Mormons and Scouting: A Messy Divorce?

Mormons are talking about Scouting this week as the first significant aftershock of Obergefell v. Hodges rips through the LDS Church. It started with the July 27 announcement by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) that its “National Executive Board ratified a resolution that removes the national restriction on openly gay adult leaders and employees.” The BSA statement announcing the decision included this paragraph explaining that local units can still set their own guidelines for selecting adult leaders:

Chartered organizations will continue to select their adult leaders and religious chartered organizations may continue to use religious beliefs as criteria for selecting adult leaders, including matters of sexuality. This change allows Scouting’s members and parents to select local units, chartered to organizations with similar beliefs, that best meet the needs of their families. This change also respects the right of religious chartered organizations to choose adult volunteer leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own.

Ignoring that olive branch, the LDS Church immediately responded with a statement threatening to terminate its relationship with Scouting. The statement says that the Church is “deeply troubled” by the BSA decision, that the association of the Church with Scouting “will need to be examined,” and that “the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church.” But the BSA policy change expressly provides that local units can still use their own guidelines to bar openly gay adults from serving as adult leaders, so the BSA policy change does not appear to directly affect any LDS scouting unit. So what exactly is the problem? Why the threat to go nuclear?

The July 27 statement is even more puzzling in light of an earlier July 13 LDS Church statement reminding the BSA that the LDS Church “has always had the right to select Scout leaders who adhere to moral and religious principles that are consistent with our doctrines and beliefs” and that any action taken by BSA “must continue to affirm that right.” The BSA did affirm that right. So the LDS response amounts to: Thank you for granting our request. We’re going to get upset now.

The New York Times headline captures the general media reaction: “Boy Scouts End Ban on Gay Leaders, Over Protests by Mormon Church.” The result of the July 27 LDS statement is that the story is now more about the LDS public objection to the BSA policy change than the policy change itself. As far as I can tell, the LDS statement accomplished nothing except getting people confused, even upset, and maybe burning bridges with the BSA as well, who may very well conclude at this point that having the Mormons around is more trouble than it’s worth. I foresee a messy, noisy divorce, with Scouting units in Utah stuck in the middle.

Blogs are all over this, of course. BCC: “Memo to the Newsroom: If the real leaders are away, best to keep quiet until they come back.” The FMH response to the LDS statement: “It left me stumped at first, then just angry.” Mormon Mentality is just as confused by the LDS position. Expert Textperts expressed dismay over the predictable “our leaders are always right” comments at the LDS Facebook post of the Newsroom statement.

The LDS Church and Scouting may soon part ways. That’s not such a big deal: many have been hoping the Church would go its own way for quite awhile now. But here’s a sobering thought for us Mormons: The Church’s entrenched anti-gay position is now so marginal, so extreme, that we can’t even get along with the Boy Scouts.

46 comments for “Mormons and Scouting: A Messy Divorce?

  1. Perhaps Church leaders were taking their cues from Alma 54-55, where Captain Moroni makes demands for a prisoner swap, and then when Ammoron agrees to his terms, Moroni scraps the deal anyway because he feels disrespected and because the Lamanites won’t “withdraw their purposes” entirely. The ultimatums, fit of pique, and intemperate language seem similar.

  2. “But here’s a sobering thought for us Mormons: The Church’s entrenched anti-gay position is now so marginal, so extreme, that we can’t even get along with the Boy Scouts’

    This is one of those statements that only makes sense if you do not think about it at all. At this point the Boy Scouts position is the same as all the rest of the left. They changed, we stayed the same, and somehow we became extremists.

  3. Jeff: If we supported slavery, we would be extremists, even though slavery has been legal throughout most of human history.

  4. Making mountains out of mole hills. There is nothing in the new resolution that mandates or forces the church to accept gay BSA leaders in their units. Just like the BSA Venturing program that includes boys and girls in not mandatory. We didn’t hear anything from the church when that program started in 1998.

  5. rcs: True, but slavery is immoral, and our position on homosexual acts is not, so your analogy does not work.

  6. “so the BSA policy change does not appear to directly affect any LDS scouting unit.”

    The scout leaders that boy scouts interact with are not just from their own scouting unit.

