Mormons and Scouting: It comes down to this?

Yesterday, 27 July 2015, the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) National Executive Board voted to end the organization’s longstanding (and misguided, to put it mildly) ban on openly gay leaders. (You can read the BSA’s statement here.) The new policy does, however, come with one big caveat: “… religious chartered organizations may continue to use religious beliefs as criteria for selecting adult leaders, including matters of sexuality.”

In spite of this exception for Scouting units chartered by religious groups, my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, decided to issue a terse statement of its own anyway, in which it stated that the BSA’s vote was “deeply troubling” and that it was “reevaluating” its relationship with the BSA.

Normally I don’t speak out on public statements made by my church. After all, to be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure who writes them. They are typically issued at MormonNewsroom.org, which is ostensibly the online home of the Church’s public affairs department, and I’ve learned over the years that the Church’s public affairs staff at headquarters in Salt Lake and elsewhere are about as tone deaf as they come. But I don’t know what ecclesiastical leadership, if any, is behind statements like this one. Did one of the Church’s general authorities approve/alter/edit/write this statement before it was issued? I can’t say.

But I’m making an exception for this statement. Why? Sorry, but this statement—this statement was just stupid.

First of all, did the person who wrote and/or decided to issue the statement even read the BSA’s new policy? It’s as if they had a statement already prepared in case the BSA made a blanket decision that covered every Scouting unit, regardless of chartering organization. But it wasn’t: it in no uncertain terms makes an exception for religious groups. So if the Church was worried about being required to have gay leaders for its Scouting units—well, that isn’t the case.

Yet it doesn’t even stop there. The statement goes on to whine about how the entire decision was made. “In spite of a request to delay the vote, it was scheduled at a time in July when members of the Church’s governing councils are out of their offices and do not meet.” How, exactly, is that the BSA’s problem or concern? Yes, the Church may (or may not—who really knows) be the largest sponsor of Scouting units in the United States. But it’s not the only one, and ultimately the BSA is an independent organization. It can do what it wants. If this is such a pressing issue that the Church’s “governing councils” feel the need to address it, well, I guess they can just get back in their suits and hop on planes to Salt Lake City, can’t they? (Or maybe just hold a conference call? They now come in video form, you know.)

Then there’s this line: “… the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church ….” What? The Church has made it pretty clear in recent years that, yes, one can be homosexual and yet remain a member in good standing, worthy to enter the temple and serve in church callings—including, it would seem, as a Scout leader. So, if this is “inconsistent” with the Church’s doctrines or policies, I guess I’m a little unclear then on what those doctrines and policies actually are.

And after all that, there’s this cherry on top: “As a global organization with members in 170 countries, the Church has long been evaluating the limitations that fully one-half of its youth face where Scouting is not available.” First of all, that’s an extremely awkwardly written sentence. But, more to the point: for a century, Scouting has been the official activity arm of the Aaronic Priesthood, but it took this decision to make the Church realize that half of its youth live in countries where the Boy Scouts of America doesn’t operate? Either someone hasn’t got a clue, or this is really unfortunate timing (my bet is that it’s the latter).

Here’s the thing: I’ve long disliked the Church’s close association with Scouting anyway. I think the BSA is an anachronistic program that does little to address the real needs of young men growing up in the 21st century (or the late 20th century, as I did). As a young Latter-day Saint, I strongly disliked the pressure placed on me to “earn my Eagle” and the stigma placed on those who didn’t pursue it. (For the record, I stopped participating in Scouting after I reached Second or First Class rank.) I recall one time where someone speaking at a stake youth activity told the young women to look at whether a potential “eternal companion” was an Eagle Scout; apparently knot tying, Scout camp, and an Eagle project are up there with temple ordinances as prerequisites for exaltation. I’ve long stated that the only calling I will ever turn down is Scout leader (fortunately, no one has ever asked). And why is the Church so deeply committed to Boy Scouts but not Girl Scouts?

