This month I had two distinct experiences.
While introducing myself to an international stranger, I mentioned that I lived in Utah, USA.
“Oh, that’s the place where people have lots of wives!” he remarked.
A few days later, a good friend showed up at my door. With tear-filled eyes he said, “I’m so sorry that Scouting is ending.”
I cringed again.
While both of these assumptions—that polygamy is legal in Utah, and that Scouting is ending—are false, they are mingled with truth. Yes, polygamy was prevalent in Utah over 150 years ago. And, the relationship between Scouting and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is ending this year. However, the full and entire truth about both of these situations is often misunderstood.
As a lifetime member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and as a longtime volunteer for the Boy Scouts of America, I have firsthand experience with painful partial truths. I often refer to these misunderstandings as “media myths.”
People are prone to read a headline and immediately think they comprehend a story. During the past century, both the Church and the BSA have been victims to unfortunate media myths and misconceptions.
Paradoxically, we are currently in a situation—the Church ending its Scouting partnership—with multiple misconceptions about the BSA among Church members.
I wish to directly address the confusion that some of my Latter-day Saint friends have regarding the Boy Scouts of America.
Unfortunately, many Latter-day Saints feel the BSA has undergone “major” foundational changes during the past decade. This assumption is false. Instead, closer observation reveals that the BSA is simply making structural modifications. And, the Church is making—and has already made—similar adjustments!
My goal is to clarify changes the BSA has recently made, and share with Church members why I personally agree with these changes, and why I don’t feel they are causing the end of the LDS-BSA relationship.
Since May 8, 2018 when the Church announced the end of their Scouting partnership, I’ve observed seven common misconceptions about the relationship between the two organizations. I will refer to these misconceptions as “myths,” and have numbered them one through seven, in no particular order.
As all-too-common victims of media madness ourselves, I invite members of the Church to seek the full truth about the Boy Scouts of America.
Please note that what I share is based on my personal opinions. These views are mine and don’t officially represent the Church or the BSA.
Now sit back, smile, and read on.
Myth #1: The Church is leaving Scouting because the Church no longer supports the BSA.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland clarified this myth when he spoke at the BSA National Annual Meeting in May 2018.
“Right now in the Church there are 4.5 million young people. We have a very large responsibility to a very large Church and it’s getting larger. That’s the arena and the growth that we’re facing. We are obligated for all the right reasons to intentionally reach them around the world.”
“Please know how grateful we are to the BSA. We are friends now and we will be friends forever. In 18 months when our charters are finished, we hope that many LDS youth who wish to do so will still choose to be in Scouting. It is just the charter part that we are separating from. We’re going to stay in close contact. And we are locked arm in arm and hand in hand for the next 18 months. Please keep your shoulder to the wheel. Let me stress again, this isn’t a divorce. It’s growth. We’re not in any way disavowing any of those virtues of Scouting.”
I personally reported on this event and wrote this article, and Elder Holland himself approved the article before it was published on the Latter-day Saint Scouting website. (Read the full article here.)
I’ve often heard Church members whisper that there is “more” to the ending partnership, but I choose to believe an apostle’s explanation. Yes, the Church does need a worldwide youth program. And yes, “We will be friends forever.”
Myth #2: The Church is leaving Scouting because of girls.
The truth is that the Boy Scouts of America first welcomed girls into many of their programs starting in the 1970s. These coed programs included Exploring, Venturing, Learning for Life, Sea Scouts, and others.
While the Cub Scout and Boy Scout divisions remained male-only programs, they opened their doors to females in 2018 and 2019, respectively. However, girls can still only participate in separate dens and separate troops.
As a former youth Explorer who loved the outdoor adventure provided by the BSA, I look forward to enrolling my own girls in the high quality Cub Scout and Scouts BSA programs.
Interestingly enough, the Church is also making changes to equalize young men and young women activity programs. For example, the new youth program, Children and Youth, provides a non-gender based outline for personal growth. Boys and girls, young men and young women, are now on an equal plane. In fact, in the announcement during the recent general conference, it was noted that “…ward budgets for youth activities will be divided equitably between the young men and young women according to the number of youth in each organization.”
And, in an interesting twist, while the BSA maintains separate girl and boy dens and troops, the Church often combines males and females in more activities than the BSA, making the Church slightly more lenient in this matter. I have seen Activity Day boys and girls meet together under coed circumstances that would actually violate BSA policy.
Additionally, the Church has made recent changes in temple and baptismal ordinances to more readily involve females and further clarify the value and position of women in the priesthood. These changes in the Church are enlightening!
We should feel the same about parallel changes to equalize opportunities for females in Scouting. It’s exciting that the BSA and the Church are both making similar structural adjustments.
No, girls in Scouting really isn’t new news. Instead, it’s thrilling!
Myth #3: The Church is leaving Scouting because of transgender youth and adults.
Frankly, this is old news as well. And again, changes the BSA has made to welcome all youth and adults mirror changes in the Church.
A few Church examples of recent inclusiveness include greater emphasis on inviting all to come unto Christ, specific websites to help transgender individuals feel welcome in Latter-day Saint congregations, the Tabernacle Choir performing with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (full story here), and even recent Church policy changes that allow baptisms for children of same-sex couples.
Additionally, consider that Scouts Canada changed their youth and adult leader policies way back in the 1990s, yet the Church kept a partnership with them for over 20 more years. It stands to reason, then, that membership policy changes are not the reason for the end of the LDS-BSA partnership.
These membership adjustments are truly non-issues in both the Church and the BSA, especially in our current social climate.
