LDS/BSA Relationship
By Utah National Parks Council
Feb 11, 2016

Scouting: Friend or Foe?

Earlier today, the Deseret News published an article by Nettie Francis, who helped compile a history of the Boy Scouts of America and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the 2013 LDS/BSA centennial celebration. Her article, “Scouting: Friend or foe?” draws on the organizations’ shared history to help members of the Church and Scouters everywhere to understand—and ultimately embrace—that relationship.

Francis begins by referencing the elephant in the room for LDS Scouters—the July policy change that has spurred heated discussion about the Church’s relationship with the Boy Scouts. Those debating about whether or not the Church should continue using BSA programs usually fall into two camps: those who see Scouting as a friend helping to shape their youth or those who instead see an enemy infiltrating the ranks.

As the debate continues, Francis recommends that Scouters, parents, and Church members keep two historical facts in mind:

1. The Church originally adopted the Scouting program because of the outreach benefit

Shortly after the Boy Scouts of America was established, the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association of the Church had created their own Scouting program. Similar to the BSA, MIA Scouts included outdoor activities and lessons about priesthood duties. Church leaders noticed, however, that many of their young men were also joining the BSA, earning national recognition and making friends with boys outside of their church quorums.

“Church leaders decided to examine a possible affiliation with the BSA and requested a meeting in January 1913. Notes from that meeting show that both organizations made specific requests of the potential partnership. More correspondence happened during the coming weeks, and in March, official affiliation between the church and the BSA was recommended to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and President Joseph F. Smith.

The reasoning of the general Young Men leaders was clear. Chartering with the national organization would provide Latter-day Saint boys with “broader opportunities as Scouts … a general uplift and fellowship of the boys of the nation … and the missionary work of our boys associating with their fellows” (Letter to the General Board of YMMIA, Feb. 19, 1913). In other words, the advantages of involving church youths in nationwide Scouting outweighed a “church only” program designed exclusively for LDS young men.

President Joseph F. Smith agreed with the recommendation, and on May 21, 1913, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints became an official chartered partner with the Boy Scouts of America.”

2. The Boy Scouts took a chance on the Church when few would

Beyond the outreach opportunities, Francis reminds members that the BSA took a stand with the Church at a sensitive time:

“But there’s more to the story. Aside from the fact that the church valued the outreach of a ‘gentile’ program for its youths, there was also a gratitude factor.

In 1910, the church was still reeling from misunderstandings and prejudice across the nation. It had been just over 60 years since Latter-day Saints were driven west. Church leaders were striving to establish that members were good upright citizens. During this time, Utah had even struggled to get a Mormon United States senator seated.

Yet, amidst all of these settling storms, a nationally recognized organization, the Boy Scouts of America, was willing to take a chance on a not-so-popular church, and formally affiliate. That leap of faith led to a 100+ year trust that has blessed the lives of millions of boys, both in and out of the church.”

Francis ends by giving her opinion on the future of the LDS/BSA relationship:

“Is the church going to leave Scouting? Well, is the church going to a two-hour Sunday meeting block? I don’t know the answer to either of these questions. But right now I prefer to dwell on the church’s most recent statement, made on Aug. 26, 2015. “We want the Boy Scouts of America to succeed. …” Perhaps the church wants Scouting to succeed because Scouting first wanted the church to succeed, and because when Scouting in the church succeeds, then youths everywhere succeed.

Scouting has benefited my own sons’ lives, and I am grateful. To me, the Boy Scouts of America is not the foe, it is the friend, and I intend to continue to support this historic and divine partnership.”

Fleur De Lis


Author: Utah National Parks Council

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4 thoughts on “Scouting: Friend or Foe?

  1. AvatarIrony Noticed

    If, as you suggest, the LDS Church’s involvement in scouting stems from a desire for outreach (missionary opportunities), or a thankfulness for scouting’s willingness to include the church in an era when the church was the subject prejudice and exclusion, I find it ironic that this LDS dominated council (UNPC) is so unfriendly and exclusionary towards units that are not chartered by the LDS Church.

    During my involvement with three different non-LDS units, I have noticed a distinct prejudice by LDS council employees and LDS council and district volunteers against non-LDS units. As a member of the LDS church, it sickens me to hear LDS council employees say things like “we don’t care about the non-LDS units.” It is troublesome to hear of district volunteer leaders saying things like “scouting is the activity arm of the Aaronic Priesthood and we don’t want non-LDS units in our district.”

    Given the article above, does anyone else find this ironic or is it just me?

    1. AvatarJeff Carpenter

      I appreciate this article for reminding me that the BSA once took a chance on the LDS Church in a trying time. Extremely significant when carefully considered in context. That partnership has done enormous good, not only in the United States but in fact the entire world, as these great Scout ambassadors have gone to every corner of the world to serve and lead. One of my own sons, a lover of the Scouting program, took the enormous benefits he gained from active participation in Scouts to the wonderful people of Peru. Those Scouting experiences served both him and them well. I firmly believe that one of the Church’s original objectives, adopting the Scouting program because of the outreach it creates, is still a major benefit today.

      I live and serve in the UNPC. I am a volunteer on a Council Committee and am a District Commissioner. And while I am somewhat new to being in these two circles at these levels I have not once seen a spirit of exclusion (of course individuals sometimes pop off when they should know better, that’s our humanity at play). Yes, it is true that there is a tremendous focus on the LDS Church and its needs of Scouting. The UNPC is doing everything it can to be an outstanding partner to the LDS constituency by really knowing them and understanding them, that is what a great partner does. It is logical when noting that LDS units make up over 90% of the UNPC membership, but that said, this is not done with any intent to exclude the non-LDS.

      Indeed I agree the Boy Scouts of America is not the foe at all, it is very much the friend striving to do the best it can under extreme pressure from the world to tear it down, and I pleased to continue to support this prophetically established and supported partnership.

  2. AvatarRon VanLeuven

    We must be certain that we know the difference between the LDS Church and the members of the Church.
    The official stance of the Church is inclusion.
    The members, as in several instances of doctrinal opinions, have their own and sometimes conflicting opinions of Church doctrines and Scouting. My district has a firm commitment to community units. We have noticed that some members of the Scouting community either do not understand this or don’t want to. The Church doesn’t force anyone to believe its doctrine, on the same note those who err on supporting misinterpretations fo doctrine that we harm members and the Church are cut off from that which they desire not to accept.

    In other words if you don’t want to go along with the ride, get off the train.

  3. AvatarSteve Faber

    Have you attempted to clear up the misunderstanding/prejudice directly with the person?

    I suspect your district executive / stake president assigned as the LDS-BSA Relationships committee representative, does not view community units this way, and I’m sure Dave Pack does not either.

    We had a Presbyterian sponsored unit in our district a while ago where all of our ward YM did a service project to cleanup the outside of the place where they met for services. It was spearheaded by our YM president who was a Seminary teacher.

    This sounds like an opportunity to mend and build bridges.


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