Following an executive committee meeting proposing to end a ban on gay troop leaders, the Boy Scouts of America’s national executive board voted on Monday in favor of officially lifting the ban — “effective immediately,” according to the BSA’s website.
The proposed new policy received criticism prior to the national executive board’s vote because it still leaves individual charters with the authority to discriminate based on sexuality. The BSA’s statement read, in part:
Chartered organizations will continue to select their adult leaders and religious chartered organizations may continue to use religious beliefs as criteria for selecting adult leaders, including matters of sexuality. This change allows Scouting’s members and parents to select local units, chartered to organizations with similar beliefs, that best meet the needs of their families. This change also respects the right of religious chartered organizations to choose adult volunteer leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own.
Dr. Robert Gates is the current president of the BSA. He is also former Director of Central Intelligence under President George H.W. Bush and former Secretary of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He explained upon the initial announcement his belief that doing it any other way would be detrimental to the organization, saying, “I truly fear that any other alternative will be the end of us as a national movement.”
His concern stems from the BSA’s strong ties to many religious groups: 71.5 percent of Boy Scout units are religiously affiliated. On the top of the list of religious organizations with Boy Scout charters is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has maintained a relationship with the BSA for a century. As of 2013, the church possessed 37,933 BSA units. This is more than any other religious organization — and more than triple the amount of the runner-up, the United Methodist Church, which saw 10,703 units.
But this new policy may be enough for the Mormons to end its lengthy relationship with the BSA. In a statement following the announcement, the church said:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply troubled by today’s vote by the Boy Scouts of America National Executive Board … The Church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation. However, the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America.
What is puzzling is the church’s reaction to the BSA’s 2013 decision to allow gay scouts to join the organization – a decision the church supported:
Sexual orientation has not previously been — and is not now — a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops. Willingness to abide by standards of behavior continues to be our compelling interest … The Church appreciates BSA’s reaffirmation of its commitment to “duty to God,” which includes service to others and moral behavior — central principles of our teaching to young men. As in the past, the Church will work with BSA to harmonize what Scouting has to offer with the varying needs of our young men. We trust that BSA will implement and administer the approved policy in an appropriate and effective manner.
However, the Mormons are not the only religious group with strong ties to the BSA. In 2013, Catholics had 8,131 BSA units — putting it in third just behind the United Methodist Church. And despite the church’s seemingly mixed views on issues centering around homosexuality, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting (which does not officially speak for the church but is generally “defer[ed] to” by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding scout-related issues) stated that the Catholic church does not plan to end its relationship with the BSA:
The National Catholic Committee on Scouting recognizes that differences in religious beliefs among chartered organizations and society in general have played a part in the creation of this resolution. While this fluctuating situation will be increasingly challenging, we recognize the vital importance of providing a Catholic emphasis to Catholic Scouts and Scouters seeking ways to live out their “duty to God.” We also recognize the increasing need for the Catholic Church to offer Scouting as a program of youth ministry. Chartering Scout units will ensure that youth within their faith communities are led by faith-filled role models who share the same interests in Scouting.
The United Methodist Church has also decided to maintain its relationship with the BSA, saying on its website, “The Boy Scouts of America’s decision on July 27 to lift its national ban on openly gay adult leaders has the support of United Methodists of varied theological perspectives.”
The BSA has been seeing a steady decline in membership over the past several years, and this number went up even more following the organization’s 2013 decision to grant membership to gay scouts. Meanwhile, unlike the BSA in its attempts to achieve diversity, the Girl Scouts of the USA, which emphasizes diversity as a core value, has seen a membership increase over recent years.
Since the announcement, the BSA has publically emphasized its appreciation for its strong relationship with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, despite the possibility of losing a considerable number of members, the BSA has made no indication that it will change its mind on lifting the ban.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will consider the issue in August, when its leaders had already planned to meet.