Utah Scout leaders breathe easier; Mormon church is sticking with the group

The organization’s decision to accept openly gay leaders raised the possibility of the church pulling its sponsorship.

A statue of a Boy Scout stands in front of the National Scouting Museum, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, in Irving, Texas. The Boy Scouts of America announced it is considering a dramatic retreat from its controversial policy of excluding gays as leaders and youth members. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Like a loyal Scout and a good Mormon, Stan Lockhart was prepared.

In this case, he was ready to leave behind a boys program that he loves — if his faith followed through on its threat last month to form its own system.

Lockhart, president of the Scouts' Orem-based Utah National Parks Council, learned Wednesday he won't have to do that after all — the LDS Church is sticking with the Boy Scouts of America.

"At this time, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will go forward as a chartering organization of BSA, and as in the past, will appoint Scout leaders and volunteers who uphold and exemplify church doctrine, values and standards," the church's governing First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in a news release. "With equal concern for the substantial number of youth who live outside the United States and Canada, the church will continue to evaluate and refine program options that better meet its global needs."

The news "thrilled" Lockhart, who credits his devotion to Scouting partly to LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson, a lifelong champion of the BSA.

A Mormon exodus from Scouting loomed as a distinct possibility last month after the youth organization voted to accept openly gay leaders.

"Deeply troubled" by the move, the LDS Church said it was "considering creating its own international program for boys, separate from the Boy Scouts of America."

That announcement sent tremors across the country, given that the Utah-based faith is far and away Scouting's biggest sponsor, serving 437,160 boys in 37,933 troops.

An LDS Church withdrawal also could have decimated the Beehive State's three Scout councils, which report between 96 percent and 99 percent of their members are in Mormon units.

Although the LDS Church has allowed — and does allow — openly gay Mormons to serve in church assignments, including the Boy Scouts, these members are deemed to be living the faith's standards. This means they are not acting on their same-sex attractions.

The BSA's new policy, however, makes no such distinction between "openly gay" and "sexually active gay leaders." So a gay Scout leader could have a partner or a same-sex spouse — and that troubled the Mormon brass.

While the BSA insists that religiously affiliated troops, including those sponsored by the LDS Church, can decide leader standards for themselves and even continue to ban gay adults, some observers doubt such an exemption could be legally defended.

Even so, Mormon leaders are counting on that exemption.

"In the resolution adopted on July 27, 2015, and in subsequent verbal assurances to us," said the LDS Church statement, "BSA has reiterated that it expects those who sponsor Scouting units (such as the church) to appoint Scout leaders according to their religious and moral values 'in word and deed and who will best inculcate the organization's values through the Scouting program.' "

BSA officials pledged anew Wednesday to stand by that policy.

"The BSA affirms, and will defend, the right of all religious chartered organizations to select their Scout leaders in accordance with their religious beliefs," the Boy Scouts told The Associated Press.

Mormon authorities went on to praise the Scouts and their longtime influence in young lives.

"As leaders of the church, we want the Boy Scouts of America to succeed in its historic mission to instill leadership skills and high moral standards in youth of all faiths and circumstances, thereby equipping them for greater success in life and valuable service to their country."

Lockhart knows some folks "were worried about a split."

"To me, it was a mystery how the national level got to that point with the church," he added. "I was more surprised by [the church's] July 27 statement than what they've done today."

Lockhart's Utah National Parks Council welcomed the LDS Church's continued commitment to Scouting.

"We are humbled by the announcement from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that the LDS Church will continue its centurylong partnership with the Boy Scouts of America," it said. "We ... fully support the church's right to select leaders that best exemplify its standards."

The statement added, "We are grateful for the trust placed in the Scouting program by the LDS Church to help serve and build up their young men."

Kendall Wilcox was "pleasantly surprised" by the church's decision not to bolt from the Scouts — at least "not at this time and not over this issue," saying Wednesday's statement was "more in line with their existing policies than the previous bizarre statement threatening to leave."

Wilcox — a gay Mormon filmmaker and member of the interfaith committee of Scouts for Equality that has been pushing for reforms — noted that any Latter-day Saint "who abides by the church's worthiness standards is eligible for a calling in the church and that includes gay members serving in the church's sponsored Scout troops."

