Monday, August 31, 2015

That Double-Walled Thought

I was on vacation/blog sabbatical when the news dropped that the LDS Church would continue as a chartering organization in the Boy Scouts of America even with the BSA’s decision to end its ban on homosexual leaders.

The news didn’t surprise me, as the church has a long history as a BSA sponsor, did not object to the BSA allowing gay scouts, and allows for celibate homosexuals to hold church callings and have temple recommends. 

Also not surprising it eh parsing the message is undergoing, particularly in light of a recent poll that shows the majority of active LDS members would like to see the church out of the BSA.

The most significant parsing comes after reading this portion of the church’s announcement:
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.

In fact, the parsing is on the first three words: “At this time.” That gives the Scouting haters (and there are some in the church) breathing space to say the church could, in the future, dump Scouting in favor of something else. Which indeed it could.

What needs more parsing, in my view, is the final paragraph of the statement:

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.

What does evaluate and refine mean? What program options would be evaluated and refined? The Duty to God program comes to mind. I find it hard to believe the church would create a mirror of Scouting out of whole cloth when a program like Duty to God could be adapted to meet the temporal needs of boys/youth in the church, as well as those spiritual needs. This inward-turning focus could augment the church’s stance that its me3mvbers are a “peculiar people,” a badge many in the church would wear with honor.

What’s going to be most interesting is to see how member support for Scouting changes despite the First Presidency’s decision to go ahead with Scouting. There were some who grumbled – and cut off support to Friends of Scouting, a major fund-raising program – when gay scouts were allowed, and that is likely to increase significantly with gay leaders being allowed, even if chartered organizations are allowed to choose their own leaders based on their religious values. Those who fear homosexuals might think they’re insulated – if that’s the proper word – from them within an LDS unit, but once an LDS unit goes to scout camp or another BSA-sponsored activity, that illusion of insularity is gone.
That will either prompt an exodus from scouting on individual family bases – I can think of one family offhand that will probably leave scouting because of this decision (not in our unit, you local speculators) – or open up local councils to discrimination lawsuits if they sponsor “LDS-only” weeks at camp. And the lawsuits will come, just as soon as a unit with a mind to sue comes up against schedule conflicts that plant it at camp during an LDS-only week.

And Mormon-haters will likely exacerbate the problem – not being content with the BSA’s decision to end discrimination, but upping the anti-discrimination drum beat by going after chartering organizations that discriminate based on religious beliefs, perhaps through attempting to remove tax-exempt statuses or other legal/governmental means, thus showing that they don’t mind if state mixes with church as long as it’s the state that’s the victor – forgetting that the separation of church and state is a double-walled thought.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

You HAVE to Ask Why

The Salt Lake Tribune is trumpeting a survey recently taken in Utah showing the majority of active members of the LDS Church polled favor the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints severing its 100-year relationship with the Boy Scouts of America.

The survey has a serious flaw: It does not ask why.

Obviously, the 900-pound gorilla in the room is the BSA National Executive Council’s recent decision to allow chartered organizations to appoint gay leaders, ending the BSA’s ban on such leadership. Leaving that gorilla unaddressed in the survey offers a less nuanced look at LDS attitudes towards the BSA and the executive council’s decision, in my opinion.

But, like the poll takers, I offer no empirical proof. But I do have anecdotal evidence that offers other reasons why these active LDS members may want to sever the BSA/LDS relationship.

First, the expense. Scouting is an expensive program. In a few weeks our unit will have a court of honor, for which we’ll spend more than $400 on awards. And that doesn’t even mention the money parents have to drop on Scout shirts and other uniform parts, the budget for the troop ($1,200, provided by our chartering organization) and the $120 each boy had to cough up for scout camp this summer.

Second, the time. Members of the LDS Church already spend three hours a week at church. Add to that the time commitment required by scouting – Tuesday night activities would, of course, continue without Scouting, but you have to factor in campouts, training, and other commitments – and there’s a lot of time that goes into it.

Third, the work. As Scoutmaster, I rely a lot on parents to help with merit badge work. I have to. I have, on a good day, a dozen boys in my troop and about an hour a week to work with them. As they’re on a revolving door basis (competing with family events, sports teams, and other activities that take them away from Scouts on Tuesdays and when we camp out) I can’t guarantee all the boys will get the instruction for merit badges when I can offer it. Parents have to step up – and step up as they’re navigating homework coming in from the schools. Scouting takes second priority, if it gets a priority at all.

Obviously, the BSA’s leadership decision is weighing heavily on this survey. But to not ask why is to leave, I feel, too many questions unanswered.

Tribune reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack, however, does a good job answering one of the nuanced questions I’ve had on the matter (though I take what she writes with a grain of salt, simply because she offers no verification of its veracity:

Although the LDS Church has allowed — and does allow — openly gay Mormons to serve in church assignments, including the Boy Scouts, these members are deemed to be living the faith's standards. This means they are not acting on their same-sex attractions.

The BSA's new policy, however, makes no such distinction between "openly gay" and "sexually active gay leaders." So a gay Scout leader could have a partner or a same-sex spouse — and that troubles the Mormon brass.

While the BSA insists that religiously affiliated troops, including those sponsored by the LDS Church, could continue to ban gay leaders, many observers doubt such an exemption could be legally defended.

The part I have the most difficulty with, verification-wise, is the second paragraph cited here. I’m not aware of any official announcement form the church outlining their concerns with the BSA’s change in policy as clear cut as Stack offers here.

