Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The LDS Church Will Stick With the BSA

Late last month, the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America moved ahead with a vote to drop its ban on openly homosexual adult leaders; although, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had requested that the vote be delayed a bit. After the board overwhelmingly voted to drop the ban, the LDS Church issued a strongly worded statement suggesting that it was considering severing its century-plus relationship with the BSA. (See my 7/27 post and my 7/30 post.)

After the LDS Church released its statement, a poll found that a strong majority (63%) of "very active" LDS Church members felt that the church should probably (25%) or definitely (29%) leave the BSA (See Utah Policy Daily article.)

Today the LDS Church issued a statement saying that the church "will go forward as a chartering organization of BSA." The full text of the statement reads:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints appreciates the positive contributions Scouting has made over the years to thousands of its young men and boys and to thousands of other youth. As leaders of the Church, we want the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to succeed in its historic mission to instill leadership skills and high moral standards in youth of all faiths and circumstances, thereby equipping them for greater success in life and valuable service to their country.
In the resolution adopted on July 27, 2015, and in subsequent verbal assurances to us, BSA has reiterated that it expects those who sponsor Scouting units (such as the Church) to appoint Scout leaders according to their religious and moral values “in word and deed and who will best inculcate the organization’s values through the Scouting program.” At this time, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will go forward as a chartering organization of BSA, and as in the past, will appoint Scout leaders and volunteers who uphold and exemplify Church doctrine, values, and standards.
With equal concern for the substantial number of youth who live outside the United States and Canada, the Church will continue to evaluate and refine program options that better meet its global needs.
After rubbing shoulders with a few folks that have some insider knowledge of the situation, I have refined my take on the matter. My conclusions are based on some assumptions, so they may be inaccurate. But I now believe that the main concern of LDS Church leaders with respect to the 7/27 vote by the BSA National Executive Board was about the relationship between the church and the BSA.

The LDS Church has long enjoyed a fairly cozy relationship with the BSA. It has generally been able to get what it asked for from the BSA. After the BSA's 17-member executive board voted to drop the ban on gay adult leaders in mid-July and planned for a final vote by the 71-member National Executive Board on July 27, the LDS Church asked for a delay in the vote to give top church leaders time to confer about the matter. Uncharacteristically, the BSA turned down the church's modest request, signalling that the long-term tight relationship between the LDS Church and the BSA was over.

The New York Times openly puzzled about this, saying that the LDS Church had signaled after the mid-July vote that it could live with the new policy. This seems to indicate that it wasn't necessarily the policy itself that was the main issue, but the BSA's treatment of the church's request that was the chief factor behind the church's public statement about possibly leaving the BSA.

My sources have given me to understand that this statement was the church's way of telling the BSA brass that they had better work fast to repair some bridges or that the church would leave the BSA in a bad way. That tactic appears to have been successful. I have no idea what has gone on between LDS Church and BSA leadership over the past month. But it has been enough to ensure that the church will continue to register its 8-to-17-year-old boys in the US with the BSA.

For now, at least.

A careful reading of the final sentence of today's statement by the LDS Church makes it clear that the church may still leave the BSA behind at some future point. A more international church-based program, perhaps with less nationalistic flair may be coming. Some assume that it will be coming and that the only question is how soon it will come.

Regardless of what is said by church leaders going forward, this episode will necessarily diminish support for BSA programs among LDS Church membership. For some church members holding Scouting positions, this is all they needed to drop any semblance of support for the BSA. But even died-in-the-wool Scouters will be going forward tentatively, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Less effort will go into building long-term programs and those that carry out the programs will do so with far less enthusiasm. I expect church members to donate less to annual Friends of Scouting drives that help fund BSA programs.

As a lifelong Mormon and a long time Scouter, I'm grateful that church leaders didn't keep us waiting too long. Frankly, I'm a little surprised at today's announcement in support of BSA programs. I was prepared to hear that the church was done with the BSA, although, the Scouter in me hated that idea. Regardless of what the future holds for the relationship between the LDS Church and the BSA, I will continue to fill my roles in the BSA as long as I have a BSA unit to belong to.

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