The Mormon church surprised many last week with its announcement supporting the proposed Boy Scout policy allowing gay scouts, but not gay leaders.
Having spent most of my life as a Mormon and having served in its local leadership, I wasn’t surprised at all. Here’s why.
Though not true until relatively recently, the Mormon church does allow gay people to be members and even to have some local leadership jobs, as long as they stay strictly celibate.
What’s strange is that so many Mormons don’t know the policy either; a quick skim through reader comments on Salt Lake newspaper Web site stories about the proposed BSA policy change confirms that extreme homophobia continues unabated in many Mormon congregations.
However, there are restrictions.
Church policy prohibits any openly gay Mormon man from working with children or youth, even if the man is strictly celibate and his life is otherwise above reproach.
This suggests a widespread belief amongst Mormons that being gay makes one inherently prone to want to molest Boy Scouts. Again, all one needs to do to see this belief in full flower is browse reader comments on Salt Lake newspaper stories.
Mormon Scout leaders usually don’t serve because they’ve volunteered. They’re assigned to the job by local church leadership, sometimes regardless of their lack of experience or interest in Scouting.
This often means significant variations in local troop programs, something the BSA knows well, doesn’t like, and is helpless to change. But it also works as a filter to prevent any openly gay man from ever becoming a Mormon Scout leader.
Thus, the new BSA policy of banning gay adults from Scouting leadership falls right into line with current Mormon church policy and practice.
The BSA’s ideal program includes boys from ages 12 through 18 in a troop, with older ones mentoring the younger ones. Mormon Scouting doesn’t work like that.
Starting at age 14, church youth programs essentially drop Scouting and focus on preparing boys to leave home and become full-time missionaries at age 18. Mormon high school guys thus tend to consider Scouting something for middle schoolers, and they often lose all interest in the program from age 14.
And 12 and 13 year old Scouts are assumed to generally be less likely to try the kind of “sinful” mischief the older guys might.
But even if they were capable of such mischief, the Mormon church monitors the behavior of its youth even more strictly than it does the adults.
Mormon bishops (leaders of local congregations, who serve on a volunteer basis for a few years and have no professional or pastoral training in theology or counseling) regularly have private one on one interviews with Mormon boys and girls between ages 12 and 18, and among other things ask sometimes probing questions about the kids’ sexual activity in order to ascertain their “worthiness” to participate in church activities.
Mormon adults are interviewed like this too, but less often.
Mormon youth are taught that God requires them to confess to their bishops any sexual activity, which is considered extremely sinful for unmarried Mormons.
Those who do so can have their membership privileges and participation restricted or revoked, and are often put on a strict and sometimes protracted regimen of penitence, including regular, frequent “check-up” interviews with their bishop to make sure they’re toeing the line.
Thus, the church already has a system in place to “correct” any “misbehavior” by any Boy Scout, gay or straight. They’re all expected to be totally celibate already anyway.
And since the church admits gay people to full membership as long as they’re strictly celibate, allowing openly gay Scouts in Mormon troops is likewise really no change from existing Mormon policy.
In short, the proposed new BSA rule to allow gay Scouts but prohibit gay Scout leaders is an exact match with existing Mormon church policy.
The Mormon church is also the BSA’s single biggest financial supporter. Is anybody really surprised?