  7. The newspaper accounts I’m seeing mention Catholics and Baptists consistently. Why are “the Mormons” the only religion worth mentioning in the NY Times headline? Where I live, Protestants and Catholics make up a far greater number of scouts than do LDS members, although I guess the overall numbers show an overall greater number of LDS young men as registered scouters. ( I actually think the number is over inflated, as we tend to register YM even if they have no real interest in scouting). Anyway, just wondering why we seem to be singled out when other major BSA supporters are mulling over their options, too.

  8. “The Church’s entrenched anti-gay position is now so marginal, so extreme, that we can’t even get along with the Boy Scouts.”

    More people think premarital sex is morally acceptable (66%) than agree with the BSA’s last move. Yep, we’re one freakily extreme minority.

  9. The part this divorce does not consider is the non-scouting relationships. This letter is one more brick in the wall of marginalizing everyone. If you don’t stand with the letter, you don’t stand with the brethren. If you don’t stand with the brethren you are the problem. If you are the problem “we” (the included and wise) ask you to move along. So now families have one more division point, wards do, too. But it’s okay someone is doing whats right. The rest of us just need to get over it.

    I find it ironic that the the church of deepest modern persecution, the Mormons, can’t figure out how they get picked on in the first place.

    Thanks for nothing COB.

  10. Dave,
    Let me correct your last sentence, “But here’s a sobering thought for us Mormons: The Boy Scouts’ new pro-gay capitulation is so quick, so extreme, and so underhanded, that we can’t even get along with the new cultural leftist mindset in the top leadership.”
    The corporatist, bureaucratic, heavy handed leadership of Bob Gates is in full display here. I suspect that a much more amenable (to the church leaders) compromise was possible, but Gates short-circuited that. When working as leader of the US military many of his leadership traits served him well. In the military, General Monson of the 1st Mountain Division and his subordinates would just say yessir and start to carry out their orders. A large association of diverse units like the BSA should be run differently.

    Maybe I am way off base here, but that is what it looks like.

  11. The Church makes up 4,9% of the total number of youth involved in the various programs offered by the BSA. Hardly a number that will adversely affect the organization if the church decide to drop the program.

  12. What was confusing to me was how the NYTimes reported it, not how it happened. It smells of a back-room deal by the BSA that slighted the Church. Even if the Church was going to allow the policy to go forward, I think it was the kind of slight that put the church in a position that it realized was going to be a problem, and hence the response. The reality is, that the BSA, in allowing local gay leaders, is clearly going to be allowing such in all the administrative and executive councils, and I suspect that the Church cannot abide by that.

  13. el oso;

    You are exactly correct. Gates wanted this, and the spineless corporate leaders who make up the executive committee went along. They were shocked last time they tried to make this change as the troops in the field rebelled. This time they pushed things through before the revolt could occur. As I served (until July 27) as council treasurer I have some knowledge of how this came off. Scout executives (the top paid position of each council) were not consulted about, or even advised of Gates May comments, and left dangling to deal with the fallout. They were again not consulted about any of the process until being provided with written justification just days before the vote. Evidence that this is what Gates really wanted can be seen in his citation of the Supreme Court decision as a reason to change. He cited this BEFORE the decision was reached.

  14. Dave, the awkardness of the church’s press release is highlighted when comparing it to another statement issued by the same PR department in February 2013. At that time, BSA had announced that was considering the exact same type of “local control” policy which it approved this past Monday.

    The church stated in February 2013:

    “… The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is carefully assessing the consequences of this policy change on the Church’s program to build and strengthen young men, but it has not commented on it and a decision will not be made until we have assessed all of the implications.

    The Church cautions others not to speculate about the Church’s position or to assume that individual Latter-day Saints inside or outside the Scouting movement speak for the Church. Neither has the Church launched any campaign either to effect or prevent a policy change.”

    But over two years later, the church stated on July 27, 2015:

    ” … 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.”

    That’s what I can’t figure out. The church had no position on the policy change in 2013. Yet it waited until a few hours after the policy was adopted in 2015 to announce: “oh wait, we actually oppose the policy because it’s inconsistent with our doctrine.” If the church was opposed to the policy change, why not say so publicly before the vote?

  15. N.W. Clerk. I hope that isn’t the case – Are we really at the point where the mere possibility that an LDS scout might have to have a passing interaction with a gay scout leader (of which there will be very few anyway) is enough to blow the whole thing up, even if we can set our own rules for our own troops?

    That would seem to be a level of fear toward gays that would be the very definition of “homo-phobia” – there is no way we could deny it with a straight face if this were the reason. And that would be so far from the message the church has published on its site that it might as well be two different churches.

