Mormons and the Boy Scouts of America

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church, has created programs for its youth that help to develop moral character, belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the desire to serve God, family, and community. These programs are in effect in the global church. Because of its historic focus on the above attributes, the Boy Scouts of America program had been incorporated into the Church of Jesus Christ youth programs for boys, and Latter-day Saint congregations (called “wards”) sponsored their own troops for youth in the local vicinity.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints introduced members worldwide to the new Children and Youth Program on September 29, 2019, which replaced all previous programs for boys and girls in the Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ issued a statement on May 8, 2018, that read in part, "effective on December 31, 2019, the Church will conclude its relationship as a chartered organization with all Scouting programs around the world."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America have been partners for more than 100 years. The Scouting program has benefited hundreds of thousands of Latter-day Saint boys and young men, and BSA has also been greatly benefited in the process. We jointly express our gratitude to the thousands of Scout leaders and volunteers who have selflessly served over the years in Church-sponsored Scouting units, including local BSA districts and councils.
In this century of shared experience, the Church has grown from a U.S.-centered institution to a worldwide organization, with a majority of its membership living outside the United States. That trend is accelerating. The Church has increasingly felt the need to create and implement a uniform youth leadership and development program that serves its members globally. In so doing, it will be necessary for the Church to discontinue its role as a chartered partner with BSA. . . .
While the Church will no longer be a chartered partner of BSA or sponsor Scouting units after December 31, 2019, it continues to support the goals and values reflected in the Scout Oath and Scout Law and expresses its profound desire for Scouting’s continuing and growing success in the years ahead.[1]

While in New York City in November 2019, President M. Russell Ballard was asked a direct question by the Associated Press about the separation from the Boy Scouts of America. “The reality there is we didn’t really leave them; they kind of left us,” he said, according to a story published by the AP. “The direction they were going was not consistent to what we feel our youth need to have ... to survive in the world that lies ahead for them.”[2]

Changes in the Boy Scout Program

Latter-day Saint Boy Scouts

The Boy Scouts of America had prohibited all those who were not willing to subscribe to the BSA's Declaration of Religious Principle, which was usually interpreted as banning atheists and "known or avowed homosexuals" from membership in its Scouting program. The organization's legal right to have these policies was upheld by the United States Supreme Court. In Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed that as a private organization, the BSA can set its own membership standards. [3]

On May 23, 2013, the BSA's National Council approved a resolution to remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone effective January 1, 2014. The ban on adult leaders who are "open or avowed homosexuals" was lifted in July 2015. [4]

Following these changes, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expressed continued support of the Boy Scouts of America through two statements:

August 26, 2015, Statement
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.[5]
May 23, 2013, Statement
For the past 100 years, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has enjoyed a strong relationship with Boy Scouts of America, based on our mutual interest in helping boys and young men understand and live their duty to God and develop upright moral behavior. As the Church moves forward in its association with the Boy Scouts of America, Church leaders will continue to seek the most effective ways to address the diverse needs of young people in the United States and throughout the world.
The Church’s long-established policy for participation in activities is stated in the basic instructional handbook used by lay leaders of the Church: “young men … who agree to abide by Church standards” are “welcomed warmly and encouraged to participate” (Handbook 2: Administering the Church [2010], 8.17.3). This policy applies to Church-sponsored Scout units. Sexual orientation has not previously been—and is not now—a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops. Willingness to abide by standards of behavior continues to be our compelling interest.
These standards are outlined in the booklet For the Strength of Youth and include abstinence from sexual relationships. We remain firmly committed to upholding these standards and to protecting and strengthening boys and young men.
The Church appreciates BSA’s reaffirmation of its commitment to “duty to God,” which includes service to others and moral behavior—central principles of our teaching to young men. As in the past, the Church will work with BSA to harmonize what Scouting has to offer with the varying needs of our young men. We trust that BSA will implement and administer the approved policy in an appropriate and effective manner.

