Thursday, October 24, 2013

What level of youth-led is appropriate?

I had an interesting Scouting discussion last night. A very well-intentioned someone was trying to explain to someone else how much the adult leaders should be involved in the different programs of Scouting. They said that for Venturing, the program is 75% youth led, Varsity is 50% youth led and Boy Scouts is maybe 25% led by youth.

My response to that was if that is the way we are doing it, then we're not doing Scouting. I tried to explain that even for our 11-13 year old boys, the program should be completely youth led. The Scoutmaster's job is to train them how to lead and then let them do it. He should be working a lot behind the scenes but if he is doing his job right most people wouldn't see his leadership. But they would see the leadership of the boys. The same applies to Varsity.

For Venturing, I said that the role of the adult leaders is a little different. The youth should be leading everything, with the adult there almost more in the role of an experienced peer who can give wise advice rather than an adult on some higher plane. I say the adult should be there as a peer, not because he lowers himself to their level but because by that point, the youth who are leading are more on the level of the adult. They are capable of acting in an adult capacity and we should help them and let them do so.

What do you think? Did I respond appropriately and accurately? Or am I up in the night? What would you have said?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

An experience, or a checklist?

I just got my latest issue of Eagle's Call magazine (formerly Eagle Scout Magazine). One article is about the recipients of the latest National Eagle Scout Service Project of the Year Award. The winner rebuilt a playground at a cost of over $35,000 and over 5,000 hours of labor. One of the runners up spent two years collecting over $130,000 to build a veterans memorial. I can't even imagine what it would take to do either of those projects, but those Scouts did. Amazing!

When I first read the article, one of my thoughts was that those projects put to shame all of those I've seen locally (including my own many years ago). Of course, that's why they are winning awards.

As I thought about it today, I realized there is a big difference between those projects and the ones my Scouts have done recently, and I'm talking about more than size or cost, or time spent on them. It is obvious from the descriptions of these outstanding projects that they are personally and deeply meaningful to the Scout. Most of the projects I've seen locally are not like that.

That's not to say that we don't have good, meaningful projects, and I'm certainly not trying to suggest that each Scout needs to raise tens of thousands of dollars and spend thousands of hours working on his project.  What I am suggesting is that most of the time we could do much better than we have. Most of the Scouts I talk to about Eagle projects are simply looking for something to get done so they can get their award. Instead of being an opportunity to serve, or a chance to do something they really care about, it's little more than an item on a checklist.

I've seen this attitude in relation to the Eagle Scout award itself. In the last five and a half years I've been involved in Scouting I have seen five Scouts earn the rank of Eagle. One more is just waiting on a board of review. Every one of those six Scouts was over 17 years old when they finally finished off their Eagle rank. Four of them waited long enough that their board of review was not held until after they turned 18. With perhaps only one exception, each of those Scouts treated their projects, and the rank itself as something they just had to finish before they could move on to the next, more important thing. It was simply an item on a checklist.

And some parents (and some leaders) out there aren't helping the situation.

I cringe every time I hear a Scout (or his parent) say that he is not allowed to get his driver's license until he earns his Eagle. In my opinion, this does nothing to help and actually diminishes the real value of the program.

Scouting should be about the experience. It should be an opportunity to do something of value. It should be a chance to learn and grow. Advancement is an important part of the experience, but if we elevate it to such a prominent position that all the other important things become nothing more than obstacles to climb over then we are failing to accomplish what should be our real purpose.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Proud of my Bobwhite

A few weeks ago I went to Wood Badge again. This was my third time being on staff and this time I had an easy job--Assistant Scoutmaster over Troop Guides.

The best part of this year's course was that my wife got to go with me. We were a little concerned, starting out because we are expecting a baby soon. We were very blessed, however, in that she was healthy and able to go. In fact, in many ways she felt better at camp than she has at home.

The hard part for me was trying to find the right balance. On the one hand, I knew she would need some specific attention and help with certain things. And I wanted to spend time with her. On the other hand, I wanted her to develop a real, lasting relationship with her patrol members, so I wanted to stay away when I needed to. I hope I hit the right balance. I know she had a good experience, and I now feel as strong an attachment to the Bobwhites as I do the Bears.

She is currently working hard on her ticket and making great progress. She'll probably finish the first of her goals this week and one other one within the next month. The others, of course, will take longer.

I am so grateful that I can do Scouting things with her. It has been really fun to help her with her Webelos den meetings and activities, and we have seen some great things happen with her boys. Two of them will be getting their Webelos badges at Pack meeting this week, and they are so close to earning their Arrow of Light award.

I am so proud of you Christine! You are doing great work.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

To the young men

This is the "lecture" I would really like to give to our Teachers quorum this Sunday:

"I want to talk to you guys for a minute. Something happened this week that I can't stop thinking about. We had several young men show up here on Wednesday night, but most of you weren't here, and none of the leaders were either. Now, I know the plan was to go up to the lake to help P---- with his Eagle project. I wasn't able to go up so I don't know what actually happened, but those who did go went up earlier than your usual meeting time.

"The problem is, not everyone knew what was happening and came here instead, expecting an activity. One of those who was here was N----. From what I could tell, he was rather upset that nobody let him know what was going on. The more I have thought about it, I believe that N---- will be making a very important decision in the very near future. On the one hand, he can keep coming to this thing we call "Scouts," hoping that somebody will be here and there is a plan to do something fun. On the other hand, he can give up on all of this because he thinks that those who he thought were his friends don't really care about him after all.

"See, we have a tendency in the church to talk about our weeknight activities during quorum meeting on Sunday, and whoever is here then knows what is going on and can make it and everyone else is left in the dark. Sometimes, if we think about it, we talk to a few others who weren't there to let them know, but I'm afraid that doesn't happen very often. That has got to change.

"Now, I know we need to re-organize your quorum presidency. There has been some confusion about who should be leading. I am sorry for that. That is my responsibility and I am working on it. I had hoped to have that taken care of by now, but things haven't worked as well or as quickly as I would have liked. We are close, however, and that might help solve some of the problems. Hopefully, having a quorum presidency in place and actively meeting each week will improve the situation.

"In the mean-time, however, we need to figure out a way to make things work. When you are sitting in your quorum meetings and talking about your upcoming activities, do any of you think about who isn't here? Do any of you step up and volunteer to talk to N---- or C---- or any of the other guys who aren't here and let them know what the plan is? I would hope that if the topic comes up that each of you would be willing to raise your hand and say "Here am I. Send Me."

"Each of you bears the Priesthood of God. Each of you has it within yourselves to be a leader. Robert Baden-Powell once said that "a Scout is active in DOING GOOD, not passive in BEING GOOD." The scriptures say essentially the same thing: "For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; (D&C 58:26-27)"

"As Scouts, and especially as Priesthood holders, you need to be active in doing good.

"Of course, if we had strong quorum leadership we could assign somebody to talk to N---- and C---- and make sure they know what's going on. But I don't think that's the best option.

"I hope you realize that N---- is at a crossroads. I also think it's important to realize that you're close to losing him. Now, maybe you don't really care that much about him. Does it make a difference that he isn't a member of the church? Does that make him less important? Or just easier to forget?

