The Boy Scouts of America announced yesterday that it would delay decision on a proposed change to BSA policy that now bars participation by LGBT scouts and leaders, a move that has engendered deepening debate about gays in Scouting—especially among Mormons.
About 35% of Boy Scouts troops in the United States are affiliated with congregations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Yesterday, the LDS Church’s Public Affairs division released a statement acknowledging that the prospective policy change had “triggered intense debate” and praised the BSA for “delaying a vote” “until the implications can be more carefully evaluated.”
“We caution others not to speculate about our position,” the LDS Church statement continued, “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.”
An earlier version of the Church’s official statement had characterized the as a “moral issue,” but [as the Salt Lake Tribune reported] this language was quickly scrubbed—a clear signal that wheels are turning inside LDS Church headquarters. [UPDATE: The LDS Newsroom disputed the Salt Lake Tribune's report that the language of the statement had been changed, explaining that there have been instead "two statements address[ing] different questions being asked throughout the day by multiple media outlets.”]
That’s because the debate within Mormon communities about Scouting reflects rapidly shifting conversations within Mormonism about the place of gay people in the Church.
Since Proposition 8 in 2008, the LDS Church has largely dropped out of official political involvement in boots-on-the-ground anti-LGBT equality initiatives and the aggressive anti-gay rhetoric those campaigns have engendered within Mormon communities. (It did, however, file an amicus brief against gay marriage in the Supreme Court last week.) The Church has acknowledged that gay people are a part of the Mormon community and sought to foster an internal rhetoric shift towards compassion, as it has shown through its recently-launched mormonsandgays.org website.
If LDS people can acknowledge that there are indeed LGBT people within our communities and if the gay Mormon youth in our families and congregations will be coming out of the closet at younger ages, as is now common, why should those young men and their families not enjoy the good experiences Scouting brings?
If there is a place for gay young people in LDS congregations, why not in LDS-affiliated scout troops?
Some of us remember times in recent years when we have been approached during LDS Church-facilitated fund drives for the Boy Scouts by fellow Mormons who have urged LDS financial support as a way to bolster BSA against the pressure to become more inclusive: as a way to keep gays out.
Do Mormons view themselves as a firewall against BSA gay inclusion? And what does that mean if the gay people we are excluding are our own gay Mormon young men?
The debate over gay inclusion in the BSA has drawn intense participation from Mormons, with committed LDS BSA volunteers and Eagle Scouts lining up on both sides of the issue.
Last night, John Gustav Wrathall, vice president of Affirmation, the nation’s oldest and largest LGBT Mormon Association, who earned his Eagle Scout award within an LDS-affiliated BSA troop, made his case on CNN for including gay scouts and leaders.
Affirmation and Mormons Building Bridges, a grassroots group that seeks to foster reconciliation and compassion around LGBT issues in LDS communities, are calling for LDS people to use their voices in support of equal access.