I know the relationship between the Church and BSA has been discussed to death in the bloggernacle, but I want to share two recent experiences anyway.
Yesterday, I was at the end-of-year swim party for the not-LDS cub scout den that I have been involved with for six years. I heard an extended rant about LDS scouts from a woman there who didn’t realize I was LDS.
Perhaps I should stop here and explain why I have been involved in a not-LDS den. There are several reasons: it is an all-homeschooled den (which means that we can meet at 1:30), it is a multi-rank den (which means that all of my boys–as well as younger siblings and older siblings–have something to do during den meetings), it is an all-volunteer program (which means more enthusiasm from boys and leaders alike), and it is a full scout program (which means lots of all-family camping, field trips, etc.)
But back to the rant. (Which was very amusing to listen to, largely because another person there who did know that I am LDS was constantly jumping in with conciliatory statements: “Oh, I’m sure you don’t mean to judge an entire group by the actions of a few people” and “Well, there may be cultural reasons for that” etc., but also because it is so rare and oddly refreshing to hear someone’s unfiltered opinion of The Other that you are.) She shared her experiences with LDS scouts: how they were insular, condescending, snobbish, stand-offish, unreliable, wouldn’t follow BSA rules, made things difficult for everyone else, seemed like they didn’t want to be there, etc.
All I could think was, “What a PR disaster!” Here’s a woman from the demographic group that should be low-hanging fruit for missionary work (that is: family- and child-oriented, probably somewhat socially conservative, volunteer-oriented, etc.) and she had an absolutely nasty opinion of the Church based on her interaction with it through scouts–which is pretty much the only place where the Church is visible as an organized entity and interacting with other community groups.
When this woman left, I spoke briefly with the woman who knew I was LDS. And I said, “I like my Church, I like scouts, but I don’t necessarily like them together.” I tried to explain that Scouts is our youth program, and therefore our goals are slightly different from (by which I meant: grossly incompatible with) those for other BSA units. Which was my way of trying to apologize for those clannish, irresponsible LDS scouters. I don’t think it worked.
Here’s the crux of the problem: it’s crazy to spend tithing money to send LDS kids to a scout camp where their sole adult interactions are with Presbyterian women or Jewish men or whatever. So we plan to keep the LDS kids together with LDS leaders . . . but then all the other scouters think that we think we are too good for them. (And it is an organizational hassle.) And then just to rub a little salt in, the camp begins and the LDS group has less than half of the leadership that they promised to bring (because Sister Nguyen just had a baby . . . and Sister Jones got a new calling the week before camp . . . and Brother Smith can’t take a week off work . . . and Brother Huerta has a family reunion that week . . . and Brother Johnson has to take his kid to the MTC . . .) and the non-LDS scouters are, rightly, ticked off that we didn’t live up to our agreement, violated BSA rules, and created more work for everyone else.
Second incident: my son who is a boy scout has a non-LDS friend who wanted to join scouts and thought it would be fun to join my son’s troop, since they are already friends. (Note: my son recently switched from a not-LDS troop to the LDS one, because he turned twelve and we couldn’t very well have him not go to mutual, could we?) The first week he attended, scouts was preempted for a meeting about home teaching. (Which is an entirely understandable thing to do in your youth program, but a bizarre thing to do at your scout program.) The second week, scouts was canceled two hours before the meeting because of mumble mumble mumble. (Translation: I have no idea why. I was trying to drive home from the pool and my phone was breaking up.) I would not blame my friend in the slightest if she sent her kid to a different troop; it is probably what I would do in her situation.
[And one more thing: If my son weighed over 166 pounds, he wouldn’t be able to go to some scout activities. He weighs maybe half that, sopping wet, after a good meal, so this isn’t an issue for us, but are LDS troops seriously turning away boys due to their weight, or is that another BSA rule we choose to ignore?]
Both of these situations suggest to me an unappreciated aspect of the LDS-BSA mismatch: the damage that our iconoclastic approach to scouting causes for the reputation of the Church. At the risk of repeating myself, “I like my Church, I like scouts, but I don’t necessarily like them together.”