Boy Scouts and the LDS Church

Boy Scouts and the LDS Church

bsaLast week the Boy Scouts of America announced a change in policy, one which until recently they had said would never happen. As of now Boy Scout leaders and scoutmasters can be openly gay.
The LDS church responded with a statement saying they were looking into creating their own program and leaving Boy Scouts, which would be a major change for both the LDS church and the
BSA. For over 100 years the LDS church has used scouting as its activities arm for its Aaronic Priesthood youth organization. Presidents of the church have publicly praised scouting and have been vocal supporters of the BSA for years. Of Scouting’s total membership of 2.4 million, over 400 thousand are members of the LDS church, making it the largest single sponsor of scouting. Leaving will have a major impact on both organizations.

The announcement of the policy change from the Boy Scout organization was almost immediately followed by the LDS church’s press release indicating they may leave scouting. Both items were quickly shared on social media and I was somewhat surprised at the reaction from LDS church members, many of whom said they couldn’t wait to be rid of Boy Scouts.

The criticisms of scouting were common ones that I’ve heard many times over the years, but it still surprised me how many LDS members didn’t like Boy Scouts. Comments included scouting was too expensive, outdated, took away from the religious mission of the church, and some scout leaders are overzealous for all things scouting. All of those criticisms have merit, but their authors seem to overlook the positives that scouting can bring to young men.

I am an Eagle Scout, son of a scoutmaster, and on my second stint as a scoutmaster myself. I serve as scoutmaster in an LDS unit with 20 Boy Scouts. But I’m no outdoorsman, survivalist, or scouting rules fanatic. I earned my Eagle Scout the day before my 18th birthday and flunked my first board of review because I didn’t know the knots. I still don’t. As scoutmaster I get annoyed at the bureaucracy, I think the uniforms and patches are expensive, I strain under the demands on time, and I sometimes wonder if the boys actually get anything from the activities we do. I see firsthand the problems that many LDS church members criticize scouting for. But I also see the positive effect it has on the 12 and 13-year-old boys in our troop.
Scouting can seem old-fashioned and outdated. It can seem too wilderness survivaly in a world full of cities and suburbs. Not everyone cares about camping and hiking. Leather working and Indian Lore don’t really excite today’s youth. But scouting is a pretty diverse program nowadays. Look at some of the merit badges our troop has covered recently: Programming, Moviemaking, Photography, Aviation, Geocaching, Cooking, and Chess. There’s something for everyone, and done right scouting’s merit badge program can expose young men to a variety of cool topics. We still go camping every month and earn the old traditional merit badges, but I submit there’s a great deal of value in learning about citizenship, communication and leadership, and an appreciation for the environment.

In fact, leadership is one of the most important skills learned through the Scouting program. It can take an awful lot of coaching to coax leadership out of a 12-year-old boy, but it’s doable and Boy-Scouts-Norman-Rockwell-painting-1024x576when successful is a marvelous thing to see. These are skills that mature these kids, gives them confidence, and sets them on a path that can avoid many of the pitfalls awaiting them in the coming years.

One could argue that the LDS church can still do all those positive things without being saddled with the negatives that can come from Boy Scouts. And that may be true, but from a scoutmaster perspective it’s really nice to have the framework in place to help plan activities and run the program. Rather than a hindrance, I find the rank and patch earning requirements an awesome way to get direction on what to do, and having to complete requirements motivates us to be engaged and finish a topic. Starting from scratch would be tough and would make my job more difficult.

Because scouting has so many group activities like scout camps and jamborees, using the Boy Scouts as the activities arm of the LDS young men program exposes us to people from outside our own areas and faith communities. So much of LDS life is already wrapped up in our own ward communities, scouting offers a chance to meet people we wouldn’t otherwise. It’s rare, and getting rarer, to find organizations that align as closely with the things the LDS Church values as much as the Boy Scouts has for a century.

