In July, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced it would be lifting the ban on gay and lesbian adult leaders, which prompted the Mormon Church to question whether it would continue its longstanding relationship with the organization.
On Wednesday, the Church confirmed that it would “go forward as a chartering organization of BSA,” but only specifically because it was reassured that its chapters could continue to discriminate against gay Scout leaders:
In the resolution adopted on July 27, 2015, and in subsequent verbal assurances to us, BSA has reiterated that it expects those who sponsor Scouting units (such as the Church) to appoint Scout leaders according to their religious and moral values “in word and deed and who will best inculcate the organization’s values through the Scouting program.” At this time, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will go forward as a chartering organization of BSA, and as in the past, will appoint Scout leaders and volunteers who uphold and exemplify Church doctrine, values, and standards.
With equal concern for the substantial number of youth who live outside the United States and Canada, the Church will continue to evaluate and refine program options that better meet its global needs.
Zach Wahls of Scouts for Equality praised the statement in a press release, noting, “We would have been saddened to see hundreds of thousands of youth denied the opportunity to participate in the Boy Scouts. We hope to continue to work to build a stronger and more welcoming Boy Scouts of America with friends and allies across the religious and political spectrum.”
The Church’s reliance on its ability to continue discriminating in its BSA charters contradicts much of its messaging over the past year that it’s attempting to do more to support LGBT people and end discrimination against them. Indeed, it is indicative of the opposite.
In January, the Church announced it was supporting employment and housing protections for the LGBT community, but only if those protections are “balanced” by “religious freedom” protections. It then went on to support legislation to create such protections in Utah state law, but specifically with the unique caveat that — consistent with Utah’s other state nondiscrimination protections — no religious organization had to abide by them. The Utah law even contained a specific exemption for the BSA.
Wahls told ThinkProgress, “We’re going to continue to call for a fully inclusive Boy Scouts because we believe that discrimination sends a destructive message to children, gay and straight alike.” Scouts for Equality is nevertheless glad that Mormon youth will benefit from Scouting, “and hopefully, after spending time with gay adult leaders at exciting events like summer camp and jamborees and at more staid events like Boy Scout district membership committee meetings, members of the LDS Church will see that they have nothing to fear from allowing gay adults.”
The Mormon Church’s seemingly — but not entirely convincingly — LGBT-inclusive messaging on these matters has created a divide between it and the Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Convention, its traditional allies in opposing LGBT protections. The Southern Baptists have also indicated that churches may end their BSA charters, and some Catholic leaders are encouraging parishes to do the same.
This post has been updated with additional comments from Zach Wahls of Scouts for Equality.