Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mormons Can't be Presbyterian Scouting Leaders - That's News?

A number of news sites carried an AP article yesterday about a Mormon couple in Raleigh, NC that was kicked out of their local Boy Scout volunteer positions when the sponsoring institution, a Presbyterian congregation, discovered that the couple belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). The Mormon couple’s young sons were welcome to continue attending, but the adults were not permitted to serve in scouting leadership positions.

The article makes it clear that the Mormon couple felt badly treated by the Presbyterian congregation. They had purchased official BSA uniforms (a significant investment) and had already been serving for a couple of weeks when they were told that they were no longer permitted to serve. Congregational leaders apparently discovered that the couple was LDS from the religious affiliation section on their scout leader applications. (See blank adult BSA application form.)

A spokesperson for the Presbyterian congregation cited as the reason for the couple’s dismissal from their scouting positions irreconcilable differences between the congregation’s doctrine and forms of worship and those of the LDS Church. Mormons are not considered by many evangelical Christians to be Christian. They would no more allow a Mormon to represent their faith than they would allow a Muslim, Hindu, or Jew to do so. The Mormon couple, on the other hand, considers themselves to be very strong believers in and followers of Jesus Christ.

It is important to understand that the BSA permits organizations that sponsor scouting units wide latitude in developing rules for admittance to those units. Sponsoring organizations are free to add additional qualifications to BSA volunteer requirements. This is part of the BSA policy that permits these organizations a fair amount of leeway in their implementation of BSA programs.

This BSA feature is one that the LDS Church actively helped to craft and has worked for many years to keep in place because it is beneficial to the church. Not only does this policy let the church determine how to run scouting programs, it permits LDS congregations to control who serves in adult volunteer positions in scouting units sponsored by the church.

While it is not unheard of for non-LDS people to serve in such positions, they do so at the behest of local LDS congregational leaders. They may also be “released” from their “calling” at any time by these same religious leaders.

The parameters for scouting service in BSA units sponsored by Mormon congregations are pretty clear. It is a calling, not a strictly volunteer position. A person’s service only begins after being formally called to the position by congregational leaders and after that calling is sustained by a vote of the entire congregation. Technically, no one is permitted by the church to serve in a scouting position until they have passed a BSA background check. That process usually takes about two weeks following the submission of a BSA application form to a scout service center.

It appears that the Presbyterian congregation, which apparently has more than 2,000 members, has been less rigorous in filling adult scout volunteer positions. The congregation’s spokesperson said that requirements for service will soon be clarified so that problems like this can be avoided in the future.

The entire predicament could have been nipped in the bud had the Presbyterian congregation required the couple to turn in an application and pass a BSA background check before beginning service, as required by the BSA. Congregational leaders would have become aware of the couple’s religious affiliation in time to handle the matter privately. It likely would not have become a public problem for the congregation.

While I understand that the Mormon couple felt that the Presbyterian congregation’s actions put them in an awkward social position, I do not believe that the couple has grounds for grievance. BSA policy permits sponsoring organizations to specify additional qualifications for serving in a scout leadership position. This policy is fully supported by the couple’s own church. Doing away with the policy would mean that Mormon congregations would have little control over who serves their young men.

The BSA policy is fine. The Presbyterian congregation created an embarrassing social situation when it failed to strictly follow the BSA policy that requires adult volunteers to pass a background check before beginning service. The congregation should follow the rules in the future.

It seems to me that one that claims to follow Jesus Christ ought to consider His counsel to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39), to love and pray for those that they feel have mistreated them (Matthew 5:44), and to “forgive all men” (D&C 64:10). I may be wrong, but turning the matter into national news appears to violate the spirit of that counsel. The couple’s feelings were hurt. They — and everyone else — should get over it.

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