Aug. 25, 2021, NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMCom) – The United Methodist Church and its predecessors have a relationship with the American Scouts (BSA) that dates back more than 100 years. In February 2020, the BSA announced that the national organization would file for bankruptcy to enable it to continue carrying out its mission, in addition to compensating victims of sexual abuse who were injured during its reconnaissance process. While bankruptcy is underway, the BSA, along with its local councils, recently reached an agreement with representatives of the majority of survivors on a proposed $ 850 million settlement.
At the moment, negotiations are underway for other parties that have an interest in bankruptcy. Questions remain about how the agreement could affect authorized organizations, including thousands of United Methodist congregations that have sponsored reconnaissance programs. The United Methodist Congregations represent the largest active collection of authorized organizations. The interests of these congregations are represented by an ad hoc committee established to represent the interests of the United Methodists, which is actively involved in bankruptcy proceedings and related negotiations.
The denomination continues to maintain a relationship with the BSA, and churches can continue to support reconnaissance troops. However, the ad hoc committee is disappointed and very concerned that the BSA did not involve its sponsoring organizations, the charter group, in the agreement with the applicants. As a result, as many as 5,000 joint Methodist U.S. congregations — or more than 15 percent of U.S. congregations — are exposed to potential lawsuits by surviving plaintiffs. The BSA has promised that charter organizations will cover their insurance, but it is not clear at this time to what extent the Congregations of the United Methodists will be covered.
The Ad Hoc Committee advised that churches that support reconnaissance units should: (1) agree to extend the charter, which expires on December 31, instead of renewing it; (2) replace the expired charter with a facility use contract that expires on December 31; or (3) terminate the existing charter and replace it with a facility use agreement that expires on December 31st. All of these options allow more time to see how bankruptcy will affect united Methodist communities.
United Methodist leaders across the denomination mourn those who have experienced evil. Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey called on the church to pray for the victims and their families. “This tragedy is a reminder for all of us to be vigilant, update the Safe Asylum policy and continue to revise that policy to ensure that assemblies adhere to the policy and protect all young people from danger.”
More than 80,000 different claims from 1940 to 2018 were filed by the deadline set by the court. Some of these claims are potentially related to reconnaissance units sponsored by united Methodist communities. The BSA has implemented its current program designed to prevent sexual abuse and ensure the safety of scouts since the 1980s, and there have been fewer cases since the program was developed and improved. The percentage of receivables related to reconnaissance units sponsored by United Methodist is proportionally lower than those in other leased units. United Methodists have and continue to pursue the policy and practice of safe haven.
A leadership team has also been formed to assist in the development of principles, guidelines and steps in action in preparation for leading the church through the ongoing bankruptcy and its impact on organizations authorized by the United Methodist. The team, chaired by Bishop John Schol, includes representatives of the Episcopal Council, as well as individuals with financial, legal, and communication skills.