. I really hope that some folks will read it and try us out. I particularly hope that some teens who are questioning their religious beliefs will read it and realize that we are there as a noncreedal alternative as they search for truth and meaning in their lives. I know that as a teenager, I would have loved to know an adult I could talk to on these issues.