Can gay Mormons serve in Boy Scouts? Well, yes and no
It's a different sort of "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays Â this one involving the Boy Scouts of America and its units sponsored by the Utah-based LDS Church.
Both groups are murky about whether they allow people who feel same-sex attraction but who do not engage in homosexual behavior to be Scouts or their adult leaders.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints normally allows such members to hold "callings," or positions in its organizations, when chosen by local Mormon leaders. The faith's written guidelines do not exclude Scouting.
However, the Boy Scouts have a national policy that bans "individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals" from serving in their units, although that policy adds that the BSA "does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers or members."
So are chaste Mormons who feel same-sex attraction and who may have disclosed that considered "open or avowed homosexuals" and banned from Scouting? Or are these Latter-day Saints cleared to serve with the Scouts in the church's eyes but barred in the BSA's view?
The questions arise as gay groups have petitioned the Scouts to change their ban on gays. The BSA has said it has no plans to do so, but referred petitions to a committee for review.
The LDS Church the BSA's largest sponsor and the Scouts give vague answers about their positions on those questions. Meanwhile, the leader of Evergreen, a group that serves Mormons who have same-sex attraction, says the vagueness is likely intentional to allow such people to serve quietly.
The Salt Lake Tribune put those questions in writing as requested to the LDS Church. The paper also asked whether church and Scout policies differ, how those differences may be resolved, and what feelings the religion may have expressed to the BSA about the Scouts' policy on gays.
The church did not answer directly. Instead, it issued the following response from spokesman Scott Trotter:
"All Scouts and adult leaders serving in LDS Scouting units are expected to live the standards of the church. They must also be properly registered with the Boy Scouts of America."
Deron Smith, spokesman for BSA headquarters in Texas, wrote an e-mail in response to questions about chaste people with same-sex attraction serving in the organization: "You raise a hypothetical question which we can't answer without the benefit of knowing the specific details."
He added, "We can say that in order to charter the Scouting program, organizations accept Scouting policies. That said, there isn't an inherent conflict [between] the BSA and LDS policies."
Smith said in a subsequent email, after The Tribune sought more information, that when questions about Scouting policies arise, "the local council works with the chartered organization [sponsor of the Scouting unit] ... and with the unit committee to review the situation to determine the best course of action as it relates to being in compliance with BSA policies."
Rick Barnes head of the Great Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts based in Salt Lake City and a former LDS bishop said that in his 15 years of leading local councils, the question of whether chaste Mormons with same-sex attraction can serve has never come to him.
"We [Boy Scouts] don't own the unit. The unit is owned by the chartered partner. ... They actually choose the leadership," Barnes said. "They are the ones who are responsible for determining whether a person meets the standards."
He added, "I have never had a call from a unit seeking a solution" on the question about chaste people with same-sex attraction. "I've removed plenty of people for disruptive behaviors [as allowed by Scouting policy], but I have never removed anyone for being gay."
Barnes said sexuality is "something that we don't really talk about. We focus on the Boy Scout program. The BSA has deep respect for people from all walks of life. Courteous and kind is definitely part of who we are" as stated in the Scout Law.
David Pruden, a two-time LDS bishop who is president of Evergreen, which bills itself as the same-sex attraction voice of faithful Mormons, says personal experience and conversations make him believe that many such people likely quietly serve in LDS Scout units .
"There are a lot more people out there than people realize living in every ward and stake in this church who are dealing with same-sex attraction, but are married or are temple-recommend holders. Those people are serving in all sorts of positions â¦ and nobody is making a big production out of it," Pruden said. "I have guys ask me all the time: 'Should I be telling my bishop this [about same-sex attraction]?' My answer always is, 'Have you done something wrong?' And they say, 'Well, no.' Then I say, 'What are you going to go tell him â¦ ? 'Hi, I'm mortal, in case the other perfect people in the ward were confused?' "
Pruden believes "a lot" of such members have served in Scouting.
"But, I think most bishops are very hesitant, in my experience, to call anyone into Scouting who is not married," besides some young returned LDS missionaries, he explained. "I think it's left up to the local person to use their discretion about whether they think this person belongs there or not."
Pruden said statements from LDS leaders and BSA are probably intentionally muddy to allow faithful Mormons with same-sex attraction to serve quietly.
"I think their vague, murky policy is an intentional vague, murky policy," he said. "They don't really want to take a hard and fast stance because I don't think they want to hurt people who are worthy."
Scout policy on gays
"While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA."
LDS policy on gays
"If members feel same-gender attraction but do not engage in any homosexual behavior, leaders should support and encourage them in their resolve to live the law of chastity and to control unrighteous thoughts. These members may receive church callings. If they are worthy and qualified in every other way, they may also hold temple recommends and receive temple ordinances."
Source: "Handbook 2: Administering the Church," instructions for LDS leaders, which is available publicly online
Boy Scouts' top sponsors
1. LDS Church, 420,977 youths in 37,882 units.
2. United Methodist Church, 371,491 youths in 11,078 units.
3. Catholic Church, 283,642 youths in 8,570 units.
4. Parent-teacher groups, other than PTAs, 153,214 youths in 3,712 units.
5. Presbyterian Church, 127,931 youths in 3,663 units.
Source: 2011 Boy Scouts of America Local Council Index