Biggest sponsor of troops tells why.
Question: what religious group is the largest sponsor of Boy Scout units in the United States?
Answer: the Mormon church.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), with 2.7 million members in the United States, sponsors 17,000 Boy Scout emits. In terms of percentage, the Mormons greatly outnumber the other large religious sponsors of Scout troops. The Roman Catholic church, with 50 million members in the United States, has 11,000 units, and the 9.6-million-member United Methodist church has 10,600 units. (The Catholics and Methodists have more actual boys involved than do the Mormons because their units, while fewer, are larger.) Some 238,000 Mormon boys participate in Scouting, or nearly 1 in every 10 Mormons.
Why the heavy involvement? Robert Backman, president of Young Men for the Mormon Church, said, “the principles that Lord Baden-Powell (founder of Boy Scouts) espoused in the Scouting movement are exactly the principles we want to rear our young boys by. Scouting helps our young men set worthwhile goals and then achieve them. It gives them a sense of their own worth and their ability to do things. It also sets the tone for them to become real Christians when it says ‘do a good turn daily.’ Which is the basis of Christianity, really,” he added. “You know—do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Contrary to Back-man’s statement, the Mormon church is far removed from Christianity, and the Golden Rule is not the basis of Christian belief.)
Can Boy Scout troops become religious tools for proselytizing boys into Mormonism? “Oh, yes,” Backman said. “Definitely. The last statistic we had said 10 percent of our [Scouts] are not members of our church. And we naturally have a number of converts by virtue of that exposure.”
Backman said the Mormon church is unique in that it is “very centrally governed.” Because of that “we simply ask our congregations to use Scouting as an activity for our boys, and have almost a complete saturation of our congregations who are involved in Scouting.”
The LDS has been deeply involved with Boy Scouts almost from the time the program was introduced from England into the United States. “In 1910 Scouting came to America,” said Backman, “and in 1913 the Mormon church became one of the first principal partners of the Boy Scouts of America.” Backman himself is a member of the national executive board of the Boy Scouts.
Scouting coincides neatly with a Mormon boy’s progression through the stages of Mormon priesthood. Every boy is encouraged to become a Scout at age 12, the year he automatically enters the priesthood as “Deacon.” When he reaches age 14, he enters Varsity Scouting and acquires the title of “Teacher.” At age 16 he becomes an Explorer Scout and receives the full title of “Priest.” From there he voluntarily enters the LDS missionary force for two years.
Scouting also helps prepare Mormon boys for missionary work. “We have about 30,000 young people out on the mission field all the time,” said Backman, “and we have discovered that the vast majority of them have had Scouting in their background.” He said Scouting helps develop qualities such as self-management, self-confidence, selflessness, and serving others, which are helpful for mission work.
Joseph Kessler, director of religious relationships for the Boy Scouts of America, said the Mormon church was a large sponsor of Scouting because “it’s a good program which helps the LDS do what they wish to accomplish with their youth.” He said, “Scouting is accepted by Mormon church officials as an outstanding youth program they can interlace with their religious theme.”
He confessed a touch of uneasiness about the Mormon use of Scouting as a religious tool, though. He said, “You know, I guess any other church would say Scouting prepares young people for life or society in general today without coming right out and saying it helps make missionaries of them.”
Is it proper for Scout units to become religious tools for bringing boys into the Mormon faith?
“Any type of religious organization can charter a Boy Scout unit,” said Kessler. “But if a boy joins that unit from another church it should be made known that the unit is chartered by a particular religious denomination, and that some of the things they would be discussing would perhaps be apropos only to that particular denomination.”
He said, “If a boy is of one denomination, he stays with that denomination. You don’t earn a merit badge in someone else’s church tenets. You have to practice what you are. Scouts should help boys become better members of their own denominations.”
But then he added, “Of course, if the boy becomes a convert to the other church, that’s a different story.…”
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