Viewpoint: LDS Church, Boy Scouts consider issue of gay leaders

A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

A scout’s leader, however, only needs to be straight.

The Boy Scouts of America has come under fire in recent years for being slow to adopt the more progressive policies of other youth organizations. Most notably, attention has been paid to the BSA’s prevailing reluctance to lift the ban on allowing gay men to serve in scout leadership positions.

Locally speaking, this issue has garnered quite a bit of attention. Scouting has been popularized in Utah due almost entirely to its endorsement by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church’s current president, Thomas S. Monson, is a lifelong scouting leader and enthusiast, appearing frequently at national scouting councils.

The church does not presently support the institution of gay marriage (though, when compared side by side with most American Christian organizations, its position on the LGBT community is surprisingly tolerant — a trend in church leadership not always matched by its constituencies). Many have speculated that national scouting organizations would crumble without the continued support of the church.

The Salt Lake Tribune recently reported that a survey conducted by the Great Salt Lake Council of Boy Scouts indicated that 83 percent of surveyed Boy Scout leaders, parents and troop representatives in northern Utah oppose lifting the ban on allowing gay leaders to serve in the organization. A shocking 70 percent of respondents said they would quit or become less involved with scouting if the ban on gay leaders was lifted. Only 14 percent said they would like to see the ban lifted.

Though only 11 percent of people queried responded to the survey (more responses are still coming in), the answers are not surprising. Scouting is closely tied to LDS youth programs. The LDS Church is the BSA’s No. 1 national charter partner, with 430,557 LDS scouts. Most local scouting leaders are “called” by other church leaders to serve in scouting. The process of being “called” involves worthiness (adherence to LDS Church principles) interviews and church attendance. Church members can only serve in callings if they are observing religious commandments — including not acting upon feelings of “same-gender attraction.” Chaste gays are allowed to serve within the church, and scouting or other youth/adolescent callings are not excluded.

The problem is that many gay scouting leaders are serving faithfully, and have been for years. Hopefully, church leadership is only contemplating pulling out of scouting because of conflicting religious teachings, and not based on the primitive idea that children are in danger around gay leaders. Are male elementary students in danger of being preyed upon by their female teachers, or vice versa? No. Dangerous people are dangerous people, regardless of gender or attraction, and most youth leaders are not dangerous people.

The issue might only ultimately be solved when the LDS Church officially pulls its endorsement from the scouting organization. This would leave LDS leadership free to replace scouting with other youth involvement programs, and would free up non-LDS scouting leadership to allow gay leaders to serve. Though scouting might suffer economically from losing church support, it will find a way to survive with its group of dedicated followers.