"On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight."
- The Boy Scout Oath
Hundreds of thousands of LDS men can still recite these lines from their Scouting years. Scouting is a tradition in the LDS Church - a tradition that, this month, commemorates it 75th anniversary.
That's how long the Church has been an official sponsor of the youth organization. And the relationship between the Boy Scouts of America and the Church, always one of deep mutual respect, appears never to have been stronger. Today, one out of every eight Scouts worldwide is LDS, and one out of every five units of the Boy Scouts is an LDS unit.
"The Church has a long history with the Boy Scouts of America," said President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, in an interview with the Church News noting the anniversary. "We were actually the first church to become a sponsoring organization of Scouting. This would not be true if we did not feel that Scouting had an important role to play in the lives of our young men."
The feeling is obviously mutual. The Church's representation on the decision-making National Executive Board of the Boy scouts has been constant - and significant - through the years.
President Ezra Taft Benson served for many years on the board, and now is a member of the National Advisory Council of Scouting. President Monson and Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone of the First Quorum of the Seventy currently serve on the National Executive Board. President Monson is also a member of the International Committee, which oversees Scouting efforts in other nations.
Several other General Authorities and Church ausiliary leaders serve Scouting on the national level, and hundreds of other LDS volunteers serve on boards or committees at the national, regional and council level.
"There's a vast number of Church Scouters out there who have not received much recognition, but who deserve it," said President Monson.
The Church never has had more Scouts and leaders than at this 75th anniversary. More than 312,000 LDS youths are registered in the Cub, Boy Scout, Varsity and Explorier programs. Another estimated 120,000 people lead these young men. The church has nearly 23,000 packs, troops, teams and posts registered, more than are sponsored by any other single organization.
Or, as Edler Featherstone explained it, "We (the LDS Church) have 12 percent of the total Scouts worldwide, and 20 percent of the total units."
The Church has found that Scouting fits neatly with its overall Aaronic Priesthood program. "Scouting and Aaronic Priesthood activities go hand in hand," President Monson explained. "They both serve to prepeare our young men as they move through the teenage years and on through eternity."
Scouting's values, President Monson said, complement gospel principles. "Look at the Scout Oath, for example, and compare it with the values we hold dear as a Church. Who would not want to have instilled within a young man such a feeling of duty to God and country and keeping himself straight in every way?"
The people called upon to lead Scout programs in the Church should be chosen with care, President Monson feels. "They have to recognize that the young men of today need less criticism and more models to follow.
"In today's world, where we have so many single-parent families, it's essential that men who are involved in Scouting exert a proper influence upon these young lads who come form single-parent families. They're the father image, if you please, and can be a role model for young men who do not have such a role model at home.
"Someone said, "The greatest gift a boy can have is the knowledge that a man cares enough to share part of his life with him.' We are thankful for this spirit in Scouters everywhere."
President Benson still considers his calling as Scoutmaster as one of his most rewarding Church positions, President Monson pointed out. "He was personally responsible for the young men who were in his Scout troop years ago, and he continued to follow them through the intervening years, and, as their Scoutmaster, encouraged them to do the best they possibley could with their lives.
"Perhaps more than any other individual, President Benson personifies and exemplifies the manner in which Scouting can receive service from good and capable men - all to the benefit of the young men of the Church. What a marvelous example our Scout leaders have to follow."
President Monson said some people wonder if Scouting is still relevant today, or if time has passed by its wholesome values. "The current major campaign of the Boy Scouts of America is 'Say No To Drugs,'" he reported. "The campaign is reaching into the very core of the problem, with help from some of the most prominent sports heroes of America. Is Scouting relevant today? It's more relevant than it's ever been. The need for Scouting, I think, is greater than it's ever been."
That need extends to Church units throughout the world, President Monson feels. "As I have atteended international conferences on Scouting though the years, I have found that Scouting is relevant in almost every country I have visited."
President Monson recalls watching a Scout activity of a recently organized troop in Kenya. "I could see young men, who in the past had not had Scouting, enjoying the benefits of camping, for example, and cooking and earning merit badges. They were thrilled with their new opportunities."
Scouting, then, should be considered a part of the Church's youth program - worldwide. "Whereever we have an Aaronic Priesthood program, we feel that Scouting can serve as an activitiy arm of the Aaronic Priesthood," President Monson said. "That would be worldwide."
Though he terms the Church's 75-year record in Scouting "enviable" and "remarkable," President Monson still sees some future objectives to aim for.
"First, we need to inject more voluntarism into the program. That's the spirit of our Church seervice. If we can inject more voluntarism in Scouting at the national and internatioal levels, then that would reduce the expenses.
"Furthermore," President Monson continued, "there are many Scout activities that could just as well be held closer to home. Some seem to feel that you need to go to a far away place with a strange sounding name for it to be exciting to the young man. An imaginative Scoutmaster can generate plenty of excitement closer to home."
Perhaps another benefit of Scouting has been its assistance to missionary work in several countries recently opened to the gospel. "In many of these nations there is a Scouting organization," President Monson said. "We find that Scouting goes hand in hand with our missionary work, in that most of our missionaries have been Scouts. And when they are assigned to many of thes far-reaching places of the world, they find that Scouting is available there, and it gives them a common base from which to launch their missionary activities."
The Church's high visibility in the Scouting organization has brought about another benefit, President Monson said.
"Our representation at the local, national and international levels of Scouting exposes our Church and our beliefs before some of the finest men and women in this entire world. I look at the makeup of the National Executive Board of Scouting and recognize that these are the leaders of our nation, the giants of American industry. They are men with influence, men who command respect when they speak. When they mingle with representatives of our Church in a cause such as Scouting, barriers against the Church evaporate."
One of the people most responsible for this is President Benson. "He is respected nationally and internationally in scouting circles," President Monson said. "I've been in meetings of the National Executive Board when he has walked into the room, and every man has automatically stood to his feet and applauded the entrance of one who has given so much for youth."
President Monson, similarly, has a long and impressive record of service with Scouting. But he said that the program has done as much for him as he could ever repay in service.
"I remember Christmas morning one December when a Scout uniform was under the Christmas tree," he recalled. "This was my introduction to Scouting, and I felt proud of the uniform and the designation 'Boy Scouts of America.'
"Some of the skills I learned as a Tenderfoot and a Second Class Scout and coming through the ranks of Scouting were most helpful to me in my educational pursuits, likewise my service in the United States Navy, and then in my subsequent activities in life. "I think Scouting teaches us to be good citizens. I've always had a love for my country. I feel that saluting the Stars and Stripes as a boy, dressed in my Scout uniform, gave me a further feeling of love for my nation, and a desire to serve it.
"I also feel that the Scouting program has enabled me to think more carefully of other people. I try to do so, to 'do a good turn daily.' If we can do one good trun daily, how much richer will be our lives if we can do many good turns each day of our lives.
"And how much better the sorld would be if everyone lived by:
"'On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country....'"