The compromise proposal from the Boy Scouts of America to allow gay youths to join local troops while continuing to exclude gay leaders has picked up a powerful backer: the LDS Church.
The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the nation's largest Scouting sponsor, announced late Thursday that it is "satisfied" with the BSA's plan.
"While the church has not launched any campaign either to effect or prevent a policy change," said a statement on the church's newsroom website, "we have followed the discussion and are satisfied that BSA has made a thoughtful, good-faith effort to address issues that, as they have said, remain 'among the most complex and challenging issues facing the BSA and society today.' "
The BSA is scheduled to decide the issue next month.
"The current BSA proposal," the LDS Church statement added, "constructively addresses a number of important issues that have been part of the ongoing dialogue, including consistent standards for all BSA partners, recognition that Scouting exists to serve and benefit youth rather than Scout leaders, a single standard of moral purity for youth in the program, and a renewed emphasis for Scouts to honor their duty to God."
Kendall Wilcox, an openly gay Mormon filmmaker, sees the Scouts' proposal as "a step in the right direction, bringing the Scouts in line with the LDS Church's policy of inclusion of LGBT people."
He pointed out, however, that any distinction between gay Scouts and their adult leaders does not match the church's own views.
Mormonism does not consider homosexuality a "sin" and allows chaste gays to hold "callings," or positions in its organizations, when chosen by local LDS leaders, and its written guidelines do not exclude Scouting.
Separating gay Scouts from gay leaders "sends a troubling message to youth," Wilcox said Thursday. Such a move essentially says that after gay Scouts earn their Eagle awards, if they want to turn around and volunteer in Scouting, "they are no longer considered worthy."
Wilcox is a co-founder of Mormons Building Bridges, a group of Latter-day Saints dedicated to conveying love and acceptance to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Bridges has been hosting "Community Conversations" at libraries across the Wasatch Front this week about the Scouts' latest proposal.
"I much prefer the previous proposal that would have left it up to local charter organizations to decide whether or not to include LGBT youth and leaders," Wilcox said. "According to that policy, if a youth were in an LDS-chartered troop, he would have been welcomed and could have earned his Eagle, and an openly gay member of the church 'in good standing' could have been the leader to pin the badge on him. With this current proposal, that will not be possible."
Gay-rights activists also have criticized a ban on gay Scout leaders as a continuation of misinformation and false stereotypes painting gay men as sexual predators.
The compromise Scout proposal "is a small step forward," said Jewish Scoutmaster Peter Brownstein, "but nowhere near the end of the journey."
It is important that "we keep working until Scouting is inclusive of the entire population, including adults," said Brownstein, who had proposed creating a troop through the Utah Pride Center for kids whose parents opposed the gay membership ban. "The sooner we take the next step toward equality and inclusion, the sooner society can gain enhanced benefits from the Scouting program."
The LDS Church's endorsement may be crucial to the Scouts: the 14 million-member global faith has 420,977 youths in 37,882 Scouting units across the nation.
"The Great Salt Lake Council has had a long and wonderful relationship with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," Rick Barnes, the council's executive, said in a statement Thursday. "The executive committee for the council will meet on May 8 to discuss the proposed BSA resolution and the statement by the LDS Church."
LDS statement on Scouts
"Over the past several weeks BSA has undertaken the difficult task of reviewing its membership standards policy. In their own words, this undertaking has been 'the most comprehensive listening exercise in its history.'
"While the church has not launched any campaign either to effect or prevent a policy change, we have followed the discussion and are satisfied that BSA has made a thoughtful, good-faith effort to address issues that, as they have said, remain 'among the most complex and challenging issues facing the BSA and society today.'
"The current BSA proposal constructively addresses a number of important issues that have been part of the ongoing dialogue, including consistent standards for all BSA partners, recognition that Scouting exists to serve and benefit youth rather than Scout leaders, a single standard of moral purity for youth in the program, and a renewed emphasis for Scouts to honor their duty to God.
"We are grateful to BSA for their careful consideration of these issues. We appreciate the positive things contained in this current proposal that will help build and strengthen the moral character and leadership skills of youth as we work together in the future."
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
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.