So I would love for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to “reevaluate” its relationship with Scouting. If I had my druthers, I’d drop Scouting as an official Church program altogether. But under these conditions? For the Church to use this decision by the BSA’s National Executive Board as a reason to reevaluate the program is just petty, mean-spirited, and wrong.

3 thoughts on “Mormons and Scouting: It comes down to this?

  1. Reblogged this on Dustin Tyler Joyce and commented:

    Some thoughts about the statement issued by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints yesterday in response to the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to allow openly gay Scout leaders. From my other blog.

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  2. I get that who serves as scout leaders is a matter of practice & policy, but doctrine?

    The list of countries & territories without scouting is very small, hard to believe half of the church lives in those places. Why doesn’t the church use scouting as the activity for young men in countries where half the church youth live?

    Gay scouts and leaders are allowed in many places where the church uses scouting (Canada, Australia, most of Europe). As long as the church can have male-only troops and choose its own leaders, it hasn’t been an issue. What’s different this time?

    The statement issued by the Newsroom has galvanized a lot of Mormons to vocally ascent to dropping scouts due to the decision to allow gay leaders. That statement and the support for it voiced by many members have turned out to be the exact opposite of what Scouting teaches (loyal, trustworthy, kind, friendly, courteous).

    Those of us who have wanted to drop scouts for other reasons (requires too much time, resources and effort and appeals to too few young men) are surprised and delighted that we may finally have movement on our side, even if it’s for the “wrong” reason.

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  3. Hi Dustin, I share your concern over the goodness of fit between the Boy Scout program and the needs of young men in a rapidly-globalizing Church. The Correlation Program of the Church (in the 1960’s and 1970’s) was specifically designed to prepare the Church for the increasing globalization of its membership. Great effort was made to differentiate what was essential from what was good, yet not essential. Youth programs were drastically simplified, church magazines were refocused by age group instead of auxiliary, the curriculum was rewritten from top to bottom, leadership councils and meetings were drastically revamped, and the consolidated (3-hour block) meeting schedule was adopted. For whatever reason, no change in the Church’s relationship with the Boy Scouts was made at that time, despite scouting’s cost, leadership intensity, and outdoor emphasis. While the program has helped many young men discover important things about themselves, develop their talents, and foster living a high moral code, there are certainly other ways these can be accomplished, e.g., the Duty to God program.

    Until recently, both the Boy Scouts and the Church have valued and cultivated their relationship with the other. If the Boy Scouts of America no longer wishes to continue its policy regarding gay leaders, it is of course its prerogative to do so. What is unusual is that this decision was finalized when the sponsoring organization for 25% of their members was not allowed to make its case to the executive board. Presumably this tactic was carefully thought out by the Boy Scouts, in which case the announcement of a relationship re-evaluation by the Church should be no surprise to them.

    I respectfully disagree regarding some specifics in the original post. In particular, I believe the Church should set standards for the behavior of people serving as role models for its children and youth.

    Presumably, both parties are making these decisions with a view to the future. Is the Boy Scouts worried about enormously expensive legal challenges if it does not change its policy? Is the Church concerned about likely follow-on Boy Scout decisions subsequent to this policy change? For example, given the common usage contrasting “gay” to “straight”, will there be pressures to re-write the Scout Law? Might there be pressures to create merit badges inconsistent with Church teachings? The particular gift of seership will be of great value to the Quorum of the Twelve as it strives to determine the Lord’s will in this matter.

    When two organizations have been so intertwined for so long, separation or divorce can be extremely complex, especially in the implementation. A conference phone call format is woefully inadequate for a consensus resolution of this issue.

    I, for one, can see some real benefit to a parting of the ways. However, if that is the decision, I hope it can be done in a way which recognizes the benefits of Scouting to many LDS young men to date, as well as the massive good which many of our members have made in scouting-related callings over many decades.

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