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LDS Church will continue Boy Scout program

SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church will continue to charter the nation's largest Boy Scout organization.

After a month of deliberation following a vote by the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America to allow openly gay Scout leaders, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced they have decided to go forward with the faith's 102-year association with Scouting, according to a statement released Wednesday morning.

The statement came from the church's Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who said the BSA assured the church it would be able to appoint Scout leaders based on the faith's values.

"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,'" the statement said.

The Boy Scouts of America repeated that position in a statement released later Wednesday: "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 BSA statement also said the organization "deeply appreciates" its relationship with the LDS Church and looks "forward to continuing this meaningful and long-lasting work for years to come."

Nearly 17 percent of Boy Scouts in America today are LDS. More than 437,000 LDS boys are registered in nearly 38,000 church Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops and Venturing crews.

The church accepts gay Scouts in its troops. Latter-day Saints who are gay may serve in church assignments such as Scout leadership as long as they live the faith's standards, which proscribe same-sex marriage or acting on same-sex attraction.

In July, the church issued a strongly worded statement after the vote saying that the BSA decision to lift the ban on all gay leaders "is inconsistent with the doctrines of the church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America."

The July statement said the vote "deeply troubled" church leaders, who would "carefully review" the church's affiliation with Scouting. Some observers thought the church was preparing to leave behind its 102-year relationship with the Boy Scouts of America and might replace it with a new program for boys. Scouting is unavailable to half of LDS boys in the 170 countries where the church has members.

Wednesday's statement made it clear that church leaders continue to support Scouting and its aims and want to see it succeed even as they proceed with evaluating other options.

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints appreciates the positive contributions Scouting has made over the years to thousands of its young men and boys and to thousands of other youth," the statement said. "As leaders of the church, we want the Boy Scouts of America to succeed in its historic mission to instill leadership skills and high moral standards in youth of all faiths and circumstances, thereby equipping them for greater success in life and valuable service to their country.

"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."

The decision "thrilled" Stan Lockhart, the new president of the Utah National Parks Council, one of the 10 largest BSA councils in the United States. The council includes all of Utah south of Salt Lake City and includes 89,000 Scouts and 45,000 leaders.

"On July 27 it was clear that the church and the Boy Scouts were not aligned on the new direction," Lockhart said, "so today's strong recommitment by the church toward Scouting is a wonderful day."

The annual Boy Scout fundraising begins Tuesday. Despite the rocky lead-in, Lockhart is hopeful.

"In July, right after this announcement, the church sent out a statement to church leaders throughout our council expressing support for Friends of Scouting and a desire that it would have unprecedented success."

The ties between the church and the Boy Scouts of America are indelible. Millions of LDS boys have worn the iconic Boy Scout uniform, and tens of thousands of men and women have served as leaders in Scout troops and Cub Scout packs.

The LDS Church was the first organization to formally sponsor Scouting troops in the United States. The Boy Scouts of America issued an official charter in 1913 authorizing the church to use the Scouting program for boys in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Scouting and church responsibilities for LDS boys are intertwined. The church’s Duty to God program incorporates Scouting practices to help boys learn service and leadership.

The faith's ties to Scouting extend to its leader, church President Thomas S. Monson, who holds the program's highest honors. He received the Silver Beaver Award in 1971 for distinguished service at the council level, the Silver Buffalo Award in 1978 for distinguished national service and the highest award in international Scouting, the Bronze Wolf, in 1993.

Two years ago, the BSA presented its Medal of Honor to President Monson for saving the life of a girl who was drowning in the Provo River when he was 12 years old.

At the same time, the BSA announced the naming of the Thomas S. Monson Leadership Excellence Complex at the 10,000-acre Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in Mount Hope, West Virginia.

President Monson is the longest-standing member of Scouting's National Executive Board, having served for more than 45 years. He has lifetime status as a board member.

The BSA offers a Thomas S. Monson Award, which boys and leaders can earn.

This May, when ground was broken for a Thomas S. Monson Lodge at the popular Hinckley Scout Ranch in Utah, one of the church's former Young Men general presidents, who oversee Scouting in the church, said the name was a natural.

“No one has done more for Scouting, in the modern era, than Thomas S. Monson,” Elder Robert K. Dellenbach said.

But the issue of gay Scout leaders was percolating.

On May 20, the BSA elected Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to the National Executive Board, where he was to take a more active role for the church, though President Monson was still to be involved in BSA decision-making. Elder Holland spoke at a reception and addressed the roiling challenges facing Scouting.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” Elder Holland said. “We need to pray. We are at a difficult moment in the nation’s history where wonderful institutions like the BSA, and supporting organizations like the church, will need to be brave, clean and reverent. We’re going to need God’s help, but we’ll have it. The BSA will need God’s help, but they’re entitled to it. Church leaders need God’s help, and we’ll have it.

“I’m eternally optimistic. For me the glass isn’t just half full, it’s flowing over the top. A Scout is cheerful. These are sobering moments, but we’ll work our way through whatever difficulties come. Good will prevail; truth will triumph and bless the lives of young men in generations to come.”

Then on July 27, the National Executive Board voted 45-12 to end the BSA's blanket ban on gay adult leaders.

Three LDS leaders on the board — Elder Holland, General Young Men President Stephen W. Owen and General Primary President Rosemary M. Wixom — voted against the new policy.

"The church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation," the church said in its July statement. "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."

Lockhart was mortified by the July disconnect between the church and the BSA. At least in Utah, momentum built for a departure. A UtahPolicy survey conducted in the second week of August by Dan Jones & Associates found that 32 percent of Utah adults wanted the church to continue Scouting while 54 percent did not.

Many felt the church was positioned to leave and start its own program for LDS boys worldwide.

"We know that Scouting is a great blessing to those that have it," Lockhart said. "We also know the church as a worldwide organization doesn't have Scouting for all of its youth. Of course the church is out there looking for what can help all of the youth of the church."

For many, then, Wednesday's decision to stay felt like a surprise. Lockhart said he actually was more surprised by the tone of the church's July 27 press release, a clear indication of the disruption of the historically strong relationship.

However, the resolution allowed church-sponsored BSA units to refuse gay leaders for religious reasons, and Wednesday's LDS Church announcement reflected its leaders' reliance on that assurance.

The BSA's own statement on Wednesday celebrated the church's decision to stay.

"As one of the BSA’s first national chartered organizations, the BSA and the church have worked together for more than 100 years with the mutual goal of building the moral character and leadership skills of youth," the statement said.

It added that, "America's youth are better off when they are in Scouting, and the BSA is successful because of its relationships with valued chartered organizations like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."