The church has sent a message, "albeit by default," Wilcox said — that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members "are welcome to serve in their congregations."

Of course, concerns about the program remain.

"While more polished than what some commenters online called a 'temper tantrum' of the last [LDS Church] statement," Mormon writer Emily Jensen argued, the new statement "missed two opportunities in regards to women and equality in the church."

First, it referred to "youth" in three instances, Jensen said. "We need to stop saying 'youth' when we mean young men and boys because the church is working to make women more visible — and if we are going to take those at face value, then we need to stop making them unnecessarily invisible."

Second, the church "could have easily addressed the disparities between the Young Women program and Scouting programs," Jensen said, "especially regarding finances in many wards and stakes [congregations], with a statement about making sure monies are equally distributed."

But maybe that is in the works, she said, given the "hint" from Wednesday's statement that "the church will continue to evaluate and refine program options that better meet its global needs."

As a Webelos assistant leader and the mother of a Cub Scout and four girls, Jensen said that is her "hope."

As recently as last week, however, some 63 percent of Utah Mormons polled by UtahPolicy.com wanted their church to sever its Scouting ties.

Though the survey did not ask why respondents favored such action, several Latter-day Saints have shared reasons for wanting to divorce the Scouts — none of which stems from the question of gay leaders.

Retired Brigham Young University professor Ted Lyon has served as Scoutmaster four times and as head of his LDS congregation's Young Men organization six times.

In a recent essay, Lyon, executive director of the LDS International Society, spelled out his arguments for why the two groups should part company:

• Scouting by itself does not provide a place or program for organized group sports. The LDS Church creates its own sports programs for young men — volleyball, basketball, softball.

• Scouting has no inherent spiritual aspect (beyond affirming a belief in God). The church has to add its own lessons and group activities that promote spiritual growth.

• Scouting provides little or no group aesthetics – dance, music, drama. Individual merit badges cover these areas but Scouting does not emphasize group aesthetics

• Scouting is expensive. The boys may not have to pay much, but all their Mormon ward members do. The annual "Friends of Scouting" drive in each ward provides millions of dollars annually to run local Scout council offices. None of that money goes directly to the needs of ward Scouts. Yet all of the "real" work of Scouting at the ward level is done by volunteers who log hundreds of hours every year — and pay their own way.

"Scouting is the only [church-sponsored] activity for [LDS] boys," Lyon noted, "and those who do not enjoy working on merit badges or attending powwows find themselves marginalized."

David Noyce contributed to this story.


FILE - In this Sunday, June 8, 2014, file photo, a Boy Scout wears his kerchief embroidered with a rainbow knot during Salt Lake City’s annual gay pride parade. The Boy Scouts of America's top policy-making board planned a vote Monday, July 27, 2015, on ending its blanket ban on gay adult leaders while allowing church-sponsored Scout units to maintain the exclusion if that accorded with their faith. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America presented an original stage production about the history and values of Scouting. ÒA Century of HonorÓ commemorating the 100-year partnership between the LDS Church and the BSA, Tuesday, October 29, 2014 at the Conference Center. The program will featured multiple choirs, historical reenactment, dynamic set design, and multiple special effects drawing upon the skills and outdoor experiences that are hallmarks of Scouting.

Tribune file photo John Petersen, Ammon Harris and Tony Harris build a container to recycle monofilament fishing line at the pond at Highland Glen Park in Highland, Utah on October 29, 2012. John Peterson decided to do outreach about the dangers of monofilament fishing line to wildlife as his Eagle Scout project and have been able to install these container at a few locations near fishing areas.

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Lincoln Halladay, 11, pushes his brother Elisha, 8, in the Push Cart Derby, at the Utah Scouting Expo at the South Towne Expo Center on Saturday, May 2, 2015.

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Nathan Bowden throws a baseball during the Utah Scouting Expo at the South Towne Expo Center on Saturday, May 2, 2015.

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Lincoln Halladay, 11, pushes his brother Elisha, 8, in the Push Cart Derby, at the Utah Scouting Expo at the South Towne Expo Center on Saturday, May 2, 2015.