When the Boy Scouts of America decided to put off its vote on whether to open its membership to gay Scouts and leaders, the LDS Church fired off a brief news release Wednesday morning praising the decision as a wise way to hear all voices on this “important moral issue.”
But then, at about 4 p.m., it issued a longer statement that, among other things, scrapped the reference to a “moral issue” and instead saluted the Scouts for helping to “build and strengthen the moral character and leadership skills of young men.”
The Utah-based faith also cautioned “others not to speculate about our position” or to assume that Mormons inside or out of Scouting speak for the church. Both statements were attributed to LDS Church spokesman Michael Purdy.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has every right to amend its positions and language. But in this case, the reference to “moral issue” cannot be washed away.
That’s because, just two months ago, the LDS Church unveiled a website dedicated to promoting compassion and understanding toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. It also urged gay Mormons to remain both chaste and true to the faith.
The religion has said same-sex attraction is not a sin, but warns that acting on it is. I see nothing in the Boy Scouts’ on-again, off-again proposal to let local sponsors admit gays that would somehow support sexual interactions between Scouts.
My Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines “moral” as “relating to principles of right and wrong behavior.”
That leaves an open question. The LDS Church aligns with Catholics, Muslims and others in saying that sexual relations should be only between a husband and wife.
My moral system — and that of a great many others, including religious people — supports the principle that gay men and women have the same right to love and marry as anyone. What is marriage, after all, other than a well-tested recipe for domestic tranquility and good citizenship?
For the Boy Scouts, it’s a question of whether to reverse a ban on gay people openly participating. Those who support that position see it was a way of revitalizing Scouting; those who oppose it fear that conservative groups such as the LDS Church would drop out and form their own quasi-Scouting organizations.
The church’s sponsorship of the Boy Scouts has resulted in nearly half a million Mormon Scouts, far and away the largest in the country and the biggest source of funding. The Great Salt Lake Council alone has more than 73,000 boys and nearly 32,000 adult volunteers.
If those who oppose gay Scouts and leaders worry about sexual predators, they shouldn’t. Such crimes are rare. In reality, Scouting is almost always a family affair. The parents who become leaders usually were Scouts and bring their own kids into the fold. Gay or straight parents would fight to the death to protect their kids from any abuse.
LDS leaders emphasize that Mormons should not abandon their gay loved ones and have condemned bullying and homophobic taunts by members and society.
It’s a good principle. But I’m told that even with that stricture, some adult Mormons involved in Scouting revert to such language. That doesn’t send a good message to any kid.
The Boy Scouts of America would be wise to look to the Girl Scouts of the USA, which holds that sexual orientation is a private matter for girls and their families to address.
“Girl Scouts has established standards that do not permit the advocacy or promotion of a personal lifestyle or sexual orientation. Adults working with girls must adhere to these standards,” the organization says. “The Girl Scouts is proud of our inclusive heritage, and we welcome all girls K-12 to participate.”
And that, I can tell you, does this old Girl Scout’s heart good.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter: @pegmcentee.