Of Abundance and Apathy – A Tribute to the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Life is easy right now. Most of the people I know have a car (more than one), a phone (more than one), a T.V. (more than one), they often take vacations (more than one) and even own a home (some have more than one).

I don’t personally know anyone going hungry, and even friends of mine who’ve experienced a “downsizing” in their job status are still able to make ends meet and live comfortably. Some would call our current standard of living “the abundant life.” And it is very abundant. However, we must be very careful that the “abundant life” doesn’t become the “apathetic life”.

This month is a good time for a wake-up call.

IMG_3159My wake-up call came when my teenage son excitedly told me one day that he had seen a piece of the Berlin Wall.

“It was behind glass,” he explained. “A real piece of the wall. Imagine that!” I waited for him to finish the story of his museum field trip before I replied.

“Actually, I have a piece of the wall downstairs,” I told him.

“You do?” He didn’t believe me.

“And, you can touch it,” I added. As he eagerly followed me to the basement, I realized that I had never shared with him two important experiences of my youth.

img_3161.jpgVarious circumstances took me to Germany twice as a teenager. The first time was in 1988, to visit Hans Dieter and Inge Wittke, Scouting friends of my dad’s. They lived in a small village near Düsseldorf, West Germany. I stayed with the Wittkes for a month while I practiced my junior high school German skills.

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As active Scouters, they provided an opportunity for me to attend a German Scout camp near Immenhausen for two weeks. Hiking, bicycling, camping, and backpacking through the green fields and hills of West Germany is an experience I will never forget. Continue reading

Media Myths: An invitation for Latter-day Saints to understand changes within the Boy Scouts of America

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.

I cringed.

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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?

No.

And neither has the Boy Scouts of America.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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…

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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.

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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.

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We will Still be Scouting in 2020, and I hope your family will be, too.

Three reasons our family will Still be Scouting in 2020

IMG_3630.JPGLast year The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced it would discontinue its relationship with the Boy Scouts of America and introduce a worldwide youth program in 2020. While our family fully plans to embrace the new Church Child and Youth Development Initiative, we also intend to continue our participation in Scouting. Here’s why:

P22-4c67f.jpgReason #1: Structure. The Boy Scouts of America has been around for over a century, and the BSA has proven its worth as a structured program. This structure is a remarkable support to both Scouting leaders and Scouting families. Regular quality activities, handbooks full of information, and leader specific trainings all provide a tried and true ladder guiding youth to leadership, character, citizenship and fitness.

IMG_4231.JPGBSA programs—Cub Scouting thru Venturing—are based and built on age-appropriate activities, like stepping stones. My Cub Scout learns to handle a pocket knife, my Boy Scout earns the Woodcarving Merit Badge. My younger son takes a mile hike with his den, my older son hikes for 30 miles with his troop. You get the picture. My children are benefitting from a program shaped and tested for decades, with applicable achievements for each group, and all under an umbrella of specially trained leaders. Scouting is a safe place to learn and grow.

IMG_3573.JPGAdditionally, I love that Scouting youth have requirements—steps that must be followed—and hard tasks to complete. As humans, we rarely choose to over-extend ourselves, but the organization of Scouting gently and consistently compels youth to climb higher, be better, and accomplish hard things. In a world becoming increasingly wishy-washy and self-centered, I find the structure of Scouting remarkable and helpful to my parenting efforts.IMG_4234.JPGReason #2: Skills. Scouting is all about skills—building fires, camping, backpacking, tying knots, pitching tents, cooking, swimming, lifesaving, first aid. The list of Scouting skills is endless! Take a glance at the 137 merit badges offered to understand the full gamut of opportunities available to Scouts. Where pushing buttons with thumbs has become an all-to-common society staple for youth, I am grateful for skills taught through the BSA programs.

IMG_3641.JPG“Outing” is a key component of Scouting. Leave the lethargy and apathy at the door and step into adventure: rock-climbing, rappelling, canoeing, biking, rafting… the list goes on and on.img_4054.jpgAnd the fun isn’t just for the older youth. Last week our Cub Scouts learned and played the iconic game of marbles. Imagine seven 9-year-olds, squealing, laughing and cheering as their marbles rolled across the dirt. And in the preceding weeks our Cub Scouts hiked, whittled with pocket knives, cooked over a fire, constructed with carpentry tools, pitched tents, conducted science experiments, practiced safety, and built contraptions with simple machines. Scouting is all about skills.

IMG_3069 (1).JPGThe skills lead me to Reason #3: Substance. Scouting is chock-full of substance. Let’s face it; there are a million and one extra-curricular options for kids today. But I can’t think of another activity, club, pastime, team or sport based on Duty to God, Country, and Family. Each week I watch Cub Scouts raise their arms in the Scout Sign and recite the century-old Oath and Law—promising to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind…the iconic list goes on.

IMG_2341.JPGWhen any youth commits to Scouting values, we’ve won a battle for our future. Like I’ve said before, our time as a family is precious, yet the substance—the values and character-building opportunities—offered through BSA programs put Scouting at the top of our extra-curricular list.

P4-a1fd9.jpgAnd my fourth point—if I may have one—is Patriotism. No one does patriotism like the Boy Scouts of America. Two weeks ago I stood with over 100 other observers at a campfire. The sky was crystal clear. The stars shone brightly. The full moon came up over the ridge. The fire glowed orange and red. It couldn’t have been a more picturesque evening. Around the campfire stood eight solemn Boy Scouts. With all the respect they could muster, they displayed a flag, tattered and torn. Then, while the audience watched, they shared history in broken and emotional tones, before respectfully retiring the flag in the flames.

IMG_3619.JPGThe audience was completely silent, engulfed in the emotion of the moment. My 12-year-old son was one of the boys by the fire. Four of his younger siblings watched him participate in that sacred event. It was worth gold to me to know that he had set a standard of respect for our family as he handled the American flag that evening. Yes, no one does patriotism like the Boy Scouts of America.

P14-36c94.jpgWill the partnership between the Church and the BSA end in December? Yes. But for our family Scouting will go on. The structure, skills, substance and patriotism offered by the BSA are—in my mind—indispensable. It is my belief that Scouting will compliment—not compete with—any other extra-curricular activity, including the forthcoming Church initiative.

P19-b63a8.jpgOur family looks forward to another century of citizenship, fitness, leadership, and character through the Boy scouts of America. In 2020 we will Still be Scouting.