The LDS couple, Jeremy and Jodi Stokes, had enrolled their two boys in the Cub Scout pack sponsored by Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church of Matthews, North Carolina, not only because they had a number of friends attending that church, but because their own LDS ward could not accommodate six-year-old Tiger scouts (one of their boys is six). The boys were made fully welcome, and when the couple found out the pack needed more adult help, they signed up to be Scout leaders. The church was initially thrilled, particularly since Jeremy Stokes himself was an Eagle Scout.
But suddenly, their application was rejected -- because they are Mormons. The Rev. Gabe Sylvia, Christ Covenant's staff liaison to the Scouting program and the church's pastor for Christian Education and Young Families, confirmed the Stokes' account. He called them to apologize but defends the church's decision. "Based on a once-over, informal scan, it looked like the Stokes would be good additions to our leadership," he said. "But when it became clear that they were Mormons, they could not become leaders in our pack. Mormonism is not consistent with historical Christianity." The Stokes were told their sons were still welcome to participate, and that the Stokes would be accepted as volunteers. But as practicing Mormons, they couldn't be leaders. Pastor Sylvia also explained that since their Scouting program is also intended to be a specific ministry of their church, they want to insure that what Scout leaders believe is consistent with their denominational viewpoint.
Another Christ Covenant spokesperson, Stelle Snyder, assured the public that Mormons weren't being singled out. "From the standpoint of ministering and representing the church, those people (coaches and Scout leaders) need to be on the same page," Snyder said. "In practice and intent, this is not meant to be unwelcome, unpleasant or unnecessarily legalistic. It's all for positive reasons". She added that they even rejected a Catholic for the same reasons in the past.
What upset the Stokes family most was the church questioning their Christianity. Jodi Stokes pointed out that she has a picture of Jesus in her living room, and the very name of the LDS Church bespeaks Jesus Christ. How can you get more Christian than that? Bishop Steven Rowlan of the LDS ward in Weddington where the Stokes attend services, acknowledged that Mormon theology diverges from some beliefs shared by most Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox Christians. But he insisted members of the LDS Church are as Christian as the members of Christ Covenant. Bishop Rowlan Bishop Rowlan wouldn't say whether he would be open to naming a non-Mormon as a Scouting leader, explaining that it is LDS policy to evaluate it on a case-by-case basis.
Is it legal? Absolutely, said Mark Turner, executive director of the Mecklenburg County Council of the Boy Scouts. Christ Covenant is within its rights as a chartering organization to apply additional leadership qualifications, as long as it also honors those the Boy Scouts insist upon.
For their part, Christ Covenant intends to keep the restriction in place, but they intend to clarify such policies that were always understood, but not necessarily written down, to avoid blindsiding other people in the future.
Analysis: Many of our Christian brothers and sisters are reluctant to acknowledge that Mormonism is Christian, not necessarily because of any malice, but out of honest conviction. They have a much more elaborate definition of Christianity than we do. Some believe a Christian must accept the Nicean Creed or the Athanasian Creed to qualify for the label of Christian.
But the late President Gordon B. Hinckley made the most defining statement:
“We are Christians in a very real sense and that is coming to be more and more widely recognized. Once upon a time people everywhere said we are not Christians. They have come to recognize that we are, and that we have a very vital and dynamic religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. We, of course, accept Jesus Christ as our Leader, our King, our Savior...the dominant figure in the history of the world, the only perfect Man who ever walked the earth, the living Son of the living God. He is our Savior and our Redeemer through whose atoning sacrifice has come the opportunity of eternal life. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pray and worship in the name of Jesus Christ. He is the center of our faith and the head of our Church. The Book of Mormon is Another Testament of Jesus Christ and witnesses of His divinity, His life, and His Atonement.”
Nevertheless, since Christ Covenant Church intends for their Scouting program to be a ministry of their church as well, I won't criticize them for their restriction. It's obvious they bear no personal ill will towards Mormons.