"Our goal here isn't just to make sure he knows what the plan is for Scouts each week. Our goal is to have a positive influence on his life. As bearers of the Priesthood, that is your duty. But you need to remember what the scriptures say: "No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; (D&C 121:41). Now what do you think "love unfeigned" means? Unfeigned means not faked. If you want to have an influence on anyone, you have to love them, and you have to be genuine. It can't be assigned and it can't be faked. It has to be real.

"I think I've lectured enough. I don't mean to get after you and tell you you're a bunch of bums, because you're not. It's just that I can't stop thinking about how disappointed N---- looked on Wednesday night. I can't stop thinking about how frustrated he was that nobody had talked to him and let him know what was going on. I think he is reaching out for help. I think he desperately wants your friendship. Each of you has an opportunity right now to make an influence for good in that boy's life. He may never join the church, but I guarantee the interactions he has with you will change his life. I just hope you'll decide to change it in the right direction."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Challenges of leadership

I just got back from Wood Badge. This was my third time on staff. I'll post more about this experience later, I'm sure. Part of the effect of Wood Badge is that it gets me thinking.

I have now been involved in Scouting for about five and a half years. I know it's not as long as some, but I've had some pretty good experiences in that time. I've gone to just about every training available (and taught or staffed many of them). I've had lots of conversations with lots of other dedicated Scouters, and lots of not-so-dedicated other folks who I cannot properly call "Scouters." I've learned a lot. I've had a lot of ideas over the years about how to properly implement the Scouting programs. Some of them have been good. Some haven't. Some have worked in my own practice and some probably would work with someone better at the helm. In any case, I love Scouting. I believe in it as a tool we can use to really make a difference in the lives of our young men. 

I've also been struggling lately with how to get my current adult Scouting leaders to get the training they should have, and to start using the programs the way they were intended. It is so easy to judge them against my own thoughts and feelings and experiences, and to wish they were doing more. That's not to say they aren't doing anything--they each have their strengths. But it's so easy to look at the shortcomings. I keep thinking that if I got them to Wood Badge that they would become more converted and things would improve. But most of them aren't converted enough to go to round table, let alone Wood Badge. How do I get them to that point?

I wish there was some way I could just "download" everything I have learned and experienced and felt about Scouting from my mind and heart and implant it directly into the minds and hearts of the adult Scouting leaders in my ward. But I can't.

I could talk, and lecture, and beg, and plead, and try to persuade until the cows come home, but I'm not sure how much that will do. Maybe we would move somewhere, but it seems just as likely that everyone would just get sick of me "pestering" them.

I can't just transfer everything I have directly to them. As much as I might like the idea, it doesn't work that way. Everyone needs to learn and experience it for themselves. Nobody is ever going to have exactly the same experience I have had. What I currently have took years to develop. I can't expect anyone else to develop the same way. Hopefully, they will make a decision to try.

I can share with them my vision, but unless that starts a fire within them, it doesn't go anywhere. While outside influences can have an effect, ultimately it has to come from within.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bishops and Scouting

I have now been the bishop of my ward for almost four months. It has been a rather eye-opening experience. During that time I have had the privilege of interviewing many of my ward members regarding a wide range of topics. I've done many temple recommend interviews, several priesthood advancement interviews, and baptismal interviews. I can't count how many times I have extended a calling to someone to serve in a certain position in the church, and I have occasionally been turned down. I've met with people who, through various circumstances, find themselves deciding if they should pay rent or buy food. I've seen cupboards and refrigerators so bare you'd think there was no way they could survive another day or two. I have been surprised at the number of people who have come to me for help in overcoming addictive behavior, and wonder how many more need help but haven't come forward. I have even been to the county jail to visit people incarcerated there.

I also know very well that there are challenges still to come. So far I have not conducted any funerals, although a couple people had me worried for a while. Nor have I performed any weddings. I have also not yet had anyone come to me for marital advice or counseling.

Through all this, I am regularly reminded that my priority should be the youth. And while I feel strongly that I need to do all I can to help them, I must confess that I haven't done a great job of it. My wife has reminded me on more than one occasion about the frustrations that I had as the Young Mens president, in regards to what I hoped the bishop would be doing.

It has been a struggle to figure out how to schedule everything in and focus on what is most important. It seems like everything that comes up has to be done now. We need a ward mission plan. We have a financial audit coming up an need to watch these training videos. We need a new president for (fill-in-the-blank) auxiliary. So-and-so will be turning 12 this month and needs to be interviewed. This young man needs to get to the temple before he goes on his mission. That young woman needs an interview to finish her personal progress. The person who is currently serving as (fill-in-the-blank calling) will be moving soon and needs to be replaced. And on and on and on.

I know that some of these things can and should be delegated to others, but many of them can not be. I realize I have counselors, clerks, and a secretary who can help out with some of these things, and I do rely on them, but there still seems to be so much for me to do.

Scouting is still a priority for me, but I find that having been in a different position for a while that I don't have the focus I used to. I have forgotten much of what I struggled with and what I needed help with, but I still feel that it is vitally important. I help my wife with her Webelos den as much as I can. I will be on staff at Wood Badge again this fall, with my wife attending as a participant. I am trying to make sure we have all the leaders we need for each of our programs, but haven't gotten there yet. And then there are the committees. We are making progress, but I still have a long way to go.

I'm not sure what my purpose is in this post. I guess what I'm trying to say is be patient with your bishop. There is so much to do, and so much to think about. Even knowing and feeling that the youth are a priority I still struggle with how to actually do it.

Maybe your bishop is more capable than I am. Maybe he has figured out better how to get everything accomplished and still give the youth the focus they deserve. Maybe he is doing everything you think he needs. Then again, maybe he isn't. Keep providing gentle reminders about what you need. Help him fulfill his responsibilities by being the best that you can be. And please be patient. I'm sure he is trying. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Scouting as the Activity Arm of the Priesthood?

“I shudder when I hear someone say that Scouting is the activity arm of the priesthood. That lessens it’s role. It is really the Priesthood in action.” - Elder David A. Wilson, LDS Philmont Chaplain
I took this from The Boy Scout, the blog of the Utah National Parks Council. See the full post here.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Scouting Relay

In High School I used to run on the track team. While my usual events weren't often involved in relays, I did participate in one or two in those years.

In order for a relay to be successful, there are certain things that have to happen.

First, you have to have a team. Each individual on the team runs a specified leg of the relay. All the relays I remember had teams of four members. If I remember correctly, the best person on the team usually ran the last leg. The next best person usually ran the first leg. That way the team gets a great start and an even better finish. But no relay can be really successful unless all team members do their best.

Second, you have to have good hand-offs. Most of the problems in running a relay come during the hand-off. The starting team member begins carrying a baton. That baton needs to be passed from one team member to the next at a specified area on the track. If the hand-off is not completed within the marked-out area, the team is disqualified. An additional problem that frequently occurs during the hand-off comes when the baton is dropped. Whether from a mistake made by one or both team members, a lack of communication, or some other reason, if the baton is dropped, it could easily cost the team the race.

Third, each team member must stay in their assigned lane on the track. If a team member veers outside of their assigned lane, the team is disqualified.

If everything goes well in the relay, the team performs well, but if there are problems in any of these areas, even the best team can find themselves losing the race.

In the LDS church, we have a sort of Scouting relay. The team members are Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, and Venturing. The baton that is passed between each team member is an individual boy.

