Boy Scouts current policy against allowing gay members, I felt a need to address the LDS Church's recent announcement regarding the proposal that will come before the BSA National Council later this month.
The LDS Church is the BSA's largest sponsor. Thus, everyone paying attention to this issue has keenly watched for the church's response to both the original executive board proposal and the current proposal.
The church, for its part, has kept itself aloof from the matter. When the original proposal was made (see AP article) the church made little comment other than to make it clear that it was not seeking to influence the issue and that no one should assume that they knew how the church would respond.
Some were frustrated by the church's detachment on this issue. Those charged with formulating future BSA policy, other sponsoring organizations, and local volunteers were all looking to the church for leadership. More than a few scouting volunteers I know were absolutely certain that the church was firmly opposed to any change in the BSA's membership policy.
I was far less certain of that supposition. As I noted in my January post, the church has developed a new understanding regarding homosexuality and has made it clear that those dealing with same-sex attraction are welcome to fully participate in the church, as long as they remain chaste. (Which to the church means abstaining from all sexual relations outside of the legal marriage of a man and a woman.)
The current BSA policy poses particular challenges for the church's present stance. How can a bishop, I wonder, tell a worthy boy that deals with same-sex attraction that he is welcome to attend priesthood meeting on Sunday, but also tell him that he cannot participate in scouting activities, which constitute the activity arm of the Aaronic Priesthood?
The BSA recently proposed to drop its membership ban on gay youth under 18, but to retain the ban for adult leaders that "are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA."
The proposal emphasizes that "any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting," and that all BSA members must recognize their obligation to God. The members of the organization's national council will vote on this proposal during the council's annual meeting that begins on May 20.
Following the announcement of the proposal, the LDS Church promised only to consider the matter. Late last week the church issued the statement linked above. Many media outlets reported that the statement meant that the church supports the proposed change.
I think that exuberant media representatives failed to pay close attention to the church's carefully worded statement. It praises the process and some of the elements of the proposal. It notes that the church took pains to avoid influencing the process. But the statement offers no clear approval of the new policy; only some vague hint that the church will likely not dump scouting if the proposal is adopted. The statement doesn't sound like any kind of disapproval, so it is easy to see how media reps interpreted it as an approval.
It seems that the church has felt that the best way to deal with the current controversy has been to distance itself and to allow others to make the determination by which it will be required to abide as a BSA sponsor. This leaves members of the national council free to vote their consciences without any hint of coercion by the BSA's largest sponsor.
While others have called the proposal incoherent because it treats gay youth and gay adults differently (see my 4/23 post), the church praises this feature, which recognizes "that Scouting exists to serve and benefit youth rather than Scout leaders." The proposal's renewed emphasis on abstinence from any kind of sexual activity for BSA youth members provides "a single standard of moral purity for youth in the program."
These two parts of the statement comport to a certain degree with the church's current policy regarding members with homosexual tendencies. The church now teaches that experiencing feelings of same-sex attraction is not a sin, but that engaging in homosexual activity is (see LDS Church website about gays).
The church addresses the issue of BSA membership for gay adults by noting that scouting is a youth program rather than a venue for asserting the rights of adults. But this does little to address the observant and chaste LDS adult that happens to be gay.
It will be interesting to see how the national council votes later this month. I still cannot envision a rosy future if the proposal is adopted. As I noted, as soon as a gay young man that has been an outstanding scout turns 18 and wishes to apply to become a scouting leader there will be fireworks. Activist groups will have a test case and it will be the perfect appeal to emotion. This could bring down the ban on gay adults.
In the meantime, activists on both sides of the issue will have a heyday with the bifurcated policy. Many, both inside and outside of scouting, will have difficulty understanding the church's behavior-based stance on the issue. They will not comprehend how same-sex attraction and sexual behavior can be neatly separated.
Gay rights activists have already proven that they can cause the BSA financial and social pain. Having obtained part of what they want, they will likely step up activities designed to bring even greater pressure to bear on the Scouts.
On the plus side, LDS bishops won't have to kick boys that experience feelings of same-sex attraction out of their scouting units. But they will have to make sure that they don't call any overtly gay adults to scouting leadership positions.
But the future still doesn't look rosy if the proposal fails. The current policy will remain the unchanged, but the BSA and its sponsors will not. Having raised this issue has already wrought changes in both the BSA and public attitudes regarding the BSA that cannot now be undone.
Gay activists are likely to employ their proven tools to inflict even greater pain on the BSA. If they cannot get the organization to change, they will seek its destruction. Regardless of how the vote goes, this is the beginning of more, not fewer problems for the BSA and its sponsors.
I can't really say why the LDS Church chose to take such a hands-off approach on an issue of such great importance. Was it an attempt to maintain long-term alliances with other scouting sponsors without harming more recent outreach efforts? Or maybe it is simply a Catch-22 situation where any potential result is onerous and where maintaining distance probably offers the least worst outcome. Perhaps this will become clear over time.
In any case, the next episode in this story begins when the BSA National Council makes its decision in a few weeks. Like all other BSA sponsors, the LDS Church will be affected by any decision that is made at that meeting. It will take years to fully understand the impact of whatever is decided.