In 2010, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) will celebrate its Centennial anniversary. In 2012, the Church will celebrate its centennial contract with the BSA. With these upcoming historic events, its likely controversy over the BSA and its links with the LDS Church will grow for a time. On a macro scale, the BSA is no different than any other not-for-profit organization. It has a board, professionals, organization structure that is completely independent of the Church. Only 17%-18% of all units are LDS sponsored. Mormons and Methodists trade off on who charters more units. On a local scale, wards charter or own certain BSA units. They operate the BSA program within the parameters of both BSA policy and LDS general and local policy. The contract between the LDS Church and the BSA puts believing members in a strange corner. Does acceptance of the LDS Church and all that go along with it necessitate acceptance of the BSA? The answer to that question has many intricate layers. These layers involve an individual who may not like the BSA and its programs period, but it could be relegated to dislike in its organizational structure or its local professional and volunteer leadership. In this post, I want to focus on some of the typical problems I’ve found.*
Lack of Knowledge about Scouting—the calling versus the volunteer
Most members have no idea how Scouting and the Church work together unless they get called to serve in Scouting, and even then, they serve as a duty to the Bishop, and have no loyalty to the BSA organization. They only do Scouting insomuch as the local ward dictates the program. Then only about 20% attend BSA meetings or get trained to operate the program according to the guidelines of the BSA. This is unique in the Church. All other callings require no training from any outside organization. It is bizarre to those that see that “whom the Lord calls, he qualifies.” In the case of the BSA and the Church, whom the Lord calls, the individual is qualified by a 501-c3 organization. It’s counterintuitive, not to mention the fact that non-members can be called in BSA positions. Those that have committee callings find that most of their work is bureaucratic involving doing the annual charter, running fundraising campaigns, filling out tour permits, and registering membership with strict guidelines of adult leaders requiring a background check and parents signing forms indicating the movement of their sons from on program to the other. This bureaucracy isn’t required by the ward, it’s demanded by the BSA, some other entity that Joseph Smith didn’t have a revelation about. It’s a completely gentile organization and Mormons just don’t get it unless they are involved with the BSA in a mutually exclusive way. Unless they believe in the mission of the BSA independent of the Church, any work done on behalf of the BSA is done half-heartedly with a complete lack of faith. The first challenge is therefore understanding the mission of the BSA independent of Mormonism, and making a personal judgment call on its efficacy. If a person believes, he holds no longer perceives himself as called, he perceives himself as a volunteer—a much stronger keystone of service.
Lack of Buy-In
Thomas S. Monson loves Scouting. He is the longest serving executive board member for the National Council. This is another unique and intriguing layer to the BSA/LDS relationship. The BSA is a private organization same as the Red Cross, but it is influenced by the Mormon Church nationally. The general primary president also sits on its board. It’s safe to say that the top-level has buy-in. They are part of its guts, so to say. There is a new website operated by the LDS/BSA Relations division in the Church that attests to this fact. Down the line, you may have some lukewarm area authorities, but the real buy-in problem is with stake presidents. The LDS/BSA relations division attests to the confederate nature of the LDS church. They set certain guidelines in the LDS Scouting in the Handbook of Instructions, but they leave the implementation in the hands of local stakes. One of the primary functions of the website is to encourage attendance to Philmont, BSA’s premier training facility, by stake leaders. The Church feels that if local leaderships attend Philmont, they will buy-in to the mission of the BSA. The problem is that many don’t. If a stake doesn’t have buy-in, it’s likely a ward bishop won’t, and even if they do, many Priesthood leaders don’t see it as a priority. This affects implementation of the program down to the very troop level. Yet, there’s resistance at the top to strong-arming the local leaders into promoting Scouting. Discretion is allowed.
Many people just don’t like Scouts, even in the Church, because of its perception as a nationalistic organization that is right wing, sexist, and homophobic. This is probably a small percentage. There are those however, that resent the Church’s promotion of Scouting at the neglect of the Young Women. Members with girls in their family often feel this perceived unfairness. Boys get to do all the fun stuff; girls just get to make glass grapes, bandanas, and canning jar crafts. Very few people know, however, that the BSA is open to girls 14 and up, but that the LDS Church will not allow girls into its own BSA programs.
Once a year, each ward is “required” by the Church to help with the Friends of Scouting (FOS) campaign. In a Church where fundraising drives for programs and building funds used to be the norm, this is an anomaly to today’s modern Church budget program, where program funds are allocated based on attendance, and tithing is socialized from the central Church. Where does FOS go? Very few Mormons know. Much of FOS goes to pay for professional salaries with about half of the raised monies paying for salaries that translate into services performed—that professional Scouters are held to very rigorous achievement standards that are more stringent than any other not-for-profit. Indeed, many do not make the corresponding connection that much of tithing goes to pay for LDS “civic service employees” with very few achievement standards. They think it all goes to temples and ward houses. Wards will raise $250,000 – $350,000 in tithing a year without bating an eye, yet only contribute $1,000 – $2,000 in Friends of Scouting contributions and nitpick over each personal contribution of about $10.00 annually and want to follow every last dime to the end of the row. Again, this is an issue of mutual exclusivity between adherence and belief in the LDS Church and a disconnect with trusting the BSA, a small potatoes, non-revealed, gentile organization. You can add to this discontent the lack of service wards perceive from their local executive who only comes around demanding money and paperwork, and the ironic fact that many LDS stakes don’t allow local LDS scout troops to raise money for their own outings. It can be quite perplexing.
I Had a Bad Experience
Many people just had a bad experience with Scouting. They had a bad Scout leader, a lousy time in their troop as kids. They hated merit badges, or the fact that their dad didn’t let them drive until they earned their Eagle. Sometimes you have worse problems such as molestations of scout trips, hazing, homosexual behavior amongst the kids, etc, despite the fact that the BSA performs background checks and disapproves of behavior that is not “morally straight.” This hypocrisy nudges people to hang up their badges and say no to scouting forever. The BSA has the same problem as the LDS Church with respect to the doctrine being good, but the implementation often being poor.
There are probably other issues and concerns that stir people to dislike Scouting. I want to hear any other issues, problems, additions, or clarifications to the problems I have listed above. In my next post, I will outline why Scouting works for the Church, why it is still involved, and why it will probably continue to be involved.
*Dislaimer: I do work for the BSA, but I was also a volunteer for 8 years prior. My comments are not intended to represent the BSA or its local Councils. They are my own musings, and as such, should be taken this way. I do believe in the organization or I would not be working for it. My employment with the BSA is a choice.