Mormons keep Boy Scouts affiliation despite gay leaders

Brady McCombs
Associated Press

Salt Lake City — The Mormon church — the nation’s largest sponsor of Boy Scout units — is keeping its longtime affiliation with the organization despite its decision to allow gay troop leaders.

Church leaders decided to stay with the Boy Scouts after getting assurances they can appoint troop leaders according to their own religious and moral values, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a news release Wednesday.

The church “will appoint Scout leaders and volunteers who uphold and exemplify church doctrine, values, and standards,” Mormon leaders said in the statement.

The decision comes as something of a surprise. Mormon leaders had said they were deeply troubled after the Boy Scouts announced on July 28 that it would lift its ban on gay adult leaders, while allowing church-sponsored Scout units to continue excluding gay adults.

The church said it will continue evaluating and is open to alternatives to the Boy Scouts. With more than half of the religion’s 15 million members living outside the United States, there has long been speculation the Salt Lake City-based religion will create its own scouting-type program.

The Boy Scouts of America said it appreciates the decision, noting that the organization is successful because of affiliations with groups like the Mormon church.

“The BSA affirms, and will defend, the right of all religious chartered organizations to select their Scout leaders in accordance with their religious beliefs,” the Boy Scouts said in a statement.

Rick Barnes, Scout executive for the Great Salt Lake Council in Utah, said he was relieved and thrilled by the news.

“We’ve been worried for about four weeks,” Barnes said. If the church were to have left, “it would have meant a lot of rebuilding.”

His council includes 5,500 Scout groups, and all but 100 of those are affiliated with the Mormon church.

The decision from the Mormon church was applauded by Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout raised by lesbians who heads the advocacy group Scouts for Equality.

“It would have been incredibly disappointing for hundreds of thousands of young boys to be denied that opportunity because of the policy change,” said Wahls.

Mormon leaders have softened their tone about gays and lesbians in recent years. Church leaders were involved in legislation enacted in Utah in March that extended nondiscrimination protections to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.

But those leaders have also made it clear that the church still opposes gay marriage and believes homosexual activity is a sin.

A number of rank-and-file Mormons are pushing the church to become more accepting and welcoming of LGBT members to avoid losing them from the religion or being shunned. Groups have formed to represent the movement, including a coalition of Mormon mothers whose children are gay and lesbian.

The bond between the Scouts and Mormons goes back to the early 1900s and involved mutual values and principles.

As the religion’s membership swelled, Boy Scouts became a rite of passage for Mormon boys, with church covering the cost of troops for congregations, known as wards, and strongly encouraging participation for boys.

Some speculated the church would cut ties in 2013, when Boy Scouts decided to allow openly gay youth, but Mormon leaders chose to stick with the organization.

After the Mormons, the next largest sponsors of U.S. Scout units are the United Methodist Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

The Methodists’ General Commission on United Methodist Men has said decisions on whether or not to accept gay adult leaders would rest with individual churches.

Catholic Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, South Carolina — who helps oversee Catholic scouting programs — said he and his colleagues were cautiously optimistic that ties with the Boy Scouts could be maintained even though the church is wary of accepting adult leaders who are open about being gay.