The Mormon church will continue to support the Boy Scouts of America despite the group’s decision to allow gay troop leaders, say church leaders.
After a month of deliberation, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – which is the nation’s largest sponsor of Boy Scout units and continues to restrict gay and lesbian members from participating fully in church activities and leadership – said in a statement Wednesday that it would maintain its 102-year-old association with Scouting following the BSA’s controversial July decision to let gay men lead Scout units.
The announcement, which comes after the BSA assured church leaders that they would continue to have control over their own hiring, highlights both the progress and problems of attempts to strike a middle ground on gay rights issues – especially for organizations like the Boy Scouts, which has grown increasingly bound to faith-based groups, The Christian Science Monitor’s Amanda Paulson reported last month.
“As leaders of the Church, we want the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to succeed in its historic mission to instill leadership skills and high moral standards in youth of all faiths and circumstances,” reads the church’s statement, issued by the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will go forward as a chartering organization of BSA, and as in the past, will appoint Scout leaders and volunteers who uphold and exemplify Church doctrine, values, and standards.”
The BSA’s decision to lift the decades-old ban on gay troop leaders has faced heavy criticism from conservative and religious voices, many of whom regarded the Scouts as a “bulwark of conservatism in a time of flux,” as The Washington Post put it.
Some Christian Evangelical groups had already severed ties with the BSA following its decision to allow openly gay troops. After the announcement in July, John Stemberger, chairman of the board for Christian scouting group Trail Life USA, told The Christian Post, “It is tragic that the BSA is willing to risk the safety and security of its boys because of peer pressure from activist groups.”
Some LGBT rights advocates, meanwhile, saw the BSA’s decision as a halfhearted effort that is years behind its time. As Ms. Paulson reported:
A BSA decision to lift the ban on gay adults but still leave hiring decisions to the discretion of local religious-based organizations affiliated with troops might have seemed progressive if the Scouts had taken that stance 25 years ago, when many first urged it. But coming in 2015, it now seems to critics like too little, too late – a decision that will still allow for discrimination on religious grounds.
“You’ve got a highly divided organization,” says Richard Ellis, a political science professor at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., and the author of “Judging the Boy Scouts of America,” in an interview with the Monitor. “Now it’s not clear that even this solution, which is an attempt to get the [gay rights] issue out of the way, can do it, because nobody is happy with it.”
When the BSA lifted the ban, the Mormon church said it was “deeply troubled” by the decision and was considering other options to the Scouts, which is its main nonreligious activity for boys, according to The New York Times.
The church's latest, less-pointed position appears to show a willingness to work with the Scouts instead of replacing them, a stance that has since been welcomed by the BSA.
“The BSA affirms, and will defend, the right of all religious chartered organizations to select their Scout leaders in accordance with their religious beliefs,” the Boy Scouts said in a statement, reported The Associated Press.
Still, some remain skeptical, as the church’s renewed commitment came with a statement that it would keep looking to evaluate and refine alternatives to Boy Scouts “that would better suit the increasingly global membership of the religion,” the AP reported.
“It’s a holding pattern,” said Matthew Bowman, a historian at Henderson State University who follows the Mormon church closely. “I still think the church is likely to either alter or abandon the Boy Scouts at some point in the future.”