    There are many reasons to disassociate with BSA, but this is a bad reason to do it, and so far has been executed in a really bad way.

  16. Perhaps the church is upset because the BSA vote pretty much placed legal liability on the laps of local units???

  17. Dake, K, don’t forget the statement just a few weeks ago, that Dave mentioned:

    “As a chartering organization, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has always had the right to select Scout leaders who adhere to moral and religious principles that are consistent with our doctrines and beliefs. Any resolution adopted by the Boy Scouts of America regarding leadership in Scouting must continue to affirm that right.”

    Maybe I’m misreading, but I understood that statement to basically say: We’re not thrilled with the idea of removing the ban on gay leaders, but we’ll live with it as long as we are still allowed to set our own standards. In other words, it seemed like the church was saying that it would be okay with removing the ban on gay leaders, as long as we can set our own ban, locally, but not with a mandate that local chartering organizations were not permitted to ban gay leaders.

    So what changed between July 13 and July 27?

  18. JKC, if I have to read the tea leaves, this is what I see. The church – while outwardly saying it had no position (2013) and implying approval if local control was affirmed (2015) – actually did have a position of opposition which it was communicating to BSA executives behind closed doors. In 2013, BSA granted the church’s request for a delay, and the church used that time to convince a majority of the board to move to the compromise of “gay boys okay; gay leaders no.” In 2015, BSA (now driven by Robert Gates) declined the church’s request for a delay and so the resolution passed without the church being able to exert the influence it had in 2013. Why would BSA act now? Since I’m speculating, I’ll say it’s because President Monson’s health is in decline and BSA judged it would never have a better level of support within the church than it does at this moment.

  19. I’m quite frankly amazed that people aren’t giving a second thought to the fact that essentially a career solider/politician/spy didn’t just play some real-politk upon a long time organizational supporter. The church is the best friend of the boy scouts and was just thrown under the bus by a person who just barely stepped into the organization, but was once the head of the CIA, NSA, and Pentagon.

    Think about that. In every other situation my liberal friends would be decrying how blitheringly stupid the leader acted.

    100-year long, HUGE financial supporter like the church asks the new leader of an organization it has supported for a couple week delay on a vote and the vote is pushed through in what smacks exactly of a recess-appointment used by Presidents? Was there a huge need to start staffing positions with gay leaders right now that couldn’t wait a couple weeks while the policy was discussed?

    Gates just burned up a century of social capital and goodwill. New CEO steps in and burns bridges with the biggest single customer. Way to go.

  20. Ark Q. I’ll tell you why the rush. Because LGBT folks are tired of waiting to be treated like human beings.

  21. john f, per the DN, Elder Holland (Q12), Sister Wixom (Gen Primary Pres), and Elder Owen (Gen YM Pres) all voted against the policy. The final vote was 45-12. It appears that some board members abstained, including President Monson (FP).

    Ark Q., it’s not accurate to call this a recess-appointment. BSA floated the idea over 2 years ago. President Gate’s speech was over 2 months ago, followed by a unanimous approval by an executive board committee. Most importantly, Monday’s ratification was by the ENTIRE board. A proper comparison to the US government would be to say that the President recommended a bill, it was unanimously approved by the house and senate committees that oversee that issue, and then was approved by a 79% vote in both the house and senate. That’s exactly the opposite of a recess appointment. The church had four votes. It chose to exercise three of them. It got outvoted. End of story.

  22. Dave K., my point is that the Church has complained that the vote was not postponed, implying that this robbed it of its chance to vote “no” — but it looks like three of the four LDS leaders who are on the board actually did vote. So the only detriment of not postponing was that President Monson didn’t vote. Is that correct? If so, how can one not view the Newsroom press release as disingenuous on this point?

  23. Jeff Hoyt,
    It seems that the relationship is so poisoned that it is beyond repair. My understanding is that area councils are independent of BSA. If so, could Councils in Utah and Idaho bolt from the BSA, taking their camps and help forge a new program under the direction of the Church?

  24. The requested postponement was not to get the extra vote, but to be able to sufficiently apprise the voting members of the consequences of their potential votes. The biggest issue for conservative sponsoring organizations is the ability to withstand the inevitable lawsuits. I believe the Church wanted to stay with BSA, but the current state of legal affairs simply will not allow it to maintain affiliation. The press release was not disingenuous at all.

