A few days ago, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced that it was considering changing its policy to allow local Scout-sponsoring organizations to make their own decisions on whether or not to ban gay Scouts and leaders from their troops. Wednesday, after pressure to delay the decision from several scouting organizations, most notably the Great Salt Lake Council in Utah, the BSA decided to delay the decision until its annual meeting in May 2013.
There has been speculation that much of the pressure on the BSA came from the LDS Church, but apparently, not so. In a news release issued Thursday, the church said that it had not yet taken a position on the proposed policy change, and denied that it had been involved in any effort to prevent such a change. It encouraged people “not to speculate about our position or to assume that individual Latter-day Saints inside or outside the Scouting movement speak for the Church.”
There is a good chance that the LDS Church’s eventual position on the BSA’s proposed change might surprise us. A few years ago, the LDS Church baffled many conservative Mormons by supporting two city ordinances in Salt Lake City that prohibited housing discrimination against gays and lesbians. And just Thursday, conservative Mormons had further reason to be baffled when it was reported that the LDS Church was quietly seeking to extend Salt Lake City’s anti-housing-discrimination protections statewide throughout Utah. I suspect that Mormon clergy overall tend to be more sympathetic toward LGBT issues than many of the rank-and-file. I think this is true of most churches. It is difficult to be overly judgmental and dismissive of people you actually know, who are in your flock and for whom you have a duty to love and serve. One might imagine that it was his prior service as a bishop and Stake president that influenced 2012 Presidential candidate Mitt Romney to come out in opposition to the BSA’s ban on gay Scouts.
The BSA’s proposed policy change actually squares with current LDS policy on sexual orientation. Openly gay and lesbian Mormons are officially welcome within LDS congregations, even in leadership positions or as full-time missionaries, as long as they remain celibate. For example, Mitch Mayne, an openly gay Mormon, was called in 2011 to serve in an LDS bishopric in San Francisco. In the LDS Church, being a Scout leader is essentially a church leadership calling. There does not appear to be any official prohibition on the calling of celibate gay or lesbian Scout leaders in the LDS Church, or the participation of gay scouts.
If the LDS Church does not intend to discriminate against celibate gay or lesbian boys and leaders, then the current BSA policy is problematic. The current BSA policy is one of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” So gay Scouts and leaders can remain in the organization as long as they are closeted. But when the come out, they are expelled from Scouting regardless of whether or not they are celibate. Thus, while a Mormon Scouting troop might want to include a celibate, openly-gay boy as a member, the BSA would not currently allow that.
My sense is that the LDS Church wants to have complete control over whatever accommodation it decides to make on the issue of sexual orientation of Scouts and Scout leaders. In a previous post, I suggested that if the LDS Church were required not to discriminate against openly-gay Scouts and leaders, that the church might part ways with Scouting. However, I don’t think that is the case so long as the LDS Church can frame its own policy, so that celibacy, rather than closetedness, becomes the criterion for admission of gays and lesbians to the Scouting program.