How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?
As a former member of both the Boy Scouts of America and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I support the founding principles of both organizations. My life has been greatly enriched and blessed by both memberships. I’m very grateful for the LDS/BSA relationship, which has spanned over 100 years. In fact, the LDS church was the BSA’s first chartered organization and set the pattern for all the other sponsoring organizations that came thereafter.
Sadly, much has changed since my youth, and today the BSA is an organization in decline, having lost over 50% of its youth membership since 2000. As the BSA struggles for its very existence, the BSA/LDS relationship is increasingly crucial to the survival of the Boy Scouts of America. In a nutshell, the BSA depends on the LDS church.
That shouldn’t come as any surprise, as 51% of all scout troops sponsored by a religious organization are sponsored by the LDS church. When you take all units of any sponsorship into consideration, the LDS church still sponsors 37% of all troops in America. Losing the LDS church would therefore, instantly, cost the BSA over a third of its remaining scout units. That’s a big hit to take, and there’s a lot on the line, as the BSA has over $1 Billion in assets to protect, and an annual budget of over $200 million.
A Scout is Thrifty...
A few years back, I moved into a new ward, and my first calling was to head up the Friends of Scouting drive. My ward’s required donation to the BSA was $5,000, on top of membership dues for each boy and chartering fees. There are nearly 40,000 LDS scout troops. Of course, they may not all have such sizable donation requirements, but any way you do the math, the LDS church means big numbers and big money for the Boy Scouts.
Similarly, the LDS church depends on the BSA, as scouting is the official young men’s program of the church, and most young men’s activities, particularly for ages 12-14, are centered around scouting.
So in 2013, when the BSA came under intense pressure to accept openly gay scouts, this presented a vexing difficulty for the leadership of both the BSA and the LDS church. Threats of funding loss and boycotts, as well as the removal of corporate sponsorships threatened the future of the BSA. The support of the LDS church was absolutely essential, yet questionable, due to the LDS stance homosexuality. If the LDS church could not be convinced to accept openly gay scouts, the BSA would face its imminent demise.
As you may recall, the BSA deliberated the policy change for several months. Undoubtedly these deliberations included the LDS church and President Monson personally, as he is the longest-tenured member of scouting’s National Executive Board (serving for 46 years.) This board ultimately voted to approve the admission of openly gay scouts.
On May 23, 2013, the BSA's National Council approved a resolution to remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation. The same day, the LDS church released a statement in favor of the new policy. Disaster, it seemed, had been averted.
But how did the BSA win the church’s approval for such a public reversal of position?
Let’s look at what happened after the decision was settled.
On his honors...
In conjunction with the 2013 National Boy Scout Jamboree, the new Thomas S. Monson Award was announced, allowing LDS and non-LDS scouts and leaders to earn the right to wear President Monson’s face, in full color, on their uniforms. I find it particularly odd that non-Mormon scouts and leaders nationwide would be encouraged at the National Jamboree to learn about the Mormon Prophet's life so they could wear his face. But I suppose it’s no more odd than the fact that the Mormon Prophet would allow people to wear his likeness as an award.
October 29, 2013
“Century of Honor” LDS stage program
This stage production at the LDS conference center celebrated, with much fanfare, the 100-year relationship between the BSA and the LDS church. Just before the program, Thomas Monson was awarded Scouting’s Medal of Honor for saving a life when he was 12—which was announced at the program during a 20-minute segment devoted solely to honoring President Monson.
Since Monson has already received nearly every other award scouting offers, including the Silver Beaver, Silver Buffalo, Bronze Wolf, and Silver Fox, it appears the BSA dug deep to find another award to give him. President Monson received multiple, lengthy standing ovations in his honor from the full-capacity Conference Center crowd.
During the program, the BSA National President announced that the The Leadership Excellence Complex, located on the 10,000-acre Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in West Virginia, would be renamed the Thomas S. Monson Leadership Excellence Complex. Excellent!
March 20, 2014
The BSA announced that a new $3 Million, 23,000 square foot lodge in Utah would also be named after Thomas Monson.
So, for those keeping score thus far, President Monson's honors in the year following the policy change include two multi-million dollar scout facilities named after Thomas Monson, plus a personal award to him for something he did 74 years ago, a stage production and tribute, and a new award bearing Monson's face offered to all scouts and leaders at the National Jamboree. Not a bad haul for one guy.
A Scout is Loyal…
The BSA certainly has gone out of its way to honor President Monson after the gay-scout policy change went through.
But I’m sure it’s all above board, and purely coincidental. Undoubtedly lots of people get this much honor and recognition from the BSA in a single year, even if such people don’t happen to personally hold the future of the BSA in their hands. Nothing to see here. These aren't the honors you're looking for. Move along.
Then What Happened?
