Wednesday, February 6, 2013

LDS Church Expresses Satisfaction At Boy Scout Decision To Defer Gay Question Until May 2013; Other Social Conservatives Marshaling Opposition

Update April 20th: The Boy Scouts of America will introduce a compromise proposal on May 20th that will allow openly-gay Scouts, but continue to ban openly-gay adult leaders. Updated post HERE.

On February 6th, 2013, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced that they intend to defer action on a resolution to allow local Scout units autonomy in admitting gays until May 2013. In their statement, BSA said that due to the complexity of the issue, they needed more time to further engage representatives of Scouting's membership and listen to their perspectives and concerns. The decision is already attracting some criticism from some pro-family groups, though; officials with the Southern Baptist Convention have said their youth group, Royal Ambassadors, was gearing up this week for an influx of new members if the ban was lifted. Others expressed the concern about having a split policy, with the Rev. William Tarbell, a retired Presbyterian minister, saying “What happens in one troop affects Scouting everywhere. You change the policy for a few, you change it for everyone.” Another person is worried that if the ban is lifted, local troops that choose to exclude gays will get sued by "lawyers lying in wait with the gay agenda". In addition, the American Family Association has launched a campaign to get AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson to resign from the BSA board because he's been leading the charge to get BSA to accept openly-gay participants; Stephenson even cut AT&T funding to the BSA, which would seem to be a direct personal conflict of interest for Stephenson. On the other hand, President Barack Obama is the most prominent advocate urging BSA to end the ban on gays.

Also believed to be instrumental in the decision to delay a final resolution was an effort by the Great Salt Lake Council, one of the largest in the country with 5,500 troops and 73,400 youth members, to organize a coalition of 33 Scout councils from all around the country to urge the national executive board to delay the decision, indicating in a statement that time must be allowed for accurate polling data to be collected from stakeholders at all levels and all areas in an unbiased way. Although the Great Salt Lake Council is independent of the LDS Church, its location implies strong LDS influence.

As promised, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has weighed in, issuing the following statement:

The recent announcement that BSA planned to make a policy change in its standards for membership and leadership has triggered intense debate from many segments of society. We believe BSA has acted wisely in delaying a vote on this policy issue until the implications can be more carefully evaluated.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is carefully assessing the consequences of this policy change on the Church’s program to build and strengthen young men, but it has not commented on it and a decision will not be made until we have assessed all of the implications. We caution others not to speculate about our position or to assume that individual Latter-day Saints inside or outside the Scouting movement speak for the Church. Neither has the Church launched any campaign either to effect or prevent a policy change.

This statement should not be interpreted as an indication that the LDS Church is wavering on its fundamental position on homosexuality. Last week, the LDS Church joined with other religious organizations in filing two briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court defending the federal Defense of Marriage law commonly known as DOMA and a California state law, Proposition 8, which restricts the definition of marriage. Thus the LDS Church is simply smart enough to choose the most productive battlefields upon which to campaign for traditional cultural values.

There is some division within LDS ranks on the issue. The Millennial Star published the BSA statement, and comments to Mormon-owned secular media like KSL Channel 5 and the Deseret News indicate support for the LDS position. The issue is also being discussed on the LDS Freedom Forum HERE and HERE. But while the majority of Mormons support maintaining the ban against openly-gay participants in Scouting, a group called Mormons Building Bridges, which orchestrated LDS participation in Salt Lake's Gay Pride parade in 2012, is working to convince BSA to end their ban on gays in scouting (one must be a Facebook member to view their Facebook page).

Because the BSA proposal would allow each local Scout unit to decide on gay participation, I see no reason why the LDS Church, which nationally has more Boy Scouts than any other denomination with 37,000 troops and 420,000 youth members, would abruptly sever ties with BSA if they decide to allow it. The LDS Church permits full membership by celibate gays, so the conflict would be minimal. However, individual LDS members, concerned that this is merely another step in the campaign by gay rights advocates to normalize homosexuality, could decide to pull their boys individually from Scouting.

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