Mormon Church Will Keep Ties With Boy Scouts Despite Objecting to Gay Leaders

The New York Times/August 26, 2015

By Erik Eckholm

The Mormon Church announced Wednesday that it would continue its close association with the Boy Scouts for now, ending speculation that it would sever ties because of the Scouts’s decision last month to let openly gay men and women serve as leaders.

In July, bowing to growing legal and public pressures, the governing board of the Boy Scouts of America voted to permit openly gay adult leaders. That followed its decision in 2013 to permit participation by gay youths.

But in a compromise aimed at preventing defections by religious conservatives — including the Mormons, who are the largest single sponsor of Boy Scout units — the board said that local sponsors with religious objections could select volunteer leaders in accordance with their own beliefs.

At the time, the response from the Mormons was unexpectedly sharp and included a threat to leave the Scouts anyway.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply troubled by today’s vote,” the church said in a statement issued after the Scouts announced the policy. “When the leadership of the church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August, the century-long association with scouting will need to be examined.”

In its new statement on Wednesday, the church praised “the positive contributions scouting has made over the years to thousands of its young men and boys” and emphasized the Scouts’s promise to let local sponsors pick leaders “according to their religious and moral values.”

“At this time, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will go forward as a chartering organization of B.S.A. and, as in the past, will appoint scout leaders and volunteers who uphold and exemplify church doctrine, values and standards,” the statement said. It was issued on behalf of the church’s top leadership groups, the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

The Boy Scouts in turn expressed their appreciation for the contributions of the Mormon Church and reiterated the policy of local control over volunteer leaders.

“The Boy Scouts of America deeply appreciates our longstanding relationship with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” said a statement issued on Wednesday by the Scouts’s headquarters in Irving, Tex. “The B.S.A. affirms, and will defend, the right of all religious chartered organizations to select their scout leaders in accordance with their religious beliefs.”

For decades, the Mormon Church has used the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts as its main nonreligious programs for boys. Every ward sponsors Scout units, and boys are automatically enrolled.

As of 2013, the last year for which data has been published, Mormon-sponsored packs and troops accounted for nearly one in five scouting participants. Their departure would be a serious blow to the Boy Scouts, which is already struggling with falling membership.

But the latest statement did leave the door open to future change. Church officials noted last month that half their global membership is in countries where scouting is not available and said they were considering whether to start their own global youth program.

On Wednesday, they said such consideration was continuing. “With equal concern for the substantial number of youth who live outside the United States and Canada,” the church’s statement said, “the church will continue to evaluate and refine program options that better meet its global needs.”

Zach Wahls, the executive director of Scouts for Equality, which has campaigned to end discrimination against gay scouts and leaders, said Wednesday that he was pleased with the Mormons’ decision to remain in the fold for now.

“Our position has always been that scouting is a great program and should be accessible to as many people as possible,” Mr. Wahls said.

“Gay adults will have options of troops to serve in,” he said, even if Mormon-sponsored groups will not accept them. “We want to see less discrimination in scouting, but also to make sure scouting is available for America’s youth.”

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