This past month, our Facebook feeds and news outlets have been riddled with boys in green shorts, khaki uniforms, and rainbow neckerchiefs. Recently, the Boy Scouts of America was involved in a series of lawsuits relating to their previous blanket ban on openly gay scout leaders. In July, the BSA National Executive Board made the decision to lift the ban and allow openly gay scout leaders to lead troops. Their decision also allowed charter organizations the freedom to continue to select scout leaders for their troops based on their own criteria.
This decision did not come as a surprise for Church leadership. It’s important to remember that while the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is protected by the First Amendment, the Boy Scouts of America, as an institution, is not. The legal pressure on the BSA was such that it became almost impossible for the Boy Scouts to continue with their current policies as they stood. As with any business or public service organization, the BSA has to adhere to anti-discrimination laws, whereas, the Church as a religious institution has the constitutionally protected right to appoint who they wish. Many news outlets picked up on the disappointment of Church leadership in the statement following the decision. But it seems to me that the Church was more put out by the timing of the decision rather than the outcome. Yesterday, the Church released another statement in response to speculation about a potential break up of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America. After discussion, the leaders of the Church have decided to go forward with the Boy Scouts of America as one of their charter organizations.
The Church has a significant presence within the leadership of the BSA. Four general authorities have a place on the BSA National Executive Board at this time: President Thomas S. Monson, the longest standing member of the board, who was just granted lifetime membership status; Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who was just elected last May; Stephen W. Owen, Young Men general president, as well as, Rosemary M. Wixom, Primary general president. Many of these leaders have expressed a deep appreciation for scouting and its ability to influence the young men of the Church. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Church has decided to continue on with its century old relationship with the BSA. Here are a few factors that may have influenced this decision.
1. Scouting ties the Church to the community and provides opportunities to share the Gospel.
Dave Pack, the Scout Executive of the Utah National Parks Council (the largest council in the nation, servicing a staggering 89,268 scouts in their council alone) spoke with Mormon Buzzz after the BSA made the policy change. This council is unique in that it has a very high percentage of LDS troops, which means that Pack was very invested in the Church’s decision. He discussed the potential consequences of the Church breaking away from the BSA, and one aspect that Dave touched on was the large number of non-member scouts that are involved with LDS troops. These scouts have a very up-close and personal experience with the Young Men program and the Church in general. These situations provide the LDS youth with priceless missionary opportunities where they can share their testimonies with non-members in their own troop. Dave stated, “The Church would be missing out on a lot of missionary opportunities if they broke off from scouting.” Scouting also helps the youth of the Church expand their friendships to boys not of our faith and helps them gain a respect for people who don’t share our beliefs. Scouting helps foster a love and reverence for the country and provides opportunities to serve and improve the communities where scouts live. This connection with the community is as valuable for the Church as it is for the community. David L. Beck, former Young Men general president, said, “Scouting is a bridge to join with good people of other faiths and organizations whose values and aspirations are similar to ours, and to work together to bless all youth in our communities.” If this particular tie was severed, it would be difficult for the Church to develop a link as beneficial as this with those not of our faith, and we would be much more isolated from our communities.
2. Lack of infrastructure makes creating an alternative program difficult for the Church.
In the Church’s statement regarding the decision of the BSA Executive Board, it mentioned the Church’s previous attempts to create an international program that can benefit the youth of the Church worldwide. Dave Pack expressed that the Church failed to sustain an international program because it lacked the infrastructure and organization that the BSA provides. One of the biggest assets that the BSA has is paid staff. If the Church were to develop an alternative program, it would rely largely on volunteers, the same way it functions in the other organizations of the Church. BSA facilities provide a place for young men to have a huge variety of experiences in one place. There are scout camps built all around the country that are fully equipped to give scouts training and experience that will prepare them and educate them. While the Church is perfectly capable of replicating and even improving those kinds of facilities, it would take years to build the facilities to accommodate the young men of the Church. It wouldn’t be feasible for the Church to build a program to equal the BSA.
While there is a demand for a more globalized program for young men, the leaders of the Church, in their most recent statement, mentioned that they would continue to refine program options to fit the needs of youth all around the world.
3. Scouting truly helps young men in the Church.
Contrary to what some people may believe, scouting, when done right, really does benefit and help young men develop and grow. I have been surrounded with scouting all my life. An overwhelming majority of the men (and a few women too) in my family are Eagle Scouts and a few are professional scouts. I worked for the Boy Scouts of America and taught young scouters. I saw at firsthand scouting done right and scouting done wrong. But even in my limited experience, I saw that the positive outcomes outnumbered the negative. I saw some of the loudest, most obnoxious boys turn silent and reverent as they humbly saluted the flag. They were reflecting the reverence they saw in their scoutmasters and leaders, and in those moments, these young men become teachable and respectable. You’d be hard-pressed to find that kind of reverence, even in a sunday school classroom.
Dave Pack said the biggest benefit he saw in the scouting program was its ability to help turn young men into effective missionaries. “Scouting provides the best opportunity to be prepared for a mission. A good Scouting experience will allow [a young man] to gain skills like teaching, teamwork, leadership and cooperation, giving him skills that would be hard to find anywhere else to prepare him to serve the Lord.” he also had this to say about the benefits of the scouting program:
“If mothers only knew that, as a Scout, her son will be surrounded by the example of men that would teach him true-life skills, men who would set an example of what he could become, men of character, men of spiritual strength, men of God.
“If mothers only knew that living the Scout Oath and Law are central to what happens in a boy’s heart through Scouting. Examples of integrity are harder to find in today’s world. We need more young men to become men of integrity, to know what it means to be physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight. Over time, a Scout learns what the Oath and Law are and how to apply them in his life.”
Take the word of our prophet Thomas S. Monson and listen to what he had to say about scouting: “Scouting helps our boys to walk uprightly the priesthood path to exaltation.” He also made this remark at the 100 Years of Scouting in the Church celebration that happened only two years ago. I think his statement is more applicable now than it was then. “If ever there were a time when the principles of Scouting were vitally needed, that time is now.”
Let us move forward with optimism and faith in the future and the Church’s decision to stick with the BSA.
Cover photo detail from “We, Too, Have a Job To Do” by Norman Rockwell