When I was growing up as a Southern Baptist kid in Texas, it was almost unheard of for a healthy Southern Baptist congregation not to have a Boy Scouts troop for boys in its neighborhood. At the same time, almost all of these churches had a Royal Ambassadors program, a Southern Baptist-sponsored project built completely on biblical themes and promoting national and international missions work.
In other words, while the RAs were covering openly Christian material, the Boy Scouts were viewed as a semi-secular, but faith-friendly, organization that would not conflict with what the church was teaching.
That was a long, long time ago. I was shocked -- as the gay Boy Scouts coverage began to rise two or three years ago -- to discover that only 4,000 or so Southern Baptist Churches in America still had Boy Scout troops.
I thought of those numbers when reading a very interesting comment, by a long-time reader who is a Mormon, on Bobby's recent survey of coverage of the Boy Scouts vote to allow noncelibate gays to hold leadership roles in local troops, while also allowing religious groups to opt out of that change. John Lambert wrote:
In this article we learn that one of the LDS Church's issues is that outside of the US there are very few places it has managed to set up a working relationship with the boy scouts.
On the other hand, journalists have to bear in mind that the LDS relationship to the boy scouts is different than some groups. The LDs Church uses the boy scouts as the activity arm for the Aaronic priesthood. It is intertwined with the religious mission of the Church very deeply. More deeply from what I can gather than in some other religious groups that sponsor scout troops.
I think a journalist would gain some insights by asking informed observers if there are other factors that make this a chance to do what the Church at some level wanted to do anyway.
In other words, it sounds like local congregations in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been -- to put this in Southern Baptist terms -- using their Boy Scouts troops to do the work of the Royal Ambassadors and the BSA, combined.
If so, journalists, that is essential information to include in future coverage of the potential for a financial and statistical meltdown of the Boy Scouts organization, as a whole.
It is also crucial information to include in stories about the discussion among LDS leaders about starting its own national and international organization for boys. As religion-beat veteran Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote the other day in the Salt Lake Tribune (via Religion News Service)
SALT LAKE CITY -- For many years, the LDS Church has discussed breaking away from the Boy Scouts of America, but the group’s decision this week to admit “openly gay leaders” into its ranks may finally push the Utah-based faith to bolt.
LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins confirmed ... that the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “considering creating its own international program for boys, separate from the Boy Scouts of America.”
That could have dire financial consequences for BSA. The LDS Church is far and away the nation’s largest Scouting sponsor, serving 437,160 boys in 37,933 troops. In 2013, more than a third (37 percent) of troops were LDS sponsored, accounting for 18 percent of the BSA’s 2.4 million total membership (Mormon troops, while more numerous, tend to be smaller in size).
A key element of this debate is whether it is accurate for LDS leaders to say that half of its young people -- at the global level -- live in areas in which "Scouting is not available." Is that Scouting for boys or Scouting in general?
It really doesn't matter, if reader Lambert is right, since the church needs an organization for boys in all of these regions for religious purposes linked to the lives of 12-year-old males. And then there is this doctrinal complication, noted by Stack:
Although the LDS Church allows openly gay Mormons to serve in church assignments, including the Boy Scouts, these members are deemed to be living the faith’s standards. This means they are not acting on their same-sex attractions.
The BSA’s new policy, however, makes no such distinction between “openly gay” and “sexually active gay leaders.” So a gay Scout leader could have a partner or a same-sex spouse -- and that troubles the Mormon brass.
While the BSA insists that religiously affiliated troops, including those sponsored by the LDS Church, can continue to ban gay leaders, many observers doubt such an exemption can be legally defended.
In other words, why wait for lawyers and judges to further crash this compromised system? Why not start an LDS network that fulfills the church's mission, while also meeting its moral standards?
Now, some readers may be thinking: Why don't the Mormons and the Baptists team up and, let's say, join the growing Trail Life USA network that offers a faith-friendly, yet conservative, alternative to the Boy Scouts? Why have yet another option, run by LDS folks?
Two things: First, note the USA element in the Trail Life USA name. The Mormons need a GLOBAL option. Second, note that Southern Baptists and Mormons are both going to want an option that supports or at least does not conflict with their own doctrines. Both want, to be blunt, to do some DOCTRINAL work with boys at this stage of life.
Could Mormons and Southern Baptists work together on that? Uh, no. As I wrote several years ago:
If Southern Baptists gather for a seminar on what Mormons believe, the odds are good that one of the teachers will be a former member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Then again, if Mormons gather for a seminar on what Southern Baptists believe, the odds are good that one of the teachers will be a former Southern Baptist.
"There's an important word that people forget when they start talking about Southern Baptists and Mormons and that word is 'competition,' " said the Rev. Richard Land, one of the most outspoken leaders of America's largest non-Catholic flock. ...
"We are talking about the two most evangelistic churches in North America and most of the world," he said. "There are lots of Mormons who used to be Baptists and lots of Baptists who used to be Mormons. ... It's natural to see some tensions now and then."
Could these giant and growing flocks work together in evangelistic and doctrinal programs for young males? No way.
Stay tuned. The Mormon decision will be a huge story as the Boy Scouts -- it would appear -- evolve into an organization backed primarily by secularists, United Methodists and the world of rapidly shrinking oldline Protestant bodies.