Fast forward to 2015, and we again found the BSA under intense pressure from gay interests—this time pressured to accept homosexual scout leaders. On July 28, the BSA announced it would end the ban on gay leaders, but left it up to individual troops to determine whether they would allow gay leaders for their troops. This caveat was specifically designed so religious organizations would not be forced to act against their principles. But in reality, it will have the opposite effect; religious organizations will be even more pressured to act against their principles. Here's why:
The BSA effectively dodged the negative publicity and social pressure brought by homosexual interests, and instead placed it squarely on the churches that sponsor scout units. This, despite the fact that the Supreme Court had already ruled that the BSA was not legally required to allow gay leaders. The BSA gets the “good” press for being “open,” “inclusive,” and “equal” while the churches will bear the negative PR and backlash for supposedly being otherwise. Of course, the gay-interest groups will not rest until all troops drop all restrictions against homosexual participation in all forms.
As a BSA PR move, this was masterful. But it certainly bore risks as well. The BSA must hope the positive PR will bring in new sponsors to replace the potential losses they face by alienating religious supporters. Many millions of dollars are at stake.
The immediate response of the LDS church to the BSA policy change started with the following language:
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply troubled by today’s vote by the Boy Scouts of America National Executive Board. In spite of a request to delay the vote, it was scheduled at a time in July when members of the Church’s governing councils are out of their offices and do not meet.”
Why do you think the vote was scheduled when most church leaders were on vacation? If you’re going to alienate your largest and oldest sponsor, it’s probably best to do it when they’re not prepared to respond. The LDS response continued:
“When the leadership of the Church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August, the century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined.”
Those are strong words from the organization that has been scouting’s largest supporter for over 100 years. Something has clearly changed, even from two years ago.
On the heels of the not-so-veiled LDS threat to drop scouting, came a Dan Jones poll showing that 63% of “very active” LDS church members in Utah believe the LDS church “definitely” or “probably” should end its relationship the BSA. If you broaden the criteria to "active" and "very active" the number is still 54%.
It’s interesting to note that this poll was professionally done, and published through LDS-church-owned news outlets. Clearly, the LDS church wanted it publicly known that the church members want scouting to go. Who do you suppose paid to have the poll conducted?
If the church were being run by common consent, the BSA relationship would end. But the church isn’t run by common consent. Therefore, it really comes down to the decisions of church leadership.
In 2013, President Monson stood with the BSA, and received massive recognition, honors of men, and worldly acclaim from that organization for doing so. Whether you think it was purely innocent or a buy off, it really makes no difference now, as President Monson now suffers from ill health and age-related decline in mental capacity. Public appearances are scarce and his day-to-day leadership capacity is limited. The decision may be out of his hands.
The Quorum of the Twelve is also short staffed, with only 9 (possibly fewer) functioning apostles. It will be very interesting to see how this develops, and who it is that actually makes the decision.
On the one hand, the LDS church could choose to stay with the BSA, relying on the “religious exemption” to exclude gay leaders. If it does so, the LDS church, as scouting’s largest sponsor, will likely then bear the majority of negative PR and social pressure from gay-interest groups. Having gone down that road before with California's proposition 8, the church is NOT keen to go there again.
But then again, dropping the Boy Scouts would also have negative PR consequences for the church, especially if it happens over the gay issue. Either way, it's a very tough decision. Hence, the need for market research and polling to guide the prophets in their prophetic responsibilities.
It's the LDS boys who stand to lose the most if the church and the BSA sever ties. LDS boys would lose access to excellent BSA camps, facilities and programs for all sorts of outdoor adventures and training. The boys would then reach parity with LDS girls, who have never had such access. Ahem.
If the LDS church does part ways with the BSA, scouting will have to scramble to replace lost income and participation. By becoming more socially relevant and bending to the whims of public opinion, perhaps the BSA will see increased numbers and sponsorship in the future. Perhaps gay organizations will take up the torch and start sponsoring troops. Certainly, someone will have to if the BSA loses LDS sponsorship and money.
I’m not going to guess which way it will go. But I am going to watch carefully. If the LDS church stays with scouting, who will get
Behold, I am Moroni, your chief captain. I seek not for power, but to pull it down. I seek not for honor of the world, but for the glory of my God...
Postscript: The day after I posted this, the LDS church announced its intention to stay with scouting.
Shortly thereafter, a new Dan Jones poll was commissioned. It showed that among "very active" LDS members, 81% believed the church should stay with scouting. That's a massive swing. In fact that's an absolutely unheard-of swing! To go from 63% against an idea, to 81% in favor of it in less than a month, demonstrates just how powerful LDS leadership is in forming the opinions of active members.
Politicians lie, scramble, and agitate just to move a poll a point or two. They would kill for this sort of power over thought.
One lesson to learn is that LDS leadership could easily change a wide variety of church policies or teachings, and the active membership would fall in line. This is worth noting and remembering.