  25. John F.,
    You seem to believe that press releases reveal the full story, especially when negotiations are going on behind the scenes. While at the moment I think this release was intemperant and ill-advised (very few would accuse Church PR of perfection), the Church is under no obligation to explain the full story to the media. Given the track record of Church PR, I don’t want them to even try!

  26. Old Man;

    I agree that the relationship is probably shot at this point.

    I think the councils could bolt, although I am not completely sure. The properties are owned by the local council. We were certainly subservient to the National office, but I believe that was due to the owning of the brand, and the legal support they provided through onslaught of legal attacks. If the Church were to go a different direction I think it is entirely possible local scout executives would realign with the Church. The alternative is a loss of their job. (I am not an attorney, and do not have a copy of the contract between the local council and national so might be 100% wrong on this)

  27. I think Marie nailed it. The potential legal issues and costs are the driving force. The Church attorneys are taking the long legal and financial view.

  28. dedman;

    Thanks for the link. Interesting that the author was formerly general counsel for BSA.

  29. As a long time Scout leader I have a comment:

    Missing in the discussion about religiously chartered organizations right to select leaders based on their own values is the involvement of regional scout leaders in direct contact with the units boys.

    Specifically, the press has touted the hiring of an 18 year old, proudly gay young man in New York as a summer camp leader.

    18 to 21 year old gay men leading week long camps with 13 to 18 year old young men is not an ideal situation to avoid sexual interaction. I would say the same thing about 18 to 21 year old women leading such camps.

    This is not a case of worrying about pedophilia, this is a case of interaction of young people of a similar age.

    Common sense would indicate that problems will occur when this type of dynamic is encouraged at boy scout camps. Just follow the various stories in the media about young male and female teachers/coaches having hetero/homo illicit relationships with their teen students.

    Sure such activity happens already, but encouraging gay men to be Scout leaders will not reduce the problem.

  30. Morally straight does not refer to gay vs. straight. It is too bad that we’ve made it mean that in recent times. As part of the scout oath, it by far predates notions of a gay vs. straight dichotomy. It means something more along the lines of “chaste and honest in all my dealings with my fellow men and women”.

  31. Actually, young female venturers have served on BSA camp staff for many years, and apparently there hasn’t been enough problem for it to have stopped. Rules are in place to prevent inappropriate fraternization.

    And a straight young woman who wanted flout the rules would find a lot more straight young men in camp to fraternize with than a gay young man would find other gay young men. So it seems like gay male counselors would be a lot less problem than the straight female counselors we already accommodate.

  32. I do not believe God views gay behavior as being chaste. I do not believe it based on my own understanding and inspiration, but equally on the fact that the Brethren do not view gay behavior as being chaste.

    On what do you base you knowledge of this issue?

  33. Can we at least keep “Guide to Safe Scouting”? Please don’t let my son ride in the bed of your pickup truck (just one common egregious violation).

  34. Chet,
    It is not riding in the back of an open pickup that is scary, it is standing up or wrestling while doing so! Seriously, let’s also keep or instigate rules against cliff diving, swimming across alpine lakes, river running for youth who can’t swim or seem to find a life preserver, and hiking slot canyons during flash floods. And storing food in tents when in bear country should be a definite no-no.

    And I almost forgot… No fireworks or firearms at any youth camp. I am all for teaching the youth how to shoot, but let’s keep that at an approved range.

  35. Thank you Old Man for expanding my thought(s). Clearly, our strict obedience in the area of safety is lacking.

  36. We fail to follow a lot of Scouting procedures and principles (like, um, the foundation of scouting, the Patrol Method) because we allow adults to serve who have not been trained. Training should precede beginning a calling, not maybe kinda sorta follow it. This is Exhibit #1 in the dysfunction of Mormon Scouting.

  37. Remember: Latter-day Saints can only look at same sex attraction in terms of sexuality. The idea most heterosexual LDS view the plan of salvation in terms on celestial and eternal procreation so the idea of non-hetero relations is viewed only through a prurient sexual worldview. Attraction in the LDS world is only for procreation. Since homosexuals cannot procreate in the traditional way, then the only possibility is that same sex attraction is simply lust.

  38. “Crash” (and Burn?) (#42):

    It’s amazing how one can take a germ of truth and build such a gargantuan straw man caricature around it. And thank you, so much!, for telling me, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what I “can” think about sexuality: Where do you fit into the hierarchy, such that you have authority to do that?