It is extremely notable, however, that the BSA has not changed their century-old Scout Oath and Scout Law; nor has the Church changed the Ten Commandments, the Articles of Faith, The Living Christ or the Proclamation on the Family. While maintaining their historical and principled foundations, both organizations have opened their arms to all who wish to join and abide by their precepts.
This steadfastness is remarkable and commendable.
Myth #4: The BSA is going bankrupt.
Members of the Church should fully understand how the media often misconstrues financial facts. I remember a major article splashed across the cover of Time Magazine titled, Mormon, Inc. The article grossly overstated the financial status and goals of the Church. It was misleading and embarrassing.
Likewise, the media has caught wind of financial stress within the BSA, and is having a heyday with them.
In a nutshell, recent changes in state litigation laws now allow unlimited suing ability for abuse victims, literally putting non-profit organizations out of business—a dangerous situation. Instead of focusing on what they do best, the BSA is drowning in litigation costs. This is an unfortunate outcome of our current sue-happy society.
(Read an official statement on the situation by Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh here.)
Since the 1920s, the BSA has kept careful track of child pedophiles and abusers, removing such individuals from their programs. Even a century ago, before records of such people were required, the Boy Scouts of America went above and beyond to track offenders and deny them access to our youth. Strangely enough, these records—once used to protect youth—are now used by greedy litigators to hurt the Boy Scouts of America.
The BSA hasn’t made an official decision yet, but as a non-profit institution they can “restructure” and set aside money specifically for litigation costs and abuse victims, while maintaining funds necessary to run their organization and program. Such an action would require the vote of the BSA National Executive Board. Time will tell what these wise men and women choose to do in this precarious situation.
I am personally afraid for organizations like the Boy Scouts of America—led by honorable people, striving to uphold American values—who are being put out of business by lack of litigation boundaries. Situations such as this should make us fear for our society.
In my opinion, the BSA is not the enemy. Instead, a society without youth who are trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind and all the rest is the true nightmare.
Again, the Boy Scouts of America is not going bankrupt. They are considering a “restructure” to save non-profit funds for what the BSA does best—instill character, citizenship, leadership, and fitness in America’s youth.
Myth #5: The Boy Scouts of America changed its name.
Sigh. The Boy Scouts of America did not change its name. It simply changed the name of one of its many programs. Boy Scouts are now Scouts, BSA. This change is a reflection of the fact that girls can now join girl troops—all (let me be clear) under the umbrella of the Boy Scouts of America.
And, speaking of name changes, Latter-day Saints should be especially empathetic to official names. We were recently asked by our prophet to stop using the terms “Mormon” and “LDS” and focus on our full name: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Have we changed our name?
And neither has the Boy Scouts of America.
Myth #6: Scout leaders endanger our youth.
This is another classic example of media madness. Small truths are being twisted to tell partial truths and hurt good programs.
My kids participate in several different extra curricular activities, and none of them use a Youth Protection program like the BSA. In my opinion (and the statistics support me) kids are safer in Scouting programs than anywhere else.
I prefer sending my children to leaders who have been trained in multiple facets of safety as well as specific youth protection guidelines. I like having two leaders present at each Scouting activity. I choose an organization with leaders who have skill-specific training for outdoor adventure and safety.
The Church is not immune to youth protection issues either. Consider the recent allegations regarding the BYU Honor Code. I actually worked in the Honor Code Office as a student secretary when I was a college Junior. The people in that office were some of the kindest, most honorable individuals I’ve ever worked for. I often think about them during these media madness times, and wonder how they are coping as rumors swirl around their peaceful purposeful office.
I feel the same about the Scout leaders I know. They are honorable upright citizens who support youth. Paradoxically, these good people are engaged in a battle against them. It’s strange that our society eagerly twists truth and makes good people the enemy.
I invite you to look past the media madness and get to know your local Scouting leaders. I believe you’ll be impressed, too.
Myth #7 We can’t be involved in both the new Church youth program and Scouting
This is a question each family will decide for themselves.
I personally feel that Scouting will complement, not compete with, the new Church initiative. I believe and am grateful that our youth can still be involved in Scouting while working on personal growth in their Church quorums and classes. Scouting is an effective way to inspire physical, intellectual, spiritual, and social development in youth. For us, Scouting perfectly complements our quest to increase in “wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”
Scouting has been a bridge for our family to connect with many good people not of our faith who also believe in God, country and family. For us, Scouting is a ministry—an opportunity to meet and serve with incredible people in our community, nation, and world. And an opportunity to follow personal revelation, grow, and bless lives. We have felt an undeniable spirit when we gather with good people in the framework of Scouting. We are working arm in arm with other children of God to prepare for the Second Coming of the Savior. Isn’t this exactly what the Church is encouraging us to do? I think so.
So, now that we’ve discussed the myths, let’s talk about what the BSA IS doing…
After 109 years, they are still delivering quality programs to youth throughout our nation. They are still providing outdoor adventure opportunities and character building activities under incredibly safe guidelines. They are still training leaders in specific safety and youth leadership. They are still founded on their original Oath of honor to God, country, and family.
Scouting is still a robust personal development program that teaches First Aid, patriotism, environmental respect, swimming and lifesaving skills, navigational and camping skills, understanding animals and wildlife, financial and personal management, leadership, cooking skills and safe handling of foods, community involvement at the local, national and world levels; internet safety, emergency preparedness, safe water practices…
The list goes on and on!
The BSA has benefited generations of youth, and will continue to bless generations in the decades to come.
Personally, I’m extremely grateful for an organization that teaches character, citizenship, and leadership. I love when youth learn to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
I whole-heartedly applaud and support the Boy Scouts of America. Our family—both boys and girls—plans to be involved for generations to come.
We will Still be Scouting in 2020, and I hope your family will be, too.