In the LDS church, youth are baptized into the church at age eight. At the same time, the boys join the Cub Scout pack chartered to the ward. At age eleven, those youth are handed-off to the Boy Scout troop. At age 14, they join the Varsity Scouts. At age 16, they join Venturing.

Too often in the church, we don't run this relay effectively.

Sometimes, we don't have good team members to carry the boys through the entire course. We might get a good start in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts only to give up once we hand them off to Varsity and Venturing. We may even have team members who don't want to run their assigned leg and would rather go back and re-do one that has already passed. How often have you seen or heard a Venturing leader panic that a boy hasn't yet earned his Eagle. They give up on a good program because they think the last one hasn't been "finished" yet. This is symptomatic of a deeper problem. They focus so much on one leg of the journey that the lose sight of the final goal.

Sometimes our team members decide they don't want to be running a race at all, and the relay is changed to unorganized basketball.

Other times we find ourselves running outside of the lines. "We'll just call this a priesthood activity, not a Scouting activity." This comes with its own set of problems.

Our hand-offs are particularly bad. We really need to do better at making sure our Scouts are properly registered in the appropriate unit. How many times do we have Scouts participating in Varsity or Venturing for months before they are actually registered as such?

We really need to do a better job of coordinating between the programs so that our hand-offs are effective. We usually do pretty well bridging a boy from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, but when he turns 14 he is just thrown in with a new group. He is given no explanation of what this new program is or where his place is in it. There generally isn't much to look forward to in the hand-off from one program to the next. Why not create a special ceremony to transfer a young man from Boy Scouts to Varsity or from Varsity to Venturing? Why not make the exchange a big deal?

In the LDS church we actually have another leg of this race. It's when we send a boy on his mission. His mission experience will further his development so that when he comes home he is better prepared to be a father and a leader, both in the church and in the community. The "finish line" of this relay isn't really a distinct line but rather an ideal. We want them to become something, not just accomplish something.

In the LDS church, we use Scouting to help our boys become men. From the day they are baptized to the day they leave on their mission, one Scouting program or another is there to help them along the way. How many boys never make it that far because someone in the relay dropped the baton, or decided their job wasn't that important? 

We need each of the programs. We can't ignore part of the relay and hope it works out anyway. We need to work together and coordinate more effectively. We want to win this race.

*   *   *
There are probably lots of other parallels you can draw between running a relay race and our Scouting relay. These are the thoughts I had, when I heard this analogy from a member of my Stake Presidency, who heard it at Philmont this year.

Kids v. Scouts

I just read a fantastic post on the Ask Andy blog. He describes so well some of the things I have thought about over the years. Make sure you check it out:

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

An Alternative to the BSA

I just saw a news story about a faith-based group that has formed an alternative organization to the BSA. To quote from the article:
 A faith-based group opposed to the Boy Scouts recent decision to allow gay youth to join has formed their own program for kids and teens in response -- but they will also let gay youth and adults participate, leaders said Tuesday.
While the program, which doesn't yet have a name, will allow gays, it won't let them "flaunt" it, said John Stemberger, founder of, a coalition opposed to the BSA's vote in late May to change the controversial membership policy.
"We don't think sex and politics should be in a program for kids. Those are issues for parents," said Stemberger, of Orlando, Fla., who left the Boy Scouts along with his two sons over the decision in May.
"If a young man has a same-sex attraction he would not be turned away in the program, but he's not going to be allowed to kind of openly flaunt it and carry a rainbow flag," he added, apparently referring to the participation of some BSA members in LGBT pride parades in recent weeks.
"There is not going to be any kind of witch hunt in our organization for people and what their sexual orientation's are. We're going to focus on sexual purity not sexual orientation."
The article continues, describing more about the organization and their goals. But the entire time I was reading the article, and while looking at, I kept thinking there's already an organization that does exactly what these guys are saying they want. It's called the Boy Scouts of America.

There are only two things I saw that are actually different. They are 1) the new organization is specifically Christian, although they will allow anyone from any faith to join and 2) they will actually allow gay adults be leaders where the BSA will not.

Since apparently some people just didn't get it, let me again review as logically as I can, why the new BSA membership policy is not a bad thing and certainly isn't a reason to go start your own group.

Here goes:
1) There is a difference between attraction and behavior. Attraction (i.e. orientation) in and of itself isn't immoral, but certain behaviors based on that attraction are. It doesn't matter what the orientation is, the behavior is the important part. This new group seems to recognize this in its own literature but doesn't recognize that the BSA has essentially made that distinction as well.

2) This is made evident in two parts of the membership resolution. First, all youth are eligible to join regardless of their orientation (i.e. attraction). Second, the statement clarified that any sexual behavior of any kind by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting. Combine these two statements and you find that attraction is not a problem, but behavior is.

3) The resolution states that youth cannot be excluded based on orientation alone. There is nothing in this statement that would allow anyone to "flaunt" their sexual orientation. That would be a specific behavior that would allow the BSA to take action against said youth. The BSA has also had a long-standing policy against getting involved in political events. These two issues are illustrated well in this news story.

4) The BSA maintained its policy for adults (openly or avowed homosexuals are not allowed as leaders). The adult membership application states specifically that "the applicant must possess the moral... qualities that the Boy Scouts of America deems necessary to afford positive leadership to youth." Combine these facts with the points above and you get an interesting result. Whether intentional or not, the BSA looks at openly avowed homosexuals engaging in homosexual behavior as not possessing the moral qualities necessary to lead our youth and therefore the new policy actually defines homosexual behavior as immoral.

This is not to say that there won't be issues with this new policy. But most of those will probably come from people who don't really understand it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Reasons for Scouting

Last night I was reading through a brief history of Scouting in the LDS church (It's our centennial this year!) and learned something new.

I had already known that the church started a Scout group (known as MIA Scouts) before officially adopting the BSA. What I did not know were the reasons that the church recommended using the Scouting movement as a part of it's programs for young men. One of the reasons given by the committee studying the possibility of using Scouting was that LDS young men needed more outdoor activities. In 1911 a bunch of farm boys in Utah needed more outdoor activities? Wow. What does that mean for our video game addicts of today?

As Scouting in the Church continued to grow, the question was often asked why the MIA Scouts were not affiliated with the national organization of the Boy Scouts of America. Another committee looked into the possibility. After studying it out, the committee recommended affiliation with the BSA for five reasons:
  1. Broader opportunities as Scouts
  2. Definiteness of purpose and standardization of merit
  3. A general uplift and fellowship of the boys of the nation
  4. The missionary work of our boys, associating with their fellows 
  5. A worthy spirit of fellowship and brotherhood with the National Organization
I had never heard that reasoning before. They sound like good reasons to make the affiliation, but I was impressed with how applicable they are today. Those were good reasons 100 years ago, but they are just as good reasons to stick with it today.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Don't leave yet.

The other day I read this article about an upcoming vote by the Southern Baptist Convention on whether or not to abandon Scouting after the recent change in membership policy. According to the article, it is a sure thing.

I have already posted (here and here) about my thoughts regarding the new membership policy. I won't go over the whole thing again but, in short, I believe the new policy actually defines homosexual behavior as immoral and contrary to the values of Scouting. (And groups can exclude members based on inappropriate or immoral behavior.) I don't see a problem moving forward with this policy.