The Church's Decision Caused a Furor

Many Christian sects consider homosexuality a sin, and their adherents are withdrawing from participation in Boy Scouting. Likewise, Christian sects may withdraw their sponsorship of Boy Scout troops. While liberals laud the stance of Mormon leaders, some conservative groups accuse The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of abandoning conservative values. Neither of these groups has fully understood The Church of Jesus Christ's stance from the beginning, and that is that there is a difference between Same Sex Attraction (SSA) and homosexual activity. The former is not a sin, while any sexual activity outside of traditional marriage is a sin. As has always been its position, the Church does not want to exclude youth with SSA, but it wants to protect against homosexual activity. Clarifying statements from LDS church leadership can help.

Michael Otterson, the Public Affairs Director of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wrote a clarifying article for the Washington Post, which was published May 31, 2013.

Rather than representing another episode of slippage in a very long culture war, as some religionists claimed, or a “step in the right direction,” as some gay advocates defined it, BSA in reality reintroduced and reinforced some of its century-old core values and nailed those colors firmly to the mast in an unmistakable message. And it was that reaffirmation of principle, plainly restated in the Membership Standards Resolution, that enabled some of scouting’s traditional supporters – including America’s largest sponsor of scouting, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – to back the new membership policy.

Otterson quoted from a keynote speech delivered to leaders of the Boy Scouts by Gary E. Stevenson, the Presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Said Elder Stevenson:

“I am very aware,” he said, “of the controversial moral, legal, and policy issues that face this great organization. They are deep and they are wide and they will test the best in us. Although I don’t speak directly to these issues this morning, I believe it constructive counsel for each of us to pray that divine direction manifest itself upon those who have the weighty responsibility to lead this organization appropriately.”
“Boy Scouts of today face issues not faced by generations before them: declining morals, technology, addictive behavior and declining academic performance to name a few. I believe that the key to solving these issues lies in family and duty to God. If boys truly understood what their duty to God entails and lived it, they would grow safely into manhood.
“…It is this common belief in duty to God that has forged the iron-strong connection with Boy Scouts of America we (i.e. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) have shared over the last 100 years. One hundred years of evidence has shown that this impact-proof, non-rusting core principle works better than whatever has been, historically, the next-best idea. Duty to God is where the power lies. Duty to God is what changes lives.
“…Some may not see the sacred gatekeeping role scouting plays. They may see only fundraising and not a foundation. Others may brand scouting activities as merely outdoor recreation, but it can and must be shown that BSA is not a camping club; it is a character university centered on duty to God. I quote again from Robert Baden-Powell: ‘The whole of [scouting] is based on religion, that is, on the realization and service of God.’
“… Scouting must never overlook this core principle. We still need duty to God. We always will. When the societal and political winds come, and they surely will, scouting cannot unhinge itself from this foundational principle.”

Michael Otterson explained,

For Mormons, embracing duty to God as a core value is inseparable from the behavior that is expected to follow – behavior that it instills in its young women as well as its young men, and encourages in adults as well as its youth.
One key line in the new resolution that the scouting body approved is worth citing: “…any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of scouting age is contrary to the virtues of scouting.” That is it, in a nutshell. For the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this was never about whether the BSA or local scout leaders should try to discern or categorize ill-defined and emerging sexual awareness of pre-pubescent boys and early pubescent young men who make up 90 per cent of scouting. Sexual orientation has not previously been—and is not now—a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint scout troops. Rather, it has always about teaching moral behavior to all boys, and instilling the core values that are part of responsible adulthood. As the church said in a statement issued promptly after the BSA vote, it is responsible behavior that “continues to be our compelling interest.”
...the church is taking the BSA resolution at its word: that duty to God is an “immutable tenet” of scouting; that the “Scout Oath and Law are fundamental to the BSA in preparing youth for responsible citizenship”; that “effective screening, education and training,” is in place, as well as “clear policies to protect youth and provide for their privacy”; that “sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is contrary to the virtues of scouting.”
To be sure, not everyone agrees with these values. Those who don’t are not compelled to become scouts or to embrace what traditional scouting has to offer. They ought now to allow scouting to chart its own future, consistent with its century old values, free from interference, advocacy and agenda-driven politics. Let’s remember, it has always been – and should always be – about the boys. [6]

See also: