Thursday, October 18, 2012
As Partners, Mormons and Scouts Turn Boys Into Men
from the New York Times:
CEDAR HILLS, Utah — In this hilltop suburb of Salt Lake City, where a vista of white spires signals a concentration of Mormons and their churches, it is a given that every boy will become a Cub Scout at 8 and then a Boy Scout at 11.
Virtually every Mormon church, or ward, has a scout troop. Every Mormon boy is automatically enrolled, and the vast majority participate. An exceptional share — three out of four at Troop 1194, here in Cedar Hills — attain the top rank, Eagle.
“Scouting fits in nicely with our spiritual goals,” said David L. Beck, president of the church’s Young Men organization, in an interview at the Salt Lake City headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “We want our young men to be upstanding citizens and good husbands and fathers.”
The all-in support of the Mormons has, in turn, been a boon for the scouts as they have struggled against a 20 percent decline in membership over the last dozen years and, most recently, faced criticism for failing in the past to prevent the sexual abuse of children.
In 2011, Mormon-sponsored packs and troops accounted for more than one-third of the country’s scout units, and the 421,000 boys they enrolled, from ages 8 to 18, made up 15 percent of the country’s 2.7 million registered scouts. (Because every ward has its own unit, many Mormon-sponsored troops are smaller than average.) They have provided comparable shares of the $51 million in dues the Boy Scouts of America collects each year, although the Boy Scouts, with revenues of $269 million in 2010, also receive large corporate donations and make tens of millions of dollars selling scout supplies.
But now, as the Boy Scouts face growing calls to reverse their policy of excluding openly gay leaders and members, the predominance of Mormon and other religious sponsors is a complicating factor. Roman Catholic churches, which like the Mormons condemn homosexual behavior, account for an additional 10 percent of members, and over all, more than two-thirds of the country’s scout units are chartered by religious groups.
In July, as they reaffirmed their restrictive policy toward openly gay members, setting off petition drives in protest, the Boy Scouts refused to explain their reasoning except to say that “it remains in the best interest of scouting.”
What church leaders may have told the scouts in private has not been revealed, but for the Boy Scouts, the threat was implicit that a liberal shift on homosexuality could drive away the Mormons, Catholics and other church partners, decimating the organization.
In 2000, when a challenge to the exclusionary policy was argued, unsuccessfully, before the Supreme Court, lawyers for the Mormons said that if the Boy Scouts were forced to accept openly gay members, the church would leave. In an interview this month, Mr. Beck said he could not speculate about a hypothetical situation, but he added, “We want to continue relations with the B.S.A. far into the future.”
The Mormon Church has sometimes faced lawsuits, along with the Boy Scouts, for past failures to stop sex offenders. Both the church and the scouts say they now have exemplary protection programs.
The civic and outdoor activities of scouting and the church’s more purely spiritual training are seamlessly combined: boys are divided into the same age groups in both settings, and their bishop-appointed scoutmaster on Wednesday night is also the man who guides them on Sunday through the stages of the Aaronic priesthood, in which boys 12 to 18 years old take on growing sacred duties.
The result is an enveloping world that promotes the Mormon version of achievement and traditional values.
“It’s tremendously cohesive, a system that works wonderfully — unless you don’t fit in exactly,” said Chase Barlet, 23, who grew up Mormon in the Denver area and quit scouting just before attaining Eagle in a silent protest against scouting’s ban on gay members. He is now an openly gay corporate lawyer in Canada and has left the Mormon Church.
Mr. Beck, who oversees both scouting and spiritual training of boys for the church, is not apologetic. “We hope we are strengthening the boys against what we see is a lot of social pressure, pulling them in different directions,” he said.
A group of feminist Mormon women has questioned whether girls are getting equal opportunities, part of a broader debate about gender roles in a church where men are family heads and priests.
These women say that the girls’ counterpart to scouting, the Young Women’s program, sometimes receives less money and support than the Boy Scouts and that “the girls tend to do more homemaker things, as opposed to rafting and survival skills,” said Mary Ellen Robertson, interim executive director of Sunstone, an independent magazine on Mormon issues in Salt Lake City.
Like most Mormon men, Mitt Romney was a Boy Scout, although, perhaps uncharacteristically for him, he did not rise to Eagle. But the youngest three of his five sons are Eagle scouts. At a town hall meeting in April, Mr. Romney said that he and his wife had initially not realized how important it was for both parents to help sons advance in scouting and carry out the service projects required for an Eagle badge.
“But we learned after the first two and got it right for the next three,” he said.
At the regular Wednesday night meeting of the church’s youth groups in Cedar Hills, boys and girls gathered for a prayer, a hymn and a brief homily. Then they split up by sex and age.
Ryan Bybee, 36, a real estate developer, the appointed scoutmaster and Sunday-school spiritual mentor for the 12- and 13-year-olds, helped the boys pursue requirements for the communications merit badge.
Presiding over this smaller meeting was the bishop-appointed patrol leader, Shawn Mills, who at 13 has already earned an impressive 27 merit badges and now must complete a service project to become an Eagle. He called on other boys to present the colors in a flag ceremony and to lead the reciting of the Scout Oath. Shawn is also the appointed leader of the priesthood “quorum” on Sundays.
Shawn said he and fellow patrol members had been thrilled to play a role in the 85th birthday celebrations of Thomas S. Monson, the venerated church president (and a vocal promoter of scouting).
The patrol members were flag bearers and got to sing along with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, he said. “It was really cool.”