I do, however, understand why others want to leave. I applaud those who will stand by their values even if it means ending long-standing friendships and associations. But, I really think that those who have declared an intention to leave the BSA need to re-think that decision.

I encourage everyone to re-read the BSA statement on the membership policy change, the resolution that was voted on, and the points of clarification document associated with it. I believe that a careful reading of these documents will reveal that the BSA has not abandoned it's traditional values, nor does it advance an agenda in any way.

I also understand the fear of what comes next. This issue will come back in relation to adult leaders. There are those who want another change in policy that would essentially define homosexual behavior as acceptable. That would be a problem for me, too. I would not be able to support such a decision.

What that means, then, is that it is time for religious groups to increase their involvement in the BSA rather than decrease it. We need people and churches who are willing to stand up for what is right to become more involved in their districts and councils, and on the national level. We need to have more of an influence over decision making, not less.

I do not believe the BSA has abandoned it's moral tradition with this recent change. But if churches and religious groups leave, we will be weakened. The next time it comes up, there will be fewer who will resist and the changes will be more likely to happen.

Please, don't leave. We need you.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Change in Membership Policy

As I'm sure everyone has heard by now, the BSA has voted to change its membership policy. For those interested in reading the official BSA statement, click here. Also useful is the BSA's "Points of Clarification" page regarding the membership resolution. Please note that this new policy goes into effect January 1, 2014.

For LDS scouters, and anyone else interested, please read the church's response, here.

I know this whole issue has disappointed a great many people. Some are disappointed that the change was made. (See this post as an example.)

I know of others who are disappointed that the LDS church will continue to sponsor Scouting. Some were hoping the church would drop the BSA. I know of at least one person who was hoping the BSA would change so that the church would drop Scouting. It doesn't look like that will happen.

Still others are disappointed that the policy change didn't go as far as they had hoped.

As for myself, I am okay with the decision. As stated in a previous post, I saw nothing in the resolution that contradicted church policy. In fact, it seemed to me that the resolution was similar in many respects to church policy.

The most important issue here (which is being ignored by almost everyone) is that of behavior. Attraction isn't the problem, behavior is. This concept is reaffirmed in the church's response to the vote. I am pleased that the BSA resolution identified this. All youth would be welcome despite their sexual orientation (i.e. attraction), but any kind of sexual activity (i.e. behavior) by youth of Scouting age is "contrary to the virtues" of Scouting (i.e. immoral). I see no problems with this.

For adults, the membership policy stays the same.
"The adult applicant must possess the moral, educational, and emotional qualities that the Boy Scouts of America deems necessary to afford positive leadership to youth. The applicant must also be the correct age, subscribe to the precepts of the Declaration of Religious Principle, and abide by the Scout Oath or Promise, and the Scout Law.
While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA"
When you combine the distinction between attraction and behavior in the new policy, the prohibition on any sexual behavior by youth, and the maintenance of the adult policy excluding open or avowed homosexuals, it seems clear to me that what the new policy does is specifically define homosexual behavior as immoral.

I know others will disagree. Some will say it was simply a compromise to try to appease both sides. Others will say it is "a step in the right direction" or the opposite view that "it is a foot in the door." In reality, how this is interpreted and applied will largely depend on the individual views of the chartered organizations.

The only thing I'm worried about is that not everyone sees this resolution the way I do. That means the next time it comes up it will be about adults, which will translate into accepting the behavior. The debate is far from over.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Council blog

I recently got an email informing me of the creation of a blog for the Utah National Parks Council. It can be found at

Since it is new there isn't much there yet (nothing on the "Scouting How-To's" page), but be sure to check out the "Inspiring Stories" section, including posts about "Blackened Scrambled Pancakes" and "Spencer's Climb."

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Membership policy update

I haven't posted anything in a while regarding the BSA's proposed change to the membership policy. Part of that is because I haven't felt compelled to do so, like I have in the past. Before the BSA even announced the resolution to be voted on this month I had what I can only describe as a spiritual reassurance that everything was going to work out just fine. So I'm not really worried about it any more. But now that there is a specific resolution to be voted on I do want to make one final comment on the issue.

My previous posts regarding the proposed change were in reaction to what was being speculated--that the change would allow chartered organizations to make their own decisions regarding membership. Since that isn't the resolution that came out, many of my comments and concerns aren't relevant to the specific situation now.

The proposed resolution states: "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone."

However, for adult members: "The Boy Scouts of America will maintain the current membership policy for all adult leaders of the Boy Scouts of America."

In other words, no openly gay adults will be allowed as leaders, but boys who identify themselves as gay will be allowed to be members.

Also in the resolution is this statement: "any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting."

The way I read all this is: The BSA will welcome with open arms any boy who wants to participate in Scouting. All youth will be expected to live a moral life, including total abstinence from any sexual activity (regardless of who they may feel attracted to). Adults must also agree to live "morally straight" and prohibits those who participate in homosexual activity from leadership. In effect, the resolution means that homosexual behavior is immoral.

At this point I need to say again that what appears on this blog are my own thoughts and opinions and are not official statements of the LDS church. I alone am responsible for what is put here.

With that out of the way, I think this proposed policy change could work for the LDS church. The reason I think it could work is because it makes a distinction between feelings and actions. In the church, we teach that having feelings of same-sex attraction is not, in and of itself, sinful. Acting on those feelings, however, is. (See this post, from someone who identifies himself as a gay Mormon.) This resolution seems to me to be consistent with LDS church policy. As stated in the church handbook of instructions:
"Homosexual behavior violates the commandments of God, is contrary to the purposes of human sexuality, and deprives people of the blessings that can be found in family life and in the saving ordinances of the gospel. Those who persist in such behavior or who influence others to do so are subject to Church discipline. Homosexual behavior can be forgiven through sincere repentance.
If members engage in homosexual behavior, Church leaders should help them have a clear understanding of faith in Jesus Christ, the process of repentance, and the purpose of life on earth.
While opposing homosexual behavior, the Church reaches out with understanding and respect to individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender.
If members feel same-gender attraction but do not engage in any homosexual behavior, leaders should support and encourage them in their resolve to live the law of chastity and to control unrighteous thoughts. These members may receive Church callings. If they are worthy and qualified in every other way, they may also hold temple recommends and receive temple ordinances." (Handbook 2: Administering the Church, 21.4.6)
 So, I believe this policy could work for the LDS church. Again, that is my opinion, not official policy.

There very likely will be some unintended consequences should this resolution be adopted. There could still be challenges arise because of this. I also believe that this issue will be raised over and over again in relation to adult leaders, so we're not through here. However, I'm not worried about it. Whatever happens, we'll be okay. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Last minute Eagle

On Sunday I conducted an Eagle court of honor for one of the boys in my ward. He is a great young man and his court of honor was really nice. I am really glad he finally got to work and earned his Eagle. The problem is, he'll never get to wear it.

He turned 18 last fall. He had his project done on-time and his paperwork in at the last minute. I don't know exactly why, but his board of review wasn't held until February.

He graduates from High School at the end of May. Five days later he reports to the Missionary Training Center to begin his LDS mission.

Like I said, he is a great young man and I believe he's headed in the right direction in life. I just wish he hadn't waited until the last minute to earn his Eagle.

