Many Latter-day Saints might be sad or confused about the announcement from the LDS Church that it will no longer be participating in the Scouting program for older boys. And that sadness or confusion is understandable. The LDS Church was one of the original partners with the Boy Scouts of America dating back to 1913. Their partnership has been deep over the years in terms of membership, programs, and finances.
I am neither sad nor confused.
I never have been a fan of the scouting program. None of our four boys participated. Rarely have I donated to the Friends of Scouting fund and, when I have, it was usually out of some kind of neighborhood peer pressure. My indifference to Scouting is not based on any sort of animosity. I think they have served many millions of boys and men very well. It’s simply not my cup of tea. I’m not an outdoors guy. I don’t like bugs. I don’t like dirt. I don’t like eating from cans and drinking from containers requiring purification. I don’t like sleeping on the ground. Nor do I like heat or cold. I realize that scouting has become easier. Its culture of enduring the great wilderness has given way to fast food, big cookers, diverse energy sources, multi-room tents and comfortable and cushioned bedding.
Still, if scouting is inching ever closer to the standards of a Motel 6, I still wonder why I would settle for anything less than a Hilton hotel? Camping is either endurance or it is a novel hobby obtained by a little effort and lots of money.
Of course, I understand that the real purpose of Scouting is to build character in boys and men. That is commendable. More so, building character is essential in a free society. I don’t begrudge that aspect of it. In fact, I salute it. But character can be achieved in so many other ways – through attentive parents, for instance. And, if we’re being candid, the Scouting program, especially in the LDS Church, has a way of crowding out parents. You know, if I want my boy to learn how to duct tape the weakling in the ward to an evergreen and leave him there alone in the woods, I’ll take my boys out myself and have them choose a brother to pick on!
And, just in terms of a fashion statement, the whole grown-man-in-uniform thing is a bit peculiar (and not in a good way). It is all too regimented for me and I did not want my boys to learn character through group regimentation. I wanted my boys to learn character through my own example as a man, husband, and father. Nor did I believe much character building was occurring in a shared tent with four pubescent boys at two o’clock in the morning. Furthermore, and this is just me having a career studying the problems of grown men, often strangers, around young boys, when something does go wrong, it goes terribly wrong. And, despite all of the good to come from Scouting, the downsides, though rare relatively speaking, were enough for me to want to keep my sons under my own wing and not lend them out to strangers.
So, farewell, old friend.
The statement released by the LDS Church announcing its decision to abandon Scouting in its Church programs for boys 14-17 years old is what you would expect – appropriately discreet and prudent. The Church will hang on to Scouting for the younger boys ages 13 and under. The Church assures the world that its decision has nothing to do with BSA’s decision a couple of years ago to consider sexual orientation a part of its program.
If you recall, BSA traditionally held that homosexuality was neither an act of moral virtue nor an act separated from an idea. If a Scout, boy or man, claimed he was gay, he was determined to be unfit to associate with the other boys. That policy has changed. Today, BSA and the LDS Church, in most ways, recognize sexual orientation and have managed to negotiate the difference between thinking something and acting on that something.
The LDS Church states that it has been working on an alternative program for the older boys for a couple of years. It says today’s decision has more to do with that than past BSA decisions. Okay, well, you have never known me to be evasive. It’s no coincidence that the LDS Church began working on an alternative program about the same time BSA changed its policy on sexual orientation. The LDS Church saw the handwriting on the wall and knew what was coming. This decision has everything to do with BSA accommodating gay rights and whatever is to come of that. That LDS Church public relations has done likewise in many ways cannot defuse or dismiss the relationship between the BSA decision and the Church work to find an alternative to Scouting.
The Church can continue, for now, with Scouting among the young boys. By and large, they have not gone through puberty and have not been exposed to the colorful world of sexual orientation and gender identity. They are shielded for now. There is time for the Church to figure out what to do for them.
Meanwhile, men like me all throughout the LDS Church can celebrate that we will not be called to the only Church position from which I have declined (twice).