Editorial by Gregory Taylor
The Mormon church, the single largest sponsor of Boy Scout troops, is beginning its staged withdrawal from the Boy Scouts of America. Episcopal parishes and other organizations should consider getting on board with scouting right where the Mormon church is apparently getting off.
Today the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormons) announced that it is discontinuing scouting programs for boys ages 13 and over. (The church has never sponsored scouting programs for girls, neither Girl Scouts nor BSA programs that include girls.) For the time being it will continue with programs for younger scouts, but there are indications that this is the first step for withdrawing entirely from BSA programs.
This is a significant blow to the BSA as the LDS church currently sponsors more scout troops than any other organization, by a large margin. Approximately 37% of all troops, more than three times as many as the next largest sponsor, are LDS troops. The relationship between the LDS church and the BSA goes back over 100 years.
BSA took significant pains to do what it could to maintain the relationship with its largest sponsor and other conservative religious organization sponsors. It didn’t take action to admit to any scout troops gay scouts until 2013, nor gay leaders until 2015, and it continues to allow units sponsored by the LDS church and others to impose their own bars to admission to those units. If any good comes out of the impending dissolution of the BSA/LDS relationship, it will be that BSA will hopefully require full inclusion in all troops.
As the BSA moves towards full inclusion, it is perhaps inevitable that it will lose some sponsors. But it should also gain some. Traditional scouting values such as citizenship, service, fun, conservation, and developing leadership, outdoors, and other useful skills, when inclusive of kids and adult leaders regardless of gender or sexual orientation, are something that many organizations should want to embrace for their youth programs.
Episcopal congregations currently sponsor over 1,200 BSA troops, about 1% of all BSA units. Without a doubt, Mormon families that want to continue their association with scouting will find that they are welcome in those troops, and others. More Episcopal congregations and other organizations should consider how implementing scouting can advance their goals for their youth programs. They can start by looking here. Existing inclusive scout units can be found here .
Gregory Taylor is a member of St. James Episcopal Cathedral in Fresno, California.