SALT LAKE CITY (Christian Examiner) – After two months of discussions about forming a Mormon alternative to the Boy Scouts of America, the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints has issued a statement saying it will not leave the 100-year old scouting organization after all.
The Aug. 26 statement from the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the leading body of the church, said the LDS church has a high level of appreciation for the BSA's contributions to the formation of thousands of young men, boys and other youth. The church said it wanted the BSA to succeed "in its historic mission to instill leadership skills and moral standards in youth of all faith and circumstances, thereby equipping them for greater success in life and valuable service to their country."
According to the statement, LDS leaders said – based on the BSA resolution adopted July 27 and "subsequent verbal assurances" to the church – that they were satisfied LDS-sponsored scouting units could 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.'"
In May, BSA President Robert Gates said the scouting organization's ban on adult homosexual leaders was "unsustainable," given the changes in culture and society and a Supreme Court decision that would likely make gay marriage legal nationwide. Same-sex marriage was legalized the next month.
In mid-July, the BSA's executive leadership voted to overturn the ban on homosexual adult leaders, but waited to have a vote among members of the national executive board before a new policy allowing them to serve openly went into effect. On July 27, the executive board ratified the policy.
The BSA said "chartered organizations will continue to select their adult leaders and religious chartered organizations may continue to use religious beliefs as criteria for selecting adult leaders, including in matters of sexuality."
The statement from LDS leaders said the church will continue to function as a chartering organization of the BSA and will also "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," the statement said.
The reversal of the church's position and its move back into the BSA fold is startling.
After the BSA announced it would allow homosexual adult leaders in July, the church issued a strongly worded statement saying "the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America."
The Salt Lake Tribune also reported that a majority of Mormons in Utah (54 percent) believed Mormons should leave the BSA and form a more conservative organization for scouting. If the LDS did so, the BSA would likely not have survived.
According to figures provided by the BSA, the Mormon Church hosts the largest number of religiously-chartered Boy Scout troops with nearly 38,000 units and 437,000 Scouts – or 18 percent of the BSA's national membership of 2.4 million (as of 2014).
In Utah alone, more than 320,000 Scouts and adult leaders are involved in scouting. Another 117,000 are involved in Mormon-sponsored troops across the U.S. Loses in membership fees alone ($24 annually) could total as much as $10.5 million. That figure does not include money earned through the sale of BSA publications, uniforms, badges and branded camping equipment.
The BSA has not yet responded publicly to the LDS decision to remain in its organization, but a group calling itself "Scouts for Equality" praised the decision in a statement.
"We are heartened by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' decision to continue working with the Boy Scouts of America and to continue offering the program to its young men. We have maintained from the beginning of our campaign that the values and life lessons of Scouting are universal, and we would have been saddened to see hundreds of thousands of youth denied the opportunity to participate in the Boy Scouts. We hope to continue to work to build a stronger and more welcoming Boy Scouts of America with friends and allies across the religious and political spectrum," the statement said.
Both Catholics and Southern Baptists, two groups that make up the second and third largest contingents of Boy Scout troops, have said they are in the process of evaluating their relationships with the organization. Homosexuality and same-sex marriage both are opposed by the denominations.