For what it’s worth, I hope the church continues with scouting. I’m pushing our oldest son right now to finish his Eagle Scout paperwork – he finished his project this weekend. If the church is going to bail on scouting, I’d like to see him get his Eagle before the bailing takes effect. We have talked as a couple about finding a community troop for our kids to join if the severing occurs. But whether or not that happens will depend quite a bit on what the church decides.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

From PBS to HBO

So, Sesame Street is moving to HBO.

Obviously I haven’t watched Sesame Street in years. My kids haven’t seen an episode. They’re familiar with Elmo thanks to Elmo’s World, and maybe Bert and Ernie thanks to YouTube and my obsession with watching them – and certainly any of the Muppet characters who might have appeared on the show.

But still, it’s odd to think Sesame Street’s heading to paid TV rather than PBS.

CNN says the show will appear on PBS, but nine months after their HBO air date.

Will there be commercials? I don’t know how HBO works. We don’t have cable. We don’t have broadcast TV, the so-called free stuff. We don’t have time for it. So it probably doesn’t even matter. My childhood is not my childrens’ childhood – which is probably why Sesame Workshop is bleeding money and having to look for a paid way to distribute their show.

Bert is a lot more belligerent in this first episode than I ever remember.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Follow Those Dreams

Dream One: I’m part of some kind of covert operation sneaking into orphanages and insane asylums and sanatoriums breaking out the people – kids, mostly – who don’t really belong there or could be better cared for elsewhere.

Dream Two: I’m on a cruise with a) Members of a doomsday cult, and b) Random denizens from Island Park Scout Camp. We’re visiting some red rock place with canyons and a winding river and every time I want to take a picture the cult is in the shot doing doomsday things or the scouts are in the shot singing their stupid songs. I finally get a good shot and the memory card in the camera is full.

Perhaps using your dreams as a gauge in deciding whether or not to pursue that dream to write a novel isn’t a good idea.

Monday, August 3, 2015

That Blunt Response to the BSA's Announcement . . .

When the news dropped that the Boy Scouts of America National Executive Board had voted to change BSA policy to end its ban on gay leadership and leave leadership decisions up to chartering organizations, I was out of the news loop.

At scout camp.

Yet not out of the news loop, due to a few fathers bringing their cell phones and hearing the news.
The news didn’t cause a ripple among the boys. Outside of a brief discussion among our troop’s leaders/dads at camp, I didn’t hear a whisper about it.

But doubtless we’ll hear more about it in the future.

The BSA’s National Executive Board’s decision is not surprising, nor, to me, is it distressing. What the board decided is in line with what BSA President Robert Gates discussed earlier this year, in seizing the initiative to decide which direction to take the BSA as a national organization before courts decided the direction that should be taken.

What surprised us was the bluntness of the LDS Church’s announcement on the news.

The church said, in part:

When the leadership of the Church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August, the century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined. The Church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation. 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.

As a global organization with members in 170 countries, the Church has long been evaluating the limitations that fully one-half of its youth face where Scouting is not available. Those worldwide needs combined with this vote by the BSA National Executive Board will be carefully reviewed by the leaders of the Church in the weeks ahead.

I fear greatly that the LDS Church’s affiliation with the Boy Scouts of America is nearing an end, and that out session at Island Park Scout Camp this July will be our last there.

And I have to ask why.

I’m confused by the portion of the statement that says “the admission of gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church,” for if I’m reading the Handbook of Instructions properly, homosexual individuals who obey the Law of Chastity are entitle to temple recommends and church callings. I don’t see why a Scout calling would be excluded. I’ll be interested to see further clarification from the church on that point in particular.

I understand the concern that Scouting is not serving all church members. Scouting’s near ubiquity worldwide seems to make this an LDS Church issue, not a Scouting issue. But I can be further educated on that, as I don’t know everything there is to know about Scouting.

Is Scouting good for boys? Look at the benefits they receive: A rather shy boy in my troop found himself rather popular at camp this week when he revealed his rather startling wood carving skills when he made tow wooden knives in camp in about the span of twenty minutes. Look at three boys in my troop who started the week off on the wrong foot by wandering out of our campsite after curfew only to turn that to their advantage to earn the Astronomy merit badge. And look at all the boys working hard on their rank advancements and wanting to progress.

There are similar programs offered by the Seventh-day Adventist church, a non-denominational Christian group, and the new Trail LifeUSA program created in reaction to the 2013 decision by the BSA to allow gay boys to become Scouts. Their like-for-likeness I cannot determine. Direct association by the LDS Church with any of these groups seems unlikely, particularly with the latter as the LDS Church did not oppose allowing gay Scouts.

If the LDS Church were to establish its own program, it would indeed have enormous, Sideshow Bob-like shoes to fill. Duty to God is a good spiritual program, but it’s no replacement for the Boy Scouts. A program without equivalent rank advancement and skill assessment such as merit badges will fall short, in my opinion, an LDS program is going to have to be like-for-like.

And, if we’re going that far, it should involve both genders, not just the boys. I have a thirteen-year-old daughter who is counting the days to her fourteenth birthday so she can join Venture scouting. Leadership and outdoor skills that are good for the boys are just as good for the girls in my book.

However, I hope the status quo is maintained. There is too much good in Scouting to just walk away from it. Perhaps if the LDS Church does walk, we’ll look for community-chartered Scouting organizations to continue the benefits our children see in the program.