Unitarian-Boy Scout Agreement Collapses

A recent reconciliation between the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Boy Scouts of America, which have been at loggerheads over definitions of God and attitudes toward homosexuality, has collapsed.

In May 1998, the Scouting group ordered Unitarians to stop awarding their Religion in Life badges to Scouts in their congregations. The conflict centered on language in the Unitarian badge handbook referring to the "homophobic and discriminatory attitudes" of the Boy Scout leadership and questioning the organization's concept of God. Last month, after much wrangling, the two sides reached an agreement in which the liberal Boston-based religious organization said it would delete the offending language from the handbook.

But early this month, the Scouting group, which does not allow openly gay males to be Scouts or Scout leaders, again ordered Unitarians to stop conferring the badges. Scout officials made the decision after learning that the Unitarian Universalist Association planned to distribute, along with the revised handbook, pamphlets explaining its position on homosexuality and belief in God.

Despite the Scouts' reversal, the Unitarians intend to proceed as planned. "We are going to continue to give out the Religion in Life award," said John Hurley, association spokesman. "We are going to revise our manual in the way we informed the Boy Scouts we would" and provide supplementary information to Scouts seeking the award.

The Scouts say they will not recognize the award. "We've withdrawn authorization to give the emblem, and that's where it stands at the moment," spokesman Paul Stevenson said.

-- Caryle Murphy

Ministering to Earth

A broad coalition of religious denominations launched a 10-year, $16 million campaign this week to promote action on behalf of the environment.

The program is aimed at bringing "care for God's creation to the heart of religious life and to play our part in protecting Earth's sacred environment," leaders of the New York-based National Religious Partnership for the Environment said Thursday at a meeting in Washington.

The partnership includes the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, the National Council of Churches of Christ, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, the Evangelical Environmental Network and the Orthodox Church in America, among others.

The partnership, which is financed by the participating groups, hopes to build a support network by distributing worship and educational materials to congregations across the country. The materials describe care for the environment as a Scripture-based, moral obligation of faith communities. It also will encourage faith groups to step up lobbying efforts on environment-related public policy issues, such as pollution, biodiversity and global climate change.

The campaign, said Paul Gorman, the partnership's executive director, will run training sessions for clergy and lay leaders on how to make "taking care of creation . . . a central priority of their individual ministries."

Two local projects are being used as models for the campaign. One is the "Poultry, Poverty and Pollution" campaign, an effort by Catholic officials in Maryland and Delaware to build a network of people concerned about workers' rights in the poultry industry and about alleged industry pollution of the Chesapeake Bay.

The second is a program being created at Loyola College in Baltimore to teach students about the relationship between social justice, spirituality and the environment.

-- Caryle Murphy

Pilgrimage to Rome

Cardinal James Hickey will lead a 10-day pilgrimage to Rome next year for 100 Catholics from the Washington Archdiocese to commemorate the Great Jubilee Year 2000.

He will be accompanied by all three auxiliary bishops of the archdiocese.

The pilgrimage will begin Oct. 9, 2000, at the end of a four-day archdiocesan Eucharistic Congress. While in Rome, those in the cardinal's party will visit the four major basilicas of the city, have an audience with Pope John Paul II and make a side trip to Assisi.

Anyone interested in finding out more information about the trip should call 1-800-777-7432.

-- Caryle Murphy