A New Direction for Scouting

Today, July 27, 2015 (yesterday by the time the post is live), the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America approved a policy change to allow gay adults to serve as adult volunteers in units, with an exception for units sponsored by religious organizations that allows those units to "use religious beliefs as criteria for selecting adult leaders, including matters of sexuality" (for adults only).

My church and the sponsoring organization of all of the Scouting units for which I have volunteered, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave a fairly strong response, objecting both about the scheduling of the vote and about the outcome of the policy, saying "the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America."

The mission statement of the Boy Scouts of America is:
The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.
For the LDS church, moral choices include refraining from sexual behavior except between a married man and woman. For an increasing number of other churches in our society (e.g., Unitarian Universalists, Episcopal and Presbyterian), morality has less to do with the nature of the sexual relation and more to do with the relationship and fidelity of the individuals to each other in that relationship.

The change of policy in the Boy Scouts of America acknowledges the cultural shift that has occurred in our society. This is what the BSA National President, Robert Gates, was referencing when in May 2015 he said, "We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be. The status quo in our movement's membership standards cannot be sustained."

The Boy Scouts of America has a powerful collection of programs (Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting, and Venturing — and the lesser-known Varsity Scouting that doesn't even get its own webpage) designed to build character, develop citizenship and promote fitness in youth. Sexuality plays no role in the program itself, leaving these issues to families and their religious affiliations. The program should continue to function in the same way after this change as it has functioned in the past.

The exception given to churches to apply their own recruitment standards for leaders seems to be a good balance for Scouting. Some concerns remain. The National Catholic Committee on Scouting, for example, stated that it feels "that the resolution respects the needs of Catholic chartered organizations in the right to choose leaders whose character and conduct are consistent with those of Catholic teaching." However, it also expressed some concerns about the practical implications of the policy as it relates to participants understanding of morality.

Others are warning of the increased risk and burden of litigation on individual churches. Trail Life USA, a competitor of BSA that began when the Boy Scouts implemented an earlier policy change prohibiting membership discrimination of youth with regards to sexual orientation, conveniently provided a legal memorandum earlier in the week (prior to the vote) cautioning chartered organizations that future lawsuits will be aimed at individual chartering organizations rather than the Boy Scouts of America and that those individual organizations will be left unprotected from the impact of these suits.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [hereafter referenced as the Church] is in a unique situation among all churches that sponsor units with BSA in that Scouting is the religious activity program for boys aged 8-18 in the United States of America. Other churches typically sponsor a troop as a form of community outreach and service. Furthermore, the LDS church is hierarchical, with church-wide policies governing many aspects of implementation in order to accomplish the religious goals associated with its youth program. With greater membership outside of the United States of America than inside, the resulting fragmentation in how to approach the youth programs in a diverse, international church introduces complexity in administration and lack of clarity in vision and direction.

Because of this, I believe the most significant statement in the Church's response is the following:
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. Those worldwide needs combined with this vote by the BSA National Executive Board will be carefully reviewed by the leaders of the Church in the weeks ahead.
 I think I will be more surprised (but happy) if the ultimate response by the Church is to continue to work with Scouting than if it were to develop an independent program. If the Church were to separate from the Scouting movement, the economic shift (especially of human capital) would work strongly in favor of implementing a unified world-wide youth program. (Diversity in implementations of Scouting worldwide makes a Scouting approach to this difficult if not impossible.)

Personally, I hope that the allowance for churches to continue to apply their own membership guidelines will be enough to enable the Church to remain a participant in the Scouting movement. I'm not sure how this relates to some councils taking even stronger stances that appear to object to the religious organization exception. The Scouting movement, even with the shifting societal views on morality, continues to provide a time-tested program to teach youth to make ethical and moral choices that are guided by the Scout oath and law. It is a privilege to stand with a diverse group of brothers and sisters in the grand family of humanity who are united in this great cause.
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
And to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
Mentally awake, and morally straight.


  1. Brian,

    I believe you have captured this well. We truly live in interesting times. Like you, I have a deep love for Scouting. However, the realization that the Church is a worldwide church and may need to develop a consistent program for all it's youth or add to a current program (Duty to God) is something I'm sure is weighing on a lot of folks' minds and now coupled with this vote by BSA.... it may spur the Church to take a bigger step in that direction. Particularly when this is combined with the uncertainty of whether the sponsor units will truly be protected in their choice of leadership. Scouting has been an amazing program that has blessed so many lives including my own. My oldest son begins Cub Scouts next week! That's hard to believe on so many levels, he's 8!? I have an 8 year old!? He is so excited to begin Scouting and I am excited for him. Like you I hope that the Church will find the ability to remain a participant in Scouting. Very interesting times indeed. As I have heard others say: We wait. We watch. We listen.

    -Michael A. Swinson-

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting thoughtfully.

  2. Brian,
    I appreciate your thoughtful approach to this issue, and I agree with Michael--you have captured it well. Your thinking is steeped in Scout Spirit (that I share), and I admire your optimism (that I wish I had). As I see it, Cinderella (the Oath, Law, Spirit, and values of Scouting) has been assaulted by her wicked stepsisters (militant LGBT activists and corporate partners) and her once-beautiful dress (the BSA) is in tatters. A Fairy Godmother (the Church) will need to intervene if Cinderella is to meet and influence the prince (our young men). Seriously, while there is so much that Scouting offers, the BSA as an institution is powerless to stop the onslaught of "diversity" and "inclusion" that have lately highlighted our society's prophesied moral decline. The current "exception" for religious charter organizations can't last long. Did you read this statement from a Kenneth Upton, a lawyer for the LGBT-rights group Lambda Legal, who says that the BSA's new policy to let church-sponsored units continue to exclude gay adults is not sustainable? Here are his chilling words:

    "There will be a period of time where [churches]'ll have some legal protection. But that doesn't mean the lawsuits won't keep coming...."

    Wow. Unbelievable. And so, so, so sad. While there are soooooo many implications to abandoning the BSA (it would take months of careful deliberation, years of implementation, and frankly a lot more work on our part), I think the time has come to develop a viable alternative before its too late.

    1. I certainly have optimism in Scouting as a movement. I'm not sure my optimism that the Church will continue to participate in Scouting is quite as strong, as its considerations extend well beyond the scope of just this issue.

      Yes, I read the quote by Upton. Did you happen to read the Trail Life USA's statement that I linked above that suggests essentially the same thing? But any such anticipated future attacks are going to occur to churches with or without Scouting being involved.

      I don't think it will take as much time as you think if the Church decides to move on. The website already has an implementation: https://www.lds.org/youth/activities
      In the spirit of simplification, why does the Church need to recreate Scouting? Emphasize the importance of quorum and class presidencies planning activities around needs of their members.


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