Scouting and Mormons and discrimination, oh my!

Most people are aware of the Boy Scouts of America’s policy preventing gay men from serving as troop leaders. Slightly less well known is the fact that atheists are not allowed to serve either. (So despite my having earned my Eagle, I would not be allowed to serve as a troop leader in an official capacity.) But generally speaking, a belief in any God is enough to qualify a person as a leader.

But apparently, not if you don’t believe in the same God as the members of the church your troop is organized through. The Mormon parents of two boys who joined a Cub Scout pack at a church which belongs to the Presbyterian Church in America (not the same as the Presbyterian Church (USA)) were rejected as leaders because of their Mormon faith.

This story is interesting to me for a couple of reasons. The first is that the idea of rejecting leaders and scouts of differing faiths is something that seems entirely anathema to Scouting as I remember it. It is not uncommon for varying denominations of Christians to belong to the same troops, and they also often include Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and even Buddhist members. Many troops are organized and run through individual churches, but I can’t ever recall hearing of anyone being rejected for not belonging to that church, even if they weren’t Christian.

The second is that it is odd that a Mormon family would not belong to the scout troop run through their own church. The Mormon church uses Scouting as their youth organization program, and almost every male Mormon in the US is involved in Scouting at some point in their life. I don’t know the background behind this family not joining the Scouting program at their own church, but I would hazard a guess that it is rather uncommon in areas where there are decent Mormon populations, and Matthews, NC is close enough to Charlotte, that I don’t see that being a problem.

The fact that the district office said that this discrimination was acceptable is also odd to me. Mormons have been widely distributed throughout the BSA organization, and that the national and regional offices aren’t raising a stink over this is surprising.

From the religious side of things, it’s an interesting conflict. Mormons, as the article discusses, reject the concept of the Trinity. Trinitarianism is one of the early principles of Christianity, as defined by the Council of Nicaea (summed up in the Nicene Creed and latter the Apostle’s Creed.) But more importantly, the Mormons believe that following the death of Jesus Christ, there was a great apostasy due to the corruption of the word of God, and that the revelation that Joseph Smith received was the return of the true word. As such, the Old and New Testaments themselves are not enough to understand Jesus’ message and that without additional understanding, they are not enough for full salvation. As a result, both traditional Christians and Mormons argue that the other side is not truly “Christian”.

Either way, as a supporter of the basic principles and goals of Scouting (their discrimination against homosexuals is a side effect of fundamentalist interpretations of those principles), I find this decision by the local troop and district office to be upsetting. Scouting has a long history of tolerance and acceptance of differing religious beliefs, with over 35 different religious groups awarding badges reflecting a Scout’s study and understanding of those groups’ beliefs, often earnable even if the Scout is not a member of that religious group. Rejecting leaders because of a difference in faith is just shocking and completely antithetical to the very principles of Scouting.

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