He will never wear his patch on his uniform. He probably will never wear his uniform again. None of the younger boys will see that symbol worn on his chest and be inspired by it. Getting it done this late in the game means it was more of an item on a checklist than anything else.

I wish all 13-15 year old Scouts could see it from this perspective.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Then and Now

I recently came across a great website called The Art of Manliness. They published an interesting article comparing the 1911 BSA handbook with the modern one. Here's the thesis of the article:
Because the Scouts were designed to be a repository of traditionally manly values, tracing those changes offers an interesting prism through which to see how our views on manliness have shifted as well.
Find the entire article here:


I started this blog several years ago when I was serving as the Venturing Advisor in my ward. In the LDS church we don't choose where we serve and we don't volunteer--we are asked by a priesthood leader. We believe that we are called by inspiration to serve where we are needed. That also means we don't choose when we are finished.

About nine months ago I was asked to serve as the 2nd counselor in the bishopric and stayed involved in Scouting as the chartered organization representative.

On Sunday I got another change. Our ward boundaries were changed and I was called to serve as the bishop.

I'm still in a bit of a shock, I guess. It sounds strange to hear people call me "Bishop." It is even stranger to introduce myself that way. It's going to take a while to get used to this one.

That also means a change in my Scouting responsibilities. I intend to still be involved where I can, but it will be a very different role. I can't predict at the moment how involved I will be. I plan on registering as a committee member so I will be available for boards of review when needed. Since I will be closely involved with the Priests quorum I'll probably get to help out with Venturing again. I like that.

It's a big change for me and my family. I am worried and nervous and stressed, but I also see a lot of good ahead. It will be difficult and demanding, but I can also see that it will be very rewarding.

Monday, April 22, 2013


I received an email the other day from another Scouter that really has me thinking. Apparently several members of his family really do not like Scouting because their father spent so much time on it when they were younger. To quote a part of his email:
"I've seen that happen to... men... whose resulting losses on the home front haunted them to their graves. Men whose children have openly denounced Scouting and consequently the church, for drawing away their fathers from more important duties; including my own. Men who harbor unbridled devotion to Scouting as the deepest regret of their lives. Men who also served as Bishops and Stake Presidents who felt that even those demanding callings didn't do the harm that Scouting did."
Has anyone else seen this happen? For those involved with Scouting outside the LDS church, does it happen in community or other church groups? Does this happen with other organizations, such as the Elks lodge or Rotary club? If it does, why?

We are taught that everything in the church should serve to strengthen the family, our own as well as those we serve. If we are not strengthening our own families by our service, then shouldn't we change how we do things? I'm not suggesting we abandon Scouting or that we don't follow the program, but how do we find the balance?

I think that's something that we, as church leaders, need to do better when we ask people to serve. We usually tell them all the meetings they need to go to and all the training they need to have, but do we tell them that their family is the most important? If we don't, we really should.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Which is more important?

A conversation yesterday with our ward's scoutmaster got me thinking about something. I'm not sure I have any real answers, I'm just mulling things over in my mind and decided it might help to write down my thoughts. The question I've been pondering is: which is more important, having a well-run Scouting program, or blessing the lives of the boys in the program?

I realize this isn't really a fair question. After all, having a well-run Scouting program will bless the lives of the boys in that program and will, I think, always bless their lives more than a poorly run program will. I guess it comes down to where our focus is. Do we focus on the boys, or on the program?

Again, that might not be entirely fair. Maybe that dichotomy doesn't really exist. We can focus on the program because we realize it will benefit the boys and we can focus on the boys without neglecting the program. So what's the big deal?

I guess I wonder if too often we get focused so much on the details of the program, on trying to do things the way we think they should be done, that we sometimes lose sight of why we are doing it. I have talked with several dedicated Scouters in the LDS church that get really frustrated with the way the church does things. They get upset that we don't have enough boys in the ward to have multiple patrols in the troop. They get upset that the committee doesn't function the way it should and they have to do all the work themselves. They get upset that they don't have a large enough budget to do some really big things that would be really fun to do. They start to wonder why the church bothers to do scouting at all if certain constraints mean it can't be done exactly the way Green Bar Bill did it. I admit I have thought all those things myself.

As a Venturing advisor, I used to get so focused on trying to do the program the way it was outlined in the book that I maybe didn't give the boys the attention I should have. I'm not saying I was wrong to try to do things the right way, but I wonder if sometimes my focus sometimes moved away from the boys because of concerns over the program. I wonder how often that happens with other leaders.

I'm not trying to suggest that if we care about our youth that we can abandon the program. What should happen is that our focus on the boys drives our desire to build a good program. In reality, I think it does most of the time. I hope it does most of the time. But I also think that sometimes we can lose sight of the boys because we are overly concerned with details. I think it's something we should watch for in ourselves.

Robert Baden-Powell said it this way:
"Let us, therefore, in training our Scouts, keep the higher aims in the forefront, not let ourselves get too absorbed in the steps. Don't let the technical outweigh the moral. Field efficiency, back woodsmanship, camping, hiking, Good Turns, jamboree comradeship are all means, not the end. The end is CHARACTER with a purpose."

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Thomas S. Monson on Scouting

From a speech given at the BSA national meetings in May 1992:

"Throughout our country, we have been screaming ever louder for more and more of the things we cannot take with us, and paying less and less attention to the real sources of the very happiness we seek. We have been measuring our fellowmen more by balance sheets and less by morals standards.... We have become so concerned over the growth of our earning capacity that we have neglected the growth of our character. Perhaps this is indicative of the days in which we are living--days of compromise and diluting of principles, days when sin is labeled as error, when morality is relative and when materialism emphasizes the value of expediency and the shirking of responsibility. Well might a confused boy cry out using the words of Phillip of old, 'How can I [find my way], except some man should guide me?'"

As quoted in "To The Rescue, the biography of Thomas S. Monson," by Heidi Swinton, p. 448.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Advancement chair

One of my responsibilities as the Chartered Organization Representative is to see that a committee is organized and functioning. I'm trying to get parents involved, but I've really struggled with who to get for the advancement chair. I have wanted to avoid having a parent do this, just to avoid any potential problems, but I just haven't been able to figure out who it should be.

The other day I had a different thought that I think solves the problem of who to get. In the LDS church, scouting is a part of the young men's organization. Members of the young mens presidency act as scout leaders in Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, and Venturing. But there is also a secretary that isn't necessarily involved in scouting. Why not have the Young Mens secretary also act as the advancement chair? He is already working with the scout leaders in the presidency and involved in keeping records and training quorum secretaries. It makes sense to me to make him the advancement chair.

Now we just need to figure out who it should be (we've been without one for over a year).

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Thoughts on youth leadership from LDS General Conference

Elder Tad R. Callister gave a talk during the priesthood session at General Conference about leadership in the young men. While it was  focused on priesthood leadership rather than scouting, in the LDS church those go hand in hand and the principles apply.

He gave three points for fostering leadership in youth:
1. Trust them with responsibility
2. Have high expectations for them
3. Train them to lead

You can listen to or watch (and eventually, read) his whole talk here.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Scriptural advice for Scouters

Just a few scriptural thoughts I've read/heard lately. I'll let you apply your own Scouting context to them:

"Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great." (D&C:64:33)
"Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed." (D&C 123:17)
"Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory!"(D&C 128:22)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Perfect Scoutmaster

In The Book of Mormon we read an account of a man known simply as "the brother of Jared." He (and his brother, Jared) were living at the tower of Babel when God confounded the languages. They were able to obtain a promise from the Lord that their language, and that of their families and friends, would not be confounded. However, as part of the deal, they were instructed to leave and they would be led to a land of promise.