    (By the way, your second sentence is a run-on and a fragment, so it’s rather difficult to ferret out what you’re actually trying to say. I’ll do my best!) While I am aware of historical pronouncements by leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints equating spiritual creation with its mortal counterpart, I’m aware of neither any united pronouncements from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve about it,
    nor of any previous pronouncements from individual Brethren being reiterated as current doctrine by being used in current curriculum. If you could point me to such a source, I’d be most grateful.

    You sound like a devotee of Ed Decker and “The Godmakers” and the “endless celestial sex” crowd. (And yes, again, your gloss is a gross oversimplification of the belief of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.) Yes, news flash, the human species is propagated by the union of gametes between a male and a female of that species. Yes, that is one of the purposes (in many respects, it’s the primary purpose) of sexual intimacy. However, if it were the only one, then my long-term bachelor status in the Church of Jesus Christ would be solved very easily: if propagation of the species were all that mattered, I’m reasonably certain I could find someone who’s willing to engage in intimacy with me, provided that merely engaging in the act were the extent of her commitment to me (though finding someone who also would be willing to carry and give birth to resulting offspring would be much more difficult.)

    But one of the reasons why I have remained single for so long in a family church is because propagation of the species, procreation, while it is very important (indeed, one of the reasons why the Church of Jesus Christ is so concerned with the shifting definition of marriage is because it considers marriage to form the core of the optimal set of circumstances under which offspring should be brought into the world) is not the ONLY reason for sexual intimacy: such intimacy bonds two (and perhaps three or four, counting any resulting offspring and God as critical components in the process of family formation) beings in a way that no other activity can; it is perhaps the greatest means husband and wife have of expressing their love for one another and of ensuring and increasing unity between them; these aspects, too, are critical factors of proper human intimacy. And, while physical attraction and intimacy is an important component of those I know who are in the best relationships, it is only a component of those relationships: such couples complement each other, not only physically, but intellectually, emotionally, socially, psychologically, and in a whole host of other ways. And you’ve got it exactly backward: it’s not the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which has a skewed view of intimacy; that’s the problem in too much of the rest of the world.

    On the other hand, how are spirits created? Beats me. I’m sure God will let me know about that process when He thinks I’m ready and when I need to know. While I’m most grateful to you, Crash-and-Burn, for your (no doubt heartfelt) desire to facilitate my learning on the topic, I would prefer to defer to God and to those whom He has authorized to speak on such matters for further light and knowledge.

    Now, where does the position of the Church of Jesus Christ that: (1) sex outside of marriage is wrong; and (2) only marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, leave our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters (or, for that matter, where does it leave those who happen never to marry)? While individual Brethren have weighed in that same-sex attraction is simply a burden of mortality and that it will be lifted in the afterlife, aside from the clear implications of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” I know of no official pronouncements on the subject. I gladly await any further light and knowledge.

    “But Ken,” one might ask, “when it comes to gays and lesbians, is it fair to ‘condemn’ them to a life of celibacy if they wish to remain faithful?” Perhaps in many ways, it isn’t. But whoever said that life, at least in the short run or at least in mortality, is fair? One of the problems we have as mere mortals is that it’s difficult for us even to contemplate, much less to comprehend, the concept of “all that God has.” And what of those who say they won’t want to be straight, even in the next life? Well, life is full of trade-offs, even if such tradeoffs involve trading something good for something better. And, while I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen to celibate gays, lesbians, and straights in the next life, I find it hard to believe that the Omnipotent Lord of the Universe simply is going to tell us, “Well, gosh, I know you were expecting something more, or better, or at least different, and I know this means it sucks to be you, but … this is the best I could do; sorry.”

    Latter-day Saints do not parallel the Amish in their conception of sexual intimacy.

  39. Ken, why do you deny science? Your body is designed to reproduce. It has been doing it since it was a a fertilized egg.

    Is there more to life than biological reproduction? Yes. But without it, you can not fulfill your eternal destiny.

    Reject it if you will, but it’s better to just profess your ignorance rather than mock what you don’t know. There is too much of that from enlightened church members who only prolong the days their eyes are covered by scales of ignorance.

  40. I think we have left the Boy Scouts issue behind at this point, so I’m going to go ahead and close comments. Thanks for participating, everyone.

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