Saturday, May 20, 2017

The LDS Church-BSA partnership will continue for now

About a week ago I wrote this post about the LDS Church discontinuing its sponsorship of  theVarsity Scouting and Venturing programs. After a week of considering the matter, I now see some facets of this issue differently. I covered some of this in comments on that blog post. But after more consideration, I think this warrants its own post.

Some are certain that the Church's action is simply a precursor to discontinuing its relationship with Scouting completely. While some make this prognostication with deep regret, others are gleefully ready to pound nails in the coffin of Scouting. I'm not ready to go there. The recently announced program change might indeed be the prelude to the end of LDS Scouting. But quite frankly, I've been hearing variations on this theme for 35 years, often as an excuse for shoddy stewardship in a calling.

I will be the first to admit that the world is a very different place than it was when Scouting was vogue, and that the Scouting program suits some boys better than others. Certainly there are cogent arguments for the Church to drop all sponsorship of Scouting. But there are also solid reasons for the Church to continue to sponsor Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.

I found it informative to watch the following 20-minute interview with current BSA National Commissioner Charles W. Dahlquist, who served as LDS Church Young Men General President from 2004 to 2009.


Brother Dahlquist has been on both sides of the LDS-BSA equation. Even he can't say where this will ultimately go. He references a statement made by Church leaders some four decades ago, saying that when Scouting no longer meets the needs of the Church and the Aaronic Priesthood, the Church will discontinue its sponsorship of Scouting. He said that this statement remains true today, but in his estimation we are from from the point where Scouting does not meet the Church's needs. I know people who disagree with him, but they are not among top decision makers in the Church.

In my previous post I opined that the Church would likely stop sponsoring Scouting if the BSA were to make the programs now known as Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts co-ed. In a comment I cited the reasoning of a Scouting friend, who noted that the BSA already began allowing "transgender boys" (i.e. girls who say they identify as boys) into these programs. There are already girls suing the BSA for keeping them out of Cub Scouts/Boy Scouts. My friend asked how the BSA can say in court that girls must not be permitted into these programs, when it already allows girls into the programs. So it would seem that it's only a matter of time before Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts become mixed-sex programs. I assumed that at that point the Church would get out of Scouting.

Brother Dahlquist brushed aside these concerns by citing the fact that religious organizations that sponsor Scouting units have solidly protected rights to determine unit membership for religious purposes. For example, Venturing has been a co-ed program for decades. Yet in all the years the Church has sponsored Venturing, its units have been exclusively for boys and their male adult leaders. This precedent shows that the Church could continue to register only boys in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts if the BSA made these programs co-ed. So I believe that the concern I penned in my previous post really amounts to nothing.

The main question, as framed by Brother Dahlquist (quoting previous Church leaders) is whether top Church leaders believe that Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting meet the Church's needs at present. The recent statement shows that Church leaders feel that these programs fill the need for now. But, as Brother Dahlquist noted, that question is constantly up for review.

Commissioner Dahlquist also admitted that the Church is actively seeking a more global approach to youth programs. The diversity of Scouting programs around the world make it impossible for Scouting to be that global program for the Church. So it would seem that the Church is well aware that it will fully drop Scouting at some point. Brother Dahquist expressed hope that this juncture was yet many years away.

Whether the Church gets out of Scouting in the near or distant future, my plan is to continue to sustain Church leaders. Since they have directed that Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting continue for now, I will continue to enthusiastically support these programs in the Church.

My role is somewhat different as an Order of the Arrow chapter adviser. OA units are sponsored by the BSA, not by any external organization. The Order's membership policies must mirror those of the Boy Scout program. If that program admits both boys and girls, so will the OA. And it will be just fine. The OA will flex to meet the needs of its members.

It seems to me, however, that if the OA begins to admit girls, it will need to revamp some fundamental tenets of its program. Namely, the OA is a brotherhood. It is a fraternal service organization. Brotherhood is heavily referenced in its ceremonies and program materials. It is part of the Obligation (OA oath) and the song of the Order. The first word in the three-word Native American name of the Order translates to Brotherhood. I'm certain that national officials are quite aware of this issue. I suspect that they are studying changes that would become necessary if girls are admitted to the OA.

Scouting will continue. The LDS Church will continue. Both organizations will continue their partnership for now, although, it seems clear that the partnership must ultimately cease at some point. Until that time, I will continue to support this union.

Friday, May 12, 2017

A longtime LDS Scouter's views on the LDS Church dropping support of some Scouting programs

I still remember what it felt like to officially become a Cub Scout. My oldest brother had been a Cub Scout and had recently advanced to the Boy Scout troop. Brother #2 was now a seasoned member of the Cub Scout pack. My family couldn't afford official Cub Scout pants, but upon my induction I received an official Cub Scout shirt with appropriate patches, a neckerchief with slide, an iconic blue Cub Scout web belt with its gold buckle, and a Cub Scout cap. I had arrived. I was part of something big, noble, and important.

That sense of pride was repeated as I made transitions to succeeding BSA programs sponsored by my LDS ward. I was so proud to don the khaki Boy Scout uniform. Eventually I became an Explorer and even represented my council at the National Explorer President's Congress in Washington DC. (The LDS Church later transitioned from sponsoring Exploring to sponsoring Venturing.)