At some point in their journey, they came to the ocean and were told they needed to build "barges" to cross the sea. Upon finishing the boats, the brother of Jared went to the Lord with a problem:
"O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?" (Ether 2:22)
The solution the Lord gave to the brother of Jared is an interesting one:
And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire.
For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth.
And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea? (Ether 2:23-25)
Instead of telling him what to do, the Lord turned it back on him saying, in essence, "I've already solved a lot of your problems for you; I want you to come up with a solution for this one. What are you going to do about it, and how can I help?"

In response, the brother of Jared came up with a plan. He "molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass" (Ether 3:1). He then carried these stones to the top of the mountain and asked the Lord to touch them with his finger, so that they would give off light.

The rest of the story is truly remarkable,and one that everyone should study, but my point today goes in a different direction. 

As I was thinking about this story yesterday I realized that it has a lesson for us adult Scout leaders. The brother of Jared was, in many ways, just like our youth leaders. He was someone his family and friends looked to for leadership. He was imperfect, and occasionally needed reminding of what he was supposed to do. Sometimes, it seems that he was a little reluctant and maybe would have preferred his strong-willed brother be in charge. He was still learning leadership when he was asked to lead his people to their promised land.

In the building of the barges, the brother of Jared needed lots of direction. This he got from the Lord, who is the perfect Scoutmaster. The Lord knew his prophet, including his flaws and his personal stage of development. He knew when to provide specific direction and when to allow him to exercise his own leadership.

This can be a very tricky skill for adult scout leaders to learn. As we try to develop leadership in our youth, we may need to start out providing specific direction. But at some point, we need to begin to back off and let the youth lead. (If you've been to Wood Badge, you might remember this from The Leading EDGE presentation.) Instead of directly answering their questions we should turn it back on them with questions like "what are you going to do about it?" or "how do you think this problem could be solved?"

Like the brother of Jared, their solutions may be unconventional; they will probably think of things we didn't, but those ideas just might work out brilliantly. More importantly, they will learn something about their own abilities. They will gain confidence. They will become true leaders. And like the brother of Jared, it is then that the truly remarkable things begin to happen.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Moral Relativism

I recently completed a survey for the BSA regarding a potential change in the membership policy. One of the questions is this: What is your greatest concern if the policy is changed to allow charter organizations to make their own decisions to admit openly gay Scouts and leaders? 

As I pondered how to answer that question and how to explain my concerns I realized that my biggest concerns are centered around the concept of moral relativism. That idea is essentially that different people have different ideas about what is right and what is wrong. A more extreme version, and where the trouble really starts, is that no one moral view is any better than any other. It seems to me that a change in policy would promote this idea. I do not believe it makes sense for an organization which maintains that we have a duty to God to embrace moral relativism.

The BSA's Declaration of Religious Principle states that "no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God." Furthermore this declaration states: "The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members. No matter what the religious faith of the members may be, this fundamental need of good citizenship should be kept before them."

While the BSA remains nonsectarian, the wording given in this declaration implies certain beliefs. First, that there exists a single divine being who we all worship. We may understand Him and worship Him differently, but He is the same for each of us. As we strive to follow his rule to the best of our ability we will be led in correct paths by Him.

Second, that He is "the ruling and leading power in the universe" and that we acknowledge "His favors and blessings." If we accept that God is the ruling and leading power in the universe, then we must accept that He has made rules and laws for us to follow. This also implies some sort of judgement following this life based on our choosing whether or not to follow His law. For over 100 years, the BSA has acknowledged those rules and laws include prescriptions of moral behavior.

I do not know how an organization can explicitly state that God is the ruling and leading power in the universe, that we have a duty to Him, and that it's members pledge to be morally clean and yet state that morals are relative. It doesn't work. In my opinion it could lead to the erosion of every other value we have.

I really like the statement from the American Buddhist monk Bhikkhu Bodhi: "By assigning value and spiritual ideals to private subjectivity, the materialistic world view, as I mentioned earlier, threatens to undermine any secure objective foundation for morality. The result is the widespread moral degeneration that we witness today. To counter this tendency, I do not think mere moral exhortation is sufficient. If morality is to function as an efficient guide to conduct, it cannot be propounded as a self-justifying scheme but must be embedded in a more comprehensive spiritual system which grounds morality in a transpersonal order. Religion must affirm, in the clearest terms, that morality and ethical values are not mere decorative frills of personal opinion, not subjective superstructure, but intrinsic laws of the cosmos built into the heart of reality" (emphasis added).

I understand that some will say that the BSA remains non-sectarian (which is true) and that religious training, including what is moral and what is not, should be left to the home and church. I also understand that some churches do not teach that homosexual behavior is sinful (despite the fact that every religious text I know of says otherwise). I get that. And in a way, it makes sense to allow chartered organizations to decide for themselves.

But my conscience tells me that making the proposed change to the membership policy would be wrong. I believe with all my heart that God is against it.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Steps to Success.

My wife has just been put in as the Webelos den leader in our pack. We got her set up with a uniform and all the books and materials she needs. She spent last weekend doing all the required on-line trainings and I think she's ready to go. This afternoon will be her first den meeting (Good luck, Love!).

It's been a little overwhelming for her. Especially in going to the council service center and buying all the books and uniform parts. After all, there's a lot to learn. Especially since she hasn't done anything like it before.

She is also a little worried about how things are going to go. Our pack has a grand total of 2 boys, so we combine with the adjacent ward (they have about 20). However, it seems that the leaders from the other ward don't do anything. She also told me that from what she's heard she isn't sure the other leaders in our ward are doing things quite the way it's supposed to be done. So she's a little discouraged, but is trying to reserve judgement until she actually sees how things are going.

Last night she told me that she is feeling much more confident in her ability to do the job. What is it that helped her go from completely overwhelmed to confident in just three days? There are two things: 1) she obtained and has been reading the handbooks, and 2) she has taken all the available training she can.

Our district executive created a document called Steps to Success as a New Leader. (Find it here: ). The two main parts are obtaining resources and getting trained. It is what I give to new leaders when I call them to serve. It is a great resource.

I maintain that reading the handbooks and getting training are the most important steps to success for any new leader. Of course, there will be difficult times ahead; there's sure to be more discouragement. At times I'm sure it will be overwhelming. But those two things will continue to help my wife (and any leader) through it all. The handbooks have all the information she needs for the program. On-going training (including roundtable) will help her learn new things and get ideas on how to go forward, it will help her remember the stuff she forgot, and it will help her develop relationships and connections with other scout leaders who will provide help and support in a myriad of ways.

On a personal note, I'm excited to share this journey with my wife and hope she enjoys it as much as I have.

Thursday, February 28, 2013


In the beginning, there were two things that drew a boy to Scouting. One was the adventure and fun activities involved. The other was the romantic idea of being a real man--a Scout. When I read Baden-Powell's works it seems to me that he was intent on taking the lowest, meanest, roughest boys, giving them an ideal to achieve and telling them the way they could be that person was by living the life of a Scout, both through outdoors activities and through appropriate behaviors. It was a game to boys to pretend they were real men, doing the things real men do. It was all a game, but in the process they actually became the men they were pretending to be.

