Thursday, July 30, 2015

Will the LDS Church Drop the BSA? (Part 2)

On Monday, July 27 I wrote this post about the response of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the decision by the Boy Scouts of America to end the BSA's blanket ban on gay adult leaders. Since then a variety of thought has emerged on this subject.
  • The LDS Church has publicly stated that it is "deeply troubled" by the vote in favor of the new policy. "Church leaders Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, General Young Men's President Stephen Owen and General Primary President Rosemary Wixom" were three of the 12 BSA National Executive Board members that voted against the new policy. (45 board members voted in favor of the policy change.) Church leaders will re-examine the church's involvement with the BSA, perhaps opting for an international program that will be uniform for young men throughout the church.
  • The National Catholic Committee on Scouting expresses "strong concern" about several aspects of the new policy, but in the end the committee recognizes "the increasing need for the Catholic Church to offer Scouting as a program of youth ministry."
  • Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said that the new policy will bring the cooling he has seen by Baptists toward the Scouts to a freeze. However, "Baptist churches are autonomous, so each church will decide for itself."
  • The Methodists seem to have no qualms with the new policy.
  • Jewish and Unitarian Universalist leaders have signaled a greater interest in sponsoring BSA units. Total numbers sponsored by these groups has always been small.
  • BSA assurances that the national organization will defend the rights of sponsoring churches to restrict unit level adult membership to those that sufficiently observe the religion's teachings comfort some but not others. LGBT advocacy groups have made it clear that they plan to barrage conservative churches that sponsor BSA units with lawsuits.
Many practicing Latter-day Saints with whom I have spoken are already nailing the lid on the coffin of the LDS Church's involvement with the BSA. Some gleefully so. This is admittedly not a scientific sampling. I feel that members should avoid speaking for the prophet before the prophet speaks. A Church spokesman told reporters, "In our church, the leaders don't make decisions on a 7-to-5 vote. They make decisions in unanimity...."

One LDS Newsroom statement does not make official church policy. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve unanimously do that. So, calm down. We know that the Church is miffed about the BSA's snubbing of the Church's request for a delay in the vote. After all, the Church has traditionally had a cozy relationship with the BSA and has been able to call on favors of that nature without problem. The BSA's snub clearly communicates that that kind of thing is over.

We also know that the Church has long worked on plans for a church-wide activity program for young men that would allow boys in all of the 170 countries with LDS Church units to be on the same page. This may be the time for that program to go forward.

Something that many outside the Church (and some inside the Church) don't quite understand is that Scouting has acted as an extension of the Aaronic Priesthood. The New York Times, for example, says that "Mormons use the Boy Scouts as their main nonreligious activity for boys...."

Being an activity program does not mean that it is not religious in nature. Church leaders have repeatedly called Scouting "the activity arm of the Aaronic Priesthood." LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson has said that Scouting is "an activity program to apply the values and put into practice the principles they learn in their [Aaronic Priesthood] quorums."

While the Church maintains relationships with many organizations that have practices that the Church does not condone, these are not integrated with the Church's priesthood. This latest change in what some see as foundational principles of the BSA may simply mean that the program no longer aligns closely enough with purpose of the Aaronic Priesthood to retain its hallowed place in LDS theology. If it were simply a nonreligious activity program, the BSA's policy change wouldn't be as big of a deal.

Of course, all of this is speculation. After considering the matter as a fully body, LDS Church leaders might opt to stick with the BSA. I suspect that this would only happen if BSA leaders were to undertake some serious patch up work with the Church over the next few weeks. But what do I know? Top Church leaders will have the final say.

I am highly disappointed in Latter-day Saints that have taken to social media to gloat over what they assume will be the complete demise of the BSA. They assume that if the LDS Church leaves the BSA, all conservative churches will likewise defect, resulting in a 50% drop in membership. Some are openly glorying in the BSA declaring bankruptcy. Excuse me, but how is this any better than the hard edge LGBT activists that have engaged in this same kind of sentiment?

Actually, right now it looks like the Methodists (2nd largest BSA sponsor) and the Catholics (3rd largest BSA sponsor) are going to stay with the BSA. Baptists seem the next most likely to leave the BSA, but they sponsor only 5% of youth. And since they are independent, some Baptist churches will stay. The BSA also promises to bolster its flagging numbers by heavily recruiting sponsors among schools and other nonreligious organizations.

Still a 20%-25% drop in membership would be very painful for the BSA, especially after seeing a 13% decline in membership over the past two years. No organization that experiences that kind of business reduction can remain viable without major restructuring. This would necessarily involve layoffs and asset liquidation. While Utah and heavily Mormon areas of Idaho and Arizona would see the worst of it, BSA councils throughout the nation would be impacted.

On the other hand, one of the reasons the Church has stuck with the BSA for this long is that it has provided a platform for church members to develop relationships with people and organizations outside of the Church. Many missionary and public relations opportunities have ensued. If the Church retains its relationship with the BSA, this will be part of the reason for it.

Having been a longtime Scouter, I am seeing a variety of reactions among LDS Church members involved in Scouting. Some are tired of watching the BSA pull back from its moral stances. They are ready to let it go. Some aren't happy about the situation, but they're resigned to the Church disassociating itself from the BSA. Some are in denial. They just don't want to think about it. But one thing that is for certain is that overall enthusiasm for the program is way down among the Scouters I know. They will continue to do their duty for the sake of the boys. But the spark isn't there anymore.

I wonder what Church members will do if the Brethren say that the Church is sticking with the BSA. Will they wholeheartedly sustain the move, or will they receive the word with a doubtful heart?


Unknown said...

As a current scoutmaster and long time scouter, I appreciate being able to "mourn with those that mourn" via your blog Scott, because I'm "deeply troubled" as well about the future of the LDS-BSA relationship, given the church's public statement on Monday. Although part of my "spark" took a hit on Monday, I continue to be optimistic, hoping that someway, somehow, the relationship can continue, for the benefit of "all boys", as Pres. Monson has sais. But if not... I'll follow the prophet.

Scott Hinrichs said...

I encourage all that are concerned about how the relationship between the LDS Church and the BSA will work out to spend some time on their knees in deep prayer and pondering. Like you, I have been quite worried about this matter. But when I employed this method, a deep peace was communicated to me. I don't know what the outcome will be. But I know it will be alright.