But maybe this latest policy change means the time is finally right for the LDS church and the Boy Scouts of America to part ways. The Church’s statement certainly implies they’ve been contemplating it for some time, and perhaps the needs of an international church with a diverse membership have outgrown what the Boy Scouts can offer. I’m sure whatever new program they move to will be a wonderful tool to help young men gain skills, flex their leadership muscles, and grow their spirituality. But I for one will have a moment of silence for what was an incredible partnership that improved LDS boys’ lives for a century.

About author

Cameron Robinson
Cameron Robinson 10 posts

Cameron is a husband and father of five children. He's an accounting controller by trade who's been involved in politics for a decade.

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  • Tevya Washburn

    I think the biggest single factor is that it’s BSA: it only works for youth in the US. With more than half of it’s youth outside the US, the Church is already struggling to do something for YM outside the US, while still utilizing BSA inside.

    I also don’t think the argument is (or at least shouldn’t be) that BSA is bad, or a negative. The argument is, that for the Church, the cons have come to far outweigh the Pros. Nothing would prevent YM from participating in scouting in the future. It just wouldn’t be part of mutual. They’d need to join a “traditional” unit. It’s amazing how many dedicated LDS scouting leaders I’ve heard commiserate about how we don’t do Scouting “right” in the Church anyway. So it seems to be a mutual thing: the Church’s con’s for BSA now outweigh the Pros, and BSA’s cons now outweigh it’s Pro’s for the Church.

    Thus a separation at this point would be a good thing. It would allow the Church to implement 1 program for all Young Men, world-wide, instead of 2. It would also allow them to create a program that better compliments and interfaces with the YW program. Finally, it would allow the Church to do things in a tech-friendly, streamlined way, that would cost a whole lot less, and eliminate (what many have called priestcraft) Friends of Scouting. All of that would allow funds to be spent in a way that’s more evenly distributed between YM & YW.

    • John Shaw


      I’d agree with you except why, oh, why compliment and interface with the YW program. Why not make the progam something that works well for Young Women as well? We already have personal progress and Duty to God – put something out there that is life-skills oriented and give both groups the go ahead.

      • Sir_Brizz

        Because we recognize that men and women are inherently different and that their interests and needs are inherently skewed anyway?

        I wouldn’t want a program that treats Young Men and Young Women the same (note I did not say equally) or assumes they have the same interests and needs just as I would not want a program that treats Men and Women like that. That’s not to say that aspects of each program could not overlap but I’d rather any programs created are designed to interest the people the programs are designed for.

        • John Shaw

          Young Men and Young Women already have the separate programs, anything that needs to be separate can be part of that program, but IF, IF, if, we find value in a BSA-ish like program, then create it with only the values that apply to both groups. Citizenship in the community, nation, world (how is that YM specific?) – hiking, camping, all things that could be done with a girls camp / boys camp (separate of course) – personal finance, safety, lifesaving, any merit badge that is good for a YM is good for a YW? Is wilderness survival something needed? doubtful, hiking/camping as they exist today, not necessary… how to build a fire, first aid, babysitting even works for both at this point. I just don’t see any value in creating a program that can’t apply to both if we’re going to do it.

          I recently spent some time at girls camp this last week – All day long I thought about my BSA experience, and how many valuable things I learned, that my daughters don’t have a mechanism in place (in the church) to learn them. One might say that the family is the place to learn that, well, if that’s true for YW, then its also true for YM.

          • Sir_Brizz

            I guess I don’t see the real value in a merit badge based system anymore. But I haven’t really thought through what a Church-based replacement to BSA would be like. YW groups can (and often do) already do the things you mentioned.

      • Tevya Washburn

        Agreed John! I suppose that’s what I was getting at. Though I’d imagine there would be some parts where YW and YM are separate, as @Sir_Brizz:disqus suggests. I think there’s value in separating them at times, if for no other reason than to eliminate a major distraction.

  • I will join you in the mourning. But then I will pick up my boot straps and get to work on making the new program the best it could possibly be in my ward.