Have you wondered why The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to be partners with the Boy Scouts of America? I questioned the loyalty for a while. After all, other churches have severed their relationships with the Boy Scouts. I was initially against the idea of allowing gays to belong to the Boy Scouts of America, and I expected The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be against the idea also. I wondered what the Church would do in place of the Boy Scout program. When the BSA announced their final decision to allow gays to become Scouts, I was surprised by the Church’s response. A letter signed by the First Presidency of the Church was sent to all Latter-day Saint congregation leaders throughout the United States and included the reaffirmation of Church policies and standards.
“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 , 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 the BSA will implement and administer the approved policy in an appropriate and effective manner.”
This statement immediately put my apprehensions to rest. My reaction was “Of course!” Straight boys and young men are required to be morally clean, and the same behavior would be required for gays. In other words, it did not really matter whether a boy or young man was straight or gay; he would be required to be morally clean no matter how he was oriented sexually. A morally clean young man is a morally clean young man!
With this recent experience, I was particularly interested in an article entitled “A Century of Scouting inthe Church – For 100 years, the Church has used Scouting to build bridges offriendship, fellowship, and faith.” “When leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embraced the newly founded Boy Scout movement 100 years ago, it was a decision that would end up blessing the Church, the Boys Scouts of America, and millions of young men and their leaders during the ensuing century.”
David L. Beck, Young Men general president, said that Scouting in the Church had served as “an extra-ordinary bridge.” “For individual young men, it is a bridge that sets them on the path leading to self-reliance and manhood. For the church, it is a bridge that has fueled real growth as thousands of individuals and families have joined the Church or become active again. For members of the Church, it is a bridge to join with good people of other faiths and organizations whose values and aspirations are similar to ours and to work together to bless all youth in our communities.”
In April 1903 President Joseph F. Smith (1838-1918) announced that the Church was looking for something that would give young men “something to do that will make them interested in the work of the Lord.” The Church developed an ordination schedule and later recommended specific duties for the young men.
Meanwhile, British military officer Robert Baden-Powell wrote a book entitled Aids to Scouting and organized an “experimental `scouting’ encampment” in 1907. The experiment was a great success in Great Britain, and the program was brought to the United States. An American publisher named William D. Boyce was in London and became lost in the fog. An English boy came along with a lantern; he offered to help Boyce find his way but refused payment for his good deed because he was a Boy Scout. Boyce looked into the organization and brought the information back to America. The Boy Scouts of America was incorporated on February 8, 1910.
Also in 1910 Thomas George Wood, a British immigrant, heard about the Boy Scouts from an uncle in England. He brought the program to the young men in his ward in Salt Lake City. Other wards organized troops for their young men. The Young Men general board studied the Boy Scouts to “investigate the possibility of standardizing Boy Scout troops within the YMMIA and affiliating with the national organization.”
The Deseret News reported on September 2, 1910, that Scouting had been adopted “to promote discipline and develop character, to instill honor and trustworthiness in the lives of young boys and to inspire them with a sense of duty to parents, country, and religious ideals.”
There were about 20,000 “MIA Scouts” in the Church’s Scouting program by January 1913 when Church leaders met with BSA leaders to discuss a partnership. Two months later the partnership was approved. The Church received its first official charter on May 21, 1913, and “became the first nationally chartered organization to affiliate with the Boy Scouts of America. The bridge that would bless the Church and the BSA for the next century was now in place. The welcome from the BSA immediately proved beneficial to both organizations, with the BSA readily adopting innovations that came from the Church’s Scouting program.” Some of these “innovations” include the council structure that is used throughout the nation; they also include the Explorer program, Vanguard Scouting, the Venturing program, and Varsity Scouting – all created by the Church for older boys.
Scout troops were soon registered in every ward throughout the Church, and boys were attracted to the program because of the excitement and the sense of achievement in it. About ten years later the Church decided that the MIA meetings for young men “would be dedicated solely to Scouting and no longer divide their time between Scouting and religious activities. That determination rested on the conclusion `that religious training could naturally occur through Scouting activities.’”
In 1931 Elder George Albert Smith was appointed to the National Executive Board of the BSA, and the “Church enjoyed increased opportunities to share its desires and opinions with other national Scout volunteers.” Other members of the Church began serving on national Scouting committees and later on the National Executive Board.
President Thomas S. Monson has served on the national board since 1969 and made the following statement on the 100th anniversary of Scouting. “To Scout leaders who build bridges to the hearts of boys, to parents of Scouts, and to you fine young Scouts yourselves, on this the 100th anniversary of Scouting in America, I salute you and pray our Heavenly Father’ blessings upon you.”
“In 2012 Wayne Perry became the first Latter-day Saint to serve as national BSA president. And in May 2013, the Church’s Presiding Bishop delivered the keynote address to national Scout leaders at their annual Duty to God breakfast in Grapevine, Texas.
“In his remarks, Bishop Gary E. Stevenson said: `Speaking on behalf of the organization I represent, … I feel that it is this common belief in duty to God that has forged the iron-strong connection with Boy Scouts of America we have shared over the last 100 years…. Duty to God is where the power lies. Duty to God is what changes lives.’”
The bridge of Scouting blesses individuals and families. I am grateful that both of my sons had the opportunity to participate in the Scouting program. They each earned their Eagle Scout awards and are using their knowledge and experience to bless new generations of boys.