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.”
Author: Utah National Parks Council