We didn’t leave Boy Scouts, they left us, says Latter-day Saint apostle

(Emily Leshner | AP) M. Russell Ballard, a senior leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and acting president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, speaks during an interview, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, at the Associated Press headquarters in New York.

New York • A high-ranking leader with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Friday the faith severed its centurylong ties with the Boy Scouts of America because the organization made changes that pushed it away from the church.

“The reality there is we didn’t really leave them; they kind of left us,” said M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “The direction they were going was not consistent to what we feel our youth need to have ... to survive in the world that lies ahead for them.”

Ballard is in New York City to lead events with young adult church members and talk about preparations for next April’s bicentennial of church founder Joseph Smith’s “First Vision."

During an interview, the 91-year-old apostle talked about topics as diverse as the church’s support for medical marijuana, incivility in daily life and political discord.

The LDS Church announced in 2018 it was cutting ties with the Boy Scouts of America and begin its own youth initiative in 2020 after declining membership prompted the Boy Scouts of America to open its doors to openly gay youths and adult volunteers as well as girls and transgender youths.

Although the Utah-based faith has allowed — and does allow — openly gay Latter-day Saints 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.

Scouting’s new inclusive policy, however, made 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 church brass.

At the time of the announcement, Latter-day Saint leaders emphasized the desire to have a uniform Scouting-like program it could use around the world and didn’t mention any philosophical differences.

The church, while moving to be more empathetic toward LGTBQ members, has maintained its stance that being in a homosexual relationship is a sin and its opposition to same sex-marriage. The church also has seen significant expansion in countries outside the U.S. where Boy Scouts wasn’t offered. More than half the church’s 16.3 million members live outside the U.S. and Canada.

In another area, Ballard said the church supports medical marijuana but cautioned that its use be monitored. Medical marijuana became legal this year in the faith’s home state of Utah, where the faith has about 2.1 million members. It’s also been legal for several years in Arizona, where 432,000 church members live.

“We think this ought to be managed under the medical profession and understand the real need and the real purpose for administering marijuana medically,” he said, “but recreational marijuana, we think has consequences because addiction, one way or another, starts very subtle sometimes.”

In response to a question on the church’s tenet on kindness, Ballard said the country’s behavior needs to improve.

“We ought to be nice to each other,” he said.

The people should pray that the leaders of this country feel the urgency and importance of turning in a divine direction, he said. “Surely if there was time that we need it with all the things that are going on in the country and the world, wouldn’t it be nice if we asked heaven to help us a little bit?”

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

The Salt Lake Tribune contributed to this report.