Baden-Powell once expressed the idea in an illustration containing the caption, "the scoutmaster's conjuring trick":

I sometimes think that we have lost the romantic appeal to Scouting. We still have the fun outdoors activities and the values, but do we still have the ideal of a real man?

Part of the reason I think we have lost the romantic ideal is simply that the world is different. When Baden-Powell started Scouting he was a national hero. His leadership during the siege of Mafeking was the one bright spot the British had during the Boer war. Boys across the British empire wanted to be a Scout. They devoured B-P's book, Aids to Scouting. They enjoyed, of course, the kinds of things the book contained, but they also wanted to be the kind of man the book was trying to build. There was a certain amount of hero worship involved in a boy wanting to join Scouting.

We don't have that anymore. What do our boys want to become? Why do they join Scouting? I think most of our boys are in involved either because they like the activities we do, or they want to earn the Eagle award (sometimes it's not the boy but his mother who wants those things). Those are good reasons, and they can still gain a lot from Scouting, but I'm wondering if that's actually enough.

We have the values contained in the Scout Oath and Law, but do they really mean anything unless they are inseparably bound with the romantic ideal of what it means to be a Scout? At every meeting we stand up and say "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful,...etc." but what does that mean unless we understand what a Scout really is?

Why does it matter if I am trustworthy? Do we do it just because it's the rule? Is it one of our values because it makes our world simpler and easier if we can trust each other? Those are okay, but contrast that with the attitude of "I am trustworthy because I want to be a Scout." That carries with it the understanding that a Scout has his entire patrol and troop, and indeed, the entire army depending on him. If a Scout doesn't keep his word with exactness, or if he fails to accomplish a task with which he has been entrusted, lives could be lost. Therefore, "because I want to be a Scout, I am going to be trustworthy." Can you see the difference?

Right now we have lots of people who want to be involved in Scouting because of the activities, the awards, the social aspects, or for some other good and admirable reason. However, there are those who want these things but don't think the values are that important. Why do I have to believe in God? What does it matter if I'm "morally straight." Well, if all you're concerned with is the activities, the friendships, or an award to hang on your chest, then maybe those don't matter. But if you are trying to become something more than who you currently are, then those are vital.

This is an issue that I think the BSA really needs to address. What is the romantic ideal we are encouraging? Do we have one? In a way it's related to Vision and Mission. I know the BSA has a mission statement and a vision statement. They involve the ideas of responsible citizenship, leadership, and ethical and moral choices. Those are great ideas, but what does it really look like? Why are ethical and moral choices essential for citizenship and leadership? Are they essential? And why do we care about it? What are we trying to become? Where are the heroes?

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my views on Scouting are tied directly to my views on the gospel of Jesus Christ. To me, the romantic ideal of a Scout that Baden-Powell used is a metaphor for something even higher, nobler, and more divine. It is a metaphor for the kind of life God wants his children to live. As such, I know the ideal I want my boys aiming for, and I believe Scouting can help them get there. The question is, does the BSA really know what it wants for America's youth? Does the BSA know why it matters?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How's this for a wild idea?

I have a really crazy idea. It has been floating somewhere in my mind for over a year now. I've thought several times about posting it here but for some reason I haven't. Maybe it's because things have slowed down for me (Scouting-wise) that I finally decided to do it.

Keep in mind this is just an idea. I'm not suggesting we actually do this, or that it will ever happen. It's just an idea. However, I think it has some merit (as well as a few flaws).

Essentially, my idea is a complete restructuring of the advancement picture. I'll get to the details in a moment, but if this idea were to be implemented, it could be the biggest change to Boy Scout advancement since... well, since the founding of the BSA.

The Inspiration
Before I get into the details, let me explain some of the inspiration for this idea. Some of it comes from the largely non-linear advancement structure of the Venturing program. (See this post to see what I mean.) Part of my idea would be to re-structure Boy Scout advancement to use this idea.

Another inspiration for me was Robert Baden-Powell's initial idea for advancement. If my memory is correct, he had only two ranks--Second class and First class. Anyone who had not yet passed the second class test was considered a Tenderfoot and not a true scout.

A third inspiration for this idea was the original structure of advancement for the BSA. In 1911, the star, life, and eagle awards were not ranks. They were awards for earning merit badges. Furthermore, a boy could earn Eagle without ever earning Star and Life, depending on which merit badges he chose to earn.

Another inspiration is the idea expressed in this post on the Scoutmaster Minute blog, about getting all scouts to First Class, not necessarily Eagle.

The Idea
By now, you're probably getting some idea of what I have in mind. I would take Star, Life, and Eagle and change them from ranks back to awards. Since these would not be ranks, the award would be changed from a patch (for star and life) to a medal. We'd also have to eliminate the Eagle patch, keeping just the medal.

suggested Star, Life, and Eagle medals

I would keep the linear structure of the lower ranks, but I'd eliminate the Scout badge. I would make Tenderfoot the "joining" rank and spread the current tenderfoot requirements across the second and first class ranks. That would make First Class the highest rank in Boy Scouts:

I would then eliminate the linear structure for the higher awards. I would make Star, Life, and Eagle be more like the Venturing awards in that a boy could work on any one he wanted, based on his interests. That would mean each one would have a specific focus. This would require changes in requirements and I haven't worked those out because this isn't a serious proposal--it's just an idea.

In 1911, the Life badge was focused on "life." In order to earn it, he had to earn five specific merit badges, each relating to life: First Aid, Athletics, Lifesaving, Personal Health, and Public Health. I would keep this same idea for the Life award. It could be an award for earning merit badges in the area of health, medicine, lifesaving, etc. It would be an award option available to those boys interested in the health and medical field.

The Star award, I think, could be made to serve those boys with interests in the sciences. Merit badges could include those like environmental science, chemistry, astronomy, nature, etc. Actually, there is a possibility of separating the physical and natural sciences/conservation and making two awards (star and ???)

Speaking of additional awards... there could be several. They could be modeled after the Venturing program's areas of outdoors, sports and fitness, arts and hobbies, and religious life, or they could be developed specifically to address any grouping of similar merit badges (business and trades, communications, citizenship, etc.) or both. The awards would require a boy earn from 5-10(?) merit badges for each, with the possibility of some additional tenure, service, leadership, or practical experience requirement)

Of course, the Eagle award would have to maintain it's place as the highest award available to Boy Scouts. It's always been that way and it should stay that way. I would suggest that Eagle maintain it's list of required merit badges, leadership, and service requirements (except the time of service would be counted "as a First Class scout" rather than "as a Life scout"). I would maintain the Eagle as an award for "the all-round perfect scout" as it was described in the 1911 handbook.

My overall advancement scheme would look something like this:
Notice that the first three ranks would be linear. A boy would progress from a Tenderfoot upon Joining to a Second Class Scout to a First Class Scout. Any First Class scout could then be eligible to work on any of the awards he wanted, according to his interests. Even after earning Eagle, a boy could continue to work on one of the other awards, again, according to his interests.

The Consequences
If you have gotten all the way to here, chances are you've asked some form of the question "why should we do this?" Well, I'm not really suggesting that we should. It's just a wild idea I had. I would like to pose another question, however. What would happen if we did change the Boy Scout advancement to something like this?