It was with great pride that I became a member of the Order of the Arrow, Scouting's national honor society, and then became an Eagle Scout the following year. My summers working on Boy Scout camp staff provided a strong platform for a life of dedicated service to others. So valuable were my youthful associations with the BSA that I have volunteered as a Scouting leader throughout my adult life, hoping to provide for others something akin to what my leaders provided for me during my formative years.

During my first couple of decades as a member of the BSA, the values of the LDS Church and the BSA seemed to mesh well, even as the BSA was challenged in various venues for holding to traditional values. But it is no secret that the approaches of the two organizations have increasingly diverged during the current decade.

The fraying division starkly came into focus as I prepared to attend National Order of the Arrow Conference in the summer of 2015. The BSA had voted to permit gay leaders, after the LDS Church had asked that the final vote be delayed until after top church leaders could confer on the matter. The Church responded with a public statement saying that it was "deeply troubled" by the vote and that it would carefully review the matter. (See my 7/27/15 and 7/30/15 posts.)

We went to NOAC under a cloud of uncertainty as to whether our LDS contingent members would still be members of the BSA after the conference. Toward the end of the summer the Church announced that it would continue to sponsor BSA units. (See my 8/26/15 post.) Still, the Church's announcement of the continuation of the LDS-BSA relationship made it clear that this partnership was subject to future revision.

A part of that future became present yesterday when the Church announced that it will discontinue sponsoring Varsity Scout and Venturing units at the end of 2017. See:

Let me first address the obvious points of this policy change. This announcement will change nothing about the way the vast majority of LDS units in North America run activities programs for young men ages 14-18. Quite frankly, only a tiny percentage of LDS units have really been doing either the Varsity Scout or Venturing programs for many years now. The policy change merely makes official what has long been occurring in most wards and branches.

By saying this I intend no disrespect to those leaders who have valiantly worked to implement these programs in their units. Those units will be impacted by this decision. But most of the young men targeted by these programs during this century have been Varsity Scouts or Ventures in name only. Most of the LDS boys registered in these programs couldn't tell you anything substantive about their programs. This undoubtedly is part of the reason the Church is dropping its support of these programs.

In its announcement, the Church signaled its continued support of the Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs, targeting boys ages 8-13. LDS boys ages 14-17 who wish to continue working on Boy Scout advancement will be registered with the troop. I assume that most of these will still attend Mutual with their respective age groups.

There has long been a sentiment in North American LDS culture that a young man is pretty much done with Scouting when he turns 14. It's been like a rite of passage. They think that their 14th birthday means that they will never wear a Scout uniform again. This is true for many. But some boys have continued Scouting even when the Varsity Scout and Venturing programs have been largely absent in their wards. I believe that this new change will intensify the end-of-Scouting tendency and will further thin the ranks of those that wish to continue their Scouting efforts.

Last night at Scout leader round table meeting, a member of our district relationships committee (a member of a local stake presidency) warned against reading too much into the Church's announcement. In instances like this, he noted, we sometimes have a tendency to assume we know what will happen next, when, in fact, we don't.

He's right. Many will assume that the Church is merely taking a piecemeal approach discontinuing its association with the BSA. That may be true. But I'm willing to take the statement at face value. North American LDS Church members have long exhibited strong support of the Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs, notwithstanding those Church members that don't care for Scouting programs. (A friend and his wife call Scouting "The 'S' word.")

Regardless of intention, yesterday's announcement can't help but have a chilling effect on Church members' enthusiasm for the portions of the Scouting program the Church will continue to support. People may not know what comes next in the relationship between the LDS Church and the BSA, but they probably can't help but notice a pattern.

The Church's Q&A about the Scouting policy change ends by asking, "Is this a reaction to the news that the Boy Scouts of America is considering the inclusion of girls and young women in its programs?" The answer simply says that this was not a known factor at the time the decision was made. It make no allusion to what might happen if the BSA goes co-ed with its programs now known as Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. But I would be very surprised if the Church continued to sponsor Scouting at that juncture.

While the broader culture continues to move away from male-only programs for youth, the Church finds gospel centered value in continuing to offer single-sex programs for its youth ages 8-18. (I was going to write that the broader culture is moving away from single-sex programs for youth, but I'm not sure that's true. Support for many girl-only programs seems strong, while male-only programs in general are increasingly viewed as ignoble. Still, there is a motivated effort afoot to completely erase all distinctions of sex, allowing individuals to define sex for themselves. So there's no telling where this will go.)

I don't have a crystal ball that tells me where the relationship with the LDS Church and the BSA is going or how soon it will get there. What I can say is that over the space of many years, millions of boys have benefited from this relationship. But the values of the two organizations may diverge to the point that this partnership no longer makes sense.

If we get to that spot, I will find myself no longer be registered with a BSA unit. I could go out and find a community unit to link up with or I could found a community unit. That would be noble, but I've got too much going on in my life as it is, so that prospect seems doubtful for me.

Regardless of whether the Church ultimately drops Scouting completely, I will always look on my decades of involvement with the BSA with fondness and gratitude. I can't begin to enumerate the good that has come into my life through Scouting. I won't live in nostalgiaville, but I will always find ways to serve others in a meaningful fashion.