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PORTSIDE  October 2012, Week 3

PORTSIDE October 2012, Week 3

Subject:

As Partners, Mormons and Scouts Turn Boys Into Men

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Date:

Wed, 17 Oct 2012 22:54:22 -0400

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As Partners, Mormons and Scouts Turn Boys Into Men 
By Erik Eckholm 
The New York Times 
October 17, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/18/us/mormons-and-scouts-act-as-partners-in-molding-boys.html?hp

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.

With mutual exaltation of God and country and a shared
aim of nurturing “morally straight” men with leadership
skills and a service ethic, the Mormons and the Boy
Scouts seem made for each other, as entwined as a
square knot. And in an unusual partnership dating to
1913, the Mormon Church has embraced scouting
wholesale, giving it a central role in preparing male
youths for their two-year missionary stints and
adulthood as lay priests.

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.”

Ashley Parker contributed reporting from Ohio.

___________________________________________

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