Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Mormon Church, That BSA Press Release, and the Future of LDS-BSA Relations

Disclosure: while I am a faithful, active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Scout Master, a Wood Badge Staff member ("I used to be a Beaver..."), and having served in almost every Boy Scout leadership position both as a boy and leader, this article in no means represents the opinions or positions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, nor the Boy Scouts of America. I love both organizations and will be a lifetime actively serving member of both. I only share this to represent some of the feelings of someone who is active in both, and how this affects them.

I've spent a few weeks pondering the words of the recent press release by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding its sudden reversal on Scouting shortly after the BSA National Executive Board made the decision to allow gay leaders within its organization:

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply troubled by today’s vote by the Boy Scouts of America National Executive Board. In spite of a request to delay the vote, it was scheduled at a time in July when members of the Church’s governing councils are out of their offices and do not meet. When the leadership of the Church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August, the century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined. The Church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation. However, 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.

As a global organization with members in 170 countries, the Church has long been evaluating the limitations that fully one-half of its youth face where Scouting is not available. Those worldwide needs combined with this vote by the BSA National Executive Board will be carefully reviewed by the leaders of the Church in the weeks ahead."

Let's start by getting this out there: while the final paragraph of the above press release rings true, the timing of this press release and the way it was worded with the first paragraph was horribly timed for both the public, and the Church's stance on loving our LGBT neighbors. Now, instead of this being an issue of whether Scouting belongs in the LDS Church in general, it is being lumped together with seeming against the decision of the board itself, making the Church appear bigoted towards the LGBT community. I know this isn't the case. While I'm sure they were frustrated they were left out of the decision making process (something the Church was implying they actually supported before this meeting), I don't think that was their intention or reasoning for "re-evaluating".

In addition, for those of us Scout Masters that were asked to serve (as Mormons the term is "we are called") in a position that rivals Bishop in time spent to properly execute the program, this feels a bit like a slap in the face on all the efforts we've put towards our programs, the time spent faithfully serving in our assigned positions, and time spent implementing "The Patrol Method" and getting trained. Because every boy deserves a trained leader. It came completely out of the blue. I don't think anyone can ever question a loyal Scout Master's sustaining of his church leaders, and that certainly isn't my intention for others to question by my sharing of these thoughts. Trust me - I have better things to do than put my time in as Scout Master, but the time spent sure is worth it for these boys.

Then there are other questions I'm now left hanging with. Am I planning Scout Camp next year? Do I continue with my efforts to implement The Patrol Method? Do I keep encouraging parents and boys to spend exuberant amounts of money on uniforms, books, and patches? I'm kind of left hanging here with the statement above. I love doing these things but because of this statement and nothing to back it up with, I'm left hanging, wondering if I'm wasting my time.

Then there are those that have gone a bit beyond their duty, volunteering, as members of the LDS Church for leadership programs like Wood Badge and other leadership programs. As a staff member this year, we are left wondering if our efforts to train leaders into "servant leaders", teaching boys how to become leaders themselves, are even worth it. And there are definitely those that are second-guessing whether they should be attending Wood Badge at all - I know of more than one participant (personally) that has backed out because of the wording of the press release above.

Now let's talk about the actual issue itself - yes, the way the program is designed currently, as someone who attended Cub Scouts in Indonesia in a non-LDS Scout program, BSA is MUCH better implemented outside LDS units. Let's face it - in the Scout Master's Handbook the first thing it talks about is implementing "The Patrol Method" within a troop. The Patrol Method allows for sub-groups to be organized within the larger Troop, allowing for multiple Patrol Leaders, Assistant Patrol Leaders, Quartermasters, and other positions to exist in a single Troop. The ratio of boys to leaders forces the boys to be in charge, and these troops are much more likely to be "boy-led" troops.

In an LDS Ward-level Troop (the way the program is implemented by default in most LDS BSA programs in the USA), there are very few Wards with enough boys to implement this Patrol method fully. And if it can be implemented now, as boys graduate gradually the unit will be left with too few boys in the future to continue implementing the Patrol Method. It's also very hard to implement a fully-staffed committee in an LDS unit. And LDS units don't take dues so typically have much less money than a typical non-LDS unit does. The fact of the matter is, the way Scouting is supposed to be implemented cannot be implemented effectively in a typical LDS unit.

This could actually be fixed by forcing the default Scouting unit in LDS charters to be at the Stake level instead of the Ward level. This only works in Utah though, where a typical Stake (the larger area consisting of multiple LDS Wards or congregations) is only blocks wide. This would be much more difficult to implement in a non-Utah Stake. Outside Utah the only way to truly be effective would be merging with non-LDS charters in the local area. I can't see the LDS Church doing this any time soon.

So the LDS Church is in an awkward position here. Yes, I believe the press release was rushed and written and pushed to the public at the wrong time, and coupled with the wrong issue. It's NOT an LGBT leadership thing as far as I can tell (even if it seems so). There have been openly gay Scout leaders in LDS units for some time now - at least I have known a few that have been either open or willing to discuss privately. The issue is that the Church just isn't equipped to fully implement the Scouting program the right way.

I think the LDS Church would be better off encouraging its boys as well as 14+ year old age girls (until Scouting allows girls in other branches) to attend non-LDS charters of the BSA. The program still builds boys and still turns them into leaders. Then, inside its own organization it should be focusing on its own "Duty to God" program. It's time to let Scouts be Scouts and Mormons to be Mormons, while co-existing as separate entities. That's pretty much how it works outside the USA.

If not, I'd love to see another, better way to implement The Patrol Method and keep BSA and Mormonism together. I'm lost at what might work right now.