Probably one of the more intriguing religion stories last week was that of a decision by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to partially break with the Boy Scouts of America.
The decision didn’t shock a whole lot of people, as Mormons and the Boy Scouts have been on a collision course for some time, as getreligion.org has previously noted.
Nevertheless, the former has long been a major force undergirding the national BSA and its departure is bound to have an effect.
We’ll start with the Associated Press just to get the bare details. As you read this, keep asking yourself this question: Might there be a back story in here somewhere?
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Mormon church, the biggest sponsor of Boy Scout troops in the United States, announced Thursday it is pulling as many as 185,000 older youths from the organization as part of an effort to start its own scouting-like program.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said the move wasn’t triggered by the Boy Scouts’ decision in 2015 to allow gay troop leaders, since Mormon-sponsored troops have remained free to exclude such adults on religious grounds.
But at least one leading Mormon scholar said that the Boy Scouts and the church have been diverging on values in recent years and that the policy on gays was probably a contributing factor in the split.
Saying it wants a new, simplified program of its own that is more closely tailored to Mormon teenagers, the church announced that boys ages 14 to 18 will no longer participate in the Boy Scouts starting next year. The church said the decision will affect 185,000 teens; the Boy Scouts put the number at 130,000.
The loss is only a small portion of the 2.3 million youths in the Boy Scouts of America, but the organization has been grappling with declining membership for years and has enjoyed an unusually close bond with the Mormon church for more than a century because of their shared values. Joining the Boy Scouts is practically automatic among Mormon boys.
Further down the piece, we get the quote from the aforementioned scholar:
In Thursday’s announcement, the church said that it learned recently that the Boy Scouts are considering admitting girls, but that its decision was made independently of that.
Matthew Bowman, a Mormon scholar and history professor at Henderson State University, said the schism reflects the two organizations’ diverging values, with gays and girls among the issues on which they are moving apart.
“The church is wedded very much to traditional gender roles and they see the Boy Scouts of America increasingly move away from that,” Bowman said. “That means that they have come to see it as less of a hospitable place.”
As I said earlier, one always wonders what’s the back story when there are major developments like this one,
Other than Jana Reiss' intriguing column for Religion News Service, there was little good reporting out there. Most media accounts parroted what the AP wrote, so I turned to Salt Lake City’s two dailies. After saying that one in six Boy Scouts is a Mormon, the Deseret News offered a glimpse behind the scenes with a main story and links to eight other pieces.
The overhaul is stunning, because Scouting has been an indelible, seemingly inseparable, part of the LDS Church's Young Men program for 104 years, but it isn't a major surprise. Church leaders quietly have considered dropping Scouting from its Young Men and Primary programs for many years for multiple reasons.
Then this interesting data:
Since 1931, an LDS apostle has served on the BSA's National Executive Board. LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson, who holds Scouting's highest honor -- the Silver Buffalo Award -- has been a member of the BSA National Executive Board for 47 years.
The story then mentioned a number of other high Mormon officials who serve on various BSA boards. I’m curious to know whether these folks will resign after the ties are cut. The newspaper added another interesting tidbit:
The LDS Church makes an annual lump sum payment to BSA to help cover the participation of its boys and young men. The church will make the exact same payment to BSA in 2018 that it did this year so that BSA will not experience any immediate financial hit.
Am curious what that payment is. The two programs being dropped are known as the Varsity and Venturing programs which:
… actually trace their roots back to the LDS Church, which formally affiliated with Scouting in 1913, three years after the incorporation of the Boy Scouts of America.
In 1928, Scouting became the official activity program for deacons and teachers of the LDS Church’s Aaronic Priesthood, and that same year the church created Vanguard Scouting, an advanced program for boys ages 15 and 16. Several years later, BSA asked for -- and received -- permission to use the Vanguard Scouting as a template for its own new “Explorer Scouts” program.
The Salt Lake Tribune had a main story and two side bars on the announcement. Here’s some of the take-aways:
The LDS Church said the action to discontinue the older classes has nothing to do with BSA's openness to gay and transgender Scouts and leaders, though the faith previously expressed deep concerns about some of those developments.
The LDS Church has permitted -- and does permit -- openly gay Mormons to serve in church assignments, including the Boy Scouts. But these members are deemed to be living the faith's standards, meaning they are not acting on their same-sex attractions.
The BSA makes no such distinctions between "openly gay" and "sexually active gay leaders." So a gay Scout leader can have a partner or a same-sex spouse. That troubled the Mormon brass.
A lot of the piece went into what will happen with the popular campgrounds used by the Boy Scouts and whether reconstituted Mormon troops for the older kids will have the same access to these camp sites. Which –- if your kid has ever been to one of these camps -– is a big deal. Such properties are heavily used.
The Tribune also went more into detail about the financial hit the BSA will take as a result of losing 6 percent of its national membership over this rift. Neither side is giving out figures at present as to how much that will be.
Read all the sidebars and main stories from these two newspapers if you’re interested in how huge a deal this split really is. For an organization so intertwined with the BSA to get up and leave means that, at least from the Mormon point of view, the philosophical shift among the Scouts was too big a rift for the church to live with.
I’ve been surprised at the lack of snark from other media over the LDS decision to part ways compared to what the Southern Baptists endured when they boycotted Walt Disney Co. almost exactly 20 years ago. We’ve talked some on these pages of the “Benedict option” that some Christians are suggesting as a way of walking away from some institutions in secular culture and creating one’s own institutions that focus on developing and protecting faith.
With very little fanfare, the Mormons are doing exactly that.