[Update: The LDS Church has since announced plans to end its relationship with the BSA (lds.org).]
Scouting Is Treated Like Part of Mormonism
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon or LDS Church) has an interesting relationship with the BSA because it’s treated more like an extension of the church than a separate organization. So scoutmaster, assistant scoutmaster, etc are actually callings in the Mormon Church.
Mormon scouting events frequently (and quite seamlessly) morph into testimony meetings or sermons where leaders “bare witness” about Joseph Smith, or characters out of the Book of Mormon.
Scouting in the Mormon Church is an important part of being a young Mormon boy. So if a boy were to choose not to attend scouting, it might be a disturbing sign that the child/family was on the wrong path.
(Of course, this would make any non-Mormon scout feel uncomfortable, so no non-Mormons lasted long in my troop growing up.)
Mormon Scouting = Box Checked
Leaders in Mormon Scout troops volunteer for relatively short periods of time. They rarely do it because they love scouting, or because they even would choose to do it at all on their own, but because they were “called by God” to do it — and Mormons don’t turn down callings. It is a duty. An obligation. Most of the Mormon scout leaders I knew treated it this way.
These leaders usually do their best, but since their heart is rarely really “in it”, they frequently do just enough to check the box of “did my calling”. This means that they frequently cut corners with training and preparation.
Parents of Mormon scouts had a similar attitude toward scouting. They were more interested that their son attend meetings and receive awards than they were in seeing them learn anything from it.
Gun Safety Courses… Check
I once helped our Mormon scout troop prepare for a pheasant hunting trip. BSA rules required that each scout pass an online gun safety course before participating in a hunting trip. The directions for the course indicated that it was to be done individually — no help from anyone else. I brought this up but the other leaders ignored my concerns and filled a church room with laptops for each scout while they attempted to holler out the answers to each question over the top of loud and rambunctious teen boys. The kids learned nothing about gun safety — but they checked off the box and were technically able to go and play with 12-guages.
Thankfully no one was injured.
No matter where I went, Mormon scout leaders and parents rarely cared how the kids got merit badges, or even if they did the work at all. What was important to them, was that the kids attended and moved along in the process. They never seemed to ask themselves if that process was doing any good.
Mormons don’t ask that question very often.
Eagle Awards… Check
In fact, in one ward, I was called by the bishopric to help a few kids get their eagles. The kids in question only had a little work left to be done and would soon turn 18, which meant that their window would soon be closed.
As I remember it, each of these kids had real issues. They would soon legally be adults and have the freedom to really screw up their lives, and yet, my job was to help them get that last merit badge or do their final project so that they could earn the big prize.
I was all for helping these kids, but this really didn’t seem like helping.
The bishopric counselor was floored when I asked him, “Why?” in response to this calling. He was shocked, because — as I mentioned before — Mormons aren’t supposed to question a calling from the Lord, nor the process set forth by the Lord’s church.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some incredible leaders in Mormon scout troops. I got lucky and had one of them for part of my time in Scouting as a kid.
Mormon boys do learn some great stuff from their Mormon scout troops, but in my opinion, they are getting a lot less out of scouting than their non-Mormon counterparts. What worse is that since so many Mormon scout leaders cut corners, the kids in their troops are considerably less safe than kids in non-Mormon troops. A boy’s time could probably be better spent with something else. (Same goes for the leaders.)
The bottom line is that the common thinking in Mormon scouting is that growth and learning will come as a natural byproduct of simply participating. Rarely is any thought or effort given into the actual impact that scouting is having.
In other words, “It’s God’s process, so it must be right.” and “There’s no need to ask many questions.”
I actually love scouting. I do. I just don’t like Mormon-style scouting.