I think we would lessen the obsession some people have with advancement. You've probably met those who see advancement as the end goal of Scouting rather than one of the methods. The structure I outlined here would maintain advancement as an important method but might lessen the possibility of obsessing over advancement to the detriment of other methods. 

It would do this in a couple ways. First, by making First Class the highest rank, and having several awards essentially on the same level, it could shift the focus from earning Eagle, to helping boys learn the skills they need to make it to First Class.

Second, since the awards structure at the top isn't linear, a boy isn't finished once he earns Eagle. He can continue working on something else. It emphasizes that the journey isn't over--that there is more to do and more to learn.

Another effect to this type of structure would be to enhance and extend the effect of earning merit badges. One of the purposes of merit badges is to introduce boys to interests and career opportunities. If a boy works on a merit badge and decides he likes that general field, having another, higher award related to it could encourage him to pursue it further. I think it could put the emphasis on learning rather than on earning.

It could also help maintain the interest of older boys, either by giving them something cool to work on after Eagle, and/or by helping them find career interests.

Of course, it's entirely possible that none of those things would happen. Maybe this idea would be a complete flop. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

BSA Membership Policy

Anyone who listens to or watches the news probably heard yesterday that the BSA is reconsidering it's policy on whether or not to allow homosexuals into the organization. This is the official media statement regarding the proposed change (it can be found by following this link):
“For more than 100 years, Scouting’s focus has been on working together to deliver the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. Scouting has always been in an ongoing dialogue with the Scouting family to determine what is in the best interest of the organization and the young people we serve.

“Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.

“The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.” 
I feel compelled here to give my personal opinions about the topic. I realize there are some pretty strong feelings about this issue on both sides. But I see it as important enough to weigh in. I also realize that the National Executive Board has not yet voted on this--that will be next week. So it's possible that nothing will come of it, although most people seem to expect a change in policy. I thought about waiting to post this until after a change was made but, on the million-to-one chance that something I say may influence the decision, I decided not to wait.

I also need to make clear that these are my personal views. I do not speak for the LDS church. As far as I know, the church has not made an official statement on this potential change and will not until and unless a change is made. All that follows are my personal opinions.

To be blunt, I think changing this policy would be a bad idea.

The statement above that "there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation" is either disingenuous or naive, maybe both. Let's look at this realistically. Removing the national restriction and having "no policy" would by default make a policy of "homosexuals are allowed in Scouting." Giving chartered organizations the ability to determine membership really isn't a change. They have that ability now. Chartered organizations currently have the right to choose who is going to serve as adult leadership, and who can or can not join the unit. (For example, a Venturing crew could be created to serve just young women. They could choose to not allow young men.) Removing the national policy changes only one thing--it leaves the chartered organization by itself on this issue, with no support from the national organization.

I see this as opening a big can of worms. I can see the possibility of a lot of unintended consequences from a policy like this. Let me outline a few of them.

It is possible that chartered organizations will withdraw their support from the BSA. The largest and most numerous chartered organizations are churches. Even with the ability to determine membership for themselves, it is possible that churches will not want to deal with the distraction and simply back out.

I have no idea what the LDS church will do should a change be made, nor do I want to speculate. I'll follow my church leaders whichever way things go. But I'm sure there are those who will not.

Let's suppose for a moment that a change in policy is made and that the LDS church continues to sponsor Scouting. I can easily imagine many local leaders who will simply not comply. We have many leaders who don't like to use Scouting now, even though it aligns perfectly with our ideals and goals. Will local church members be more or less likely to support Scouting if the BSA basically comes out and says it's okay for homosexuals to be involved?

As a Chartered Organization Representative, much of my job is trying to persuade our church members to support Scouting and use the program as it is designed. That job becomes a lot harder if this policy is changed. And that doesn't count the Friends of Scouting (FOS) campaign.

We have a really hard time convincing people that they should give during the FOS campaign. Since the money doesn't go directly to our boys but rather to the council, a lot of people don't want anything to do with it. They will be even less likely to want to give to an organization that permits (some will see it as promoting) homosexual individuals to be involved.

Let's suppose for a moment that a change is made and the LDS church continues to sponsor Scouting. Let's also suppose that members attitudes don't change drastically for the worse and we are able to maintain functioning Scouting units. The church could still determine its own membership, so there wouldn't be a problem, right? Wrong. It is still going to be a distraction. Let me give a couple of possible examples.

Should a change be made, there will almost certainly be some modifications to the Youth Protection training that all leaders are expected to take. There will probably be other literature or media provided with the intent on helping troops deal with the issue of homosexuality in their unit, should the need arise. The simple presence of this media could become a distraction. It will (if only occasionally) bring the issue right up front for almost everyone involved at some point. We don't need that. Our focus should be elsewhere.

I can almost guarantee that, if this change is made, there will be troops formed who are very openly and vocally in favor of allowing homosexual members. I can see a real possibility of "gay-only" troops. Now, just imagine one of these troops marching in the local parade, dressed in their scout uniforms and rainbow-colored neckerchiefs. Would that not draw a link between the BSA and the gay-rights movement in the eyes of the public? Is that something we want to deal with?

Suppose, also, that one of these gay-friendly or gay-only troops shows up at your council summer camp. They would have every right to be there and shouldn't be turned away. But I could see it becoming a distraction for the others. Imagine how many 12 year old boys would be talking about the gay scoutmaster over in Troop 123 (my apologies to anyone in an actual troop 123). Suddenly, a scoutmaster in another troop is forced to address with his boys an issue of sexuality that should be the domain of the parents within the home. Do we want to put our leaders in that situation? Again, it's too much of a distraction.

One of the biggest reasons I see this possible change as a bad idea is that it is a foot in the door. I can almost guarantee that gay-right's advocates will not be content with it. They'll say it's a step in the right direction. It will only be a step, not the destination. It also opens the door to others who want to challenge the BSA's values. Atheists are the next ones who will rise up. After that, who knows?

I know that not everyone sees homosexuality as a moral issue. I do. I believe that homosexual activity is a sin. I am reminded of a poem that President Thomas S. Monson frequently uses in his talks:
Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.
(Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Man,” l. 21)
In the end, I do not believe that a policy allowing homosexuals into scouting can stand. It will not work. Baden-Powell himself said:
"Our objective in the Scouting movement is to give such help as we can in bringing about God's Kingdom on earth by including among youth the spirit and the daily practice in their lives of unselfish goodwill and cooperation." (find the quote here)
You cannot help bring about God's Kingdom on earth by embracing sin. It will not work. Jesus said so himself:
"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." (Mathew 6:24)
Rather than embracing (or even enduring) sin, we should continue to love our fellow-man. We should be friendly, courteous, and kind, but we should never lower our standard. Scouting has always been about taking an earthly, worldly boy and turning him into a man of noble character by encouraging him to embrace a high standard of living, as outlined in the Scout Oath and Law. We embrace and accept all who wish to join our movement, but require they conform their lives to meet our standard. That's the purpose of the movement. We never have, and never should, lower our standard just to increase membership. If we do, the meaning is lost and the movement will fail.

I hate to be pessimistic, but I can see no good from this potential change. My hope is that when the vote is taken next week, the National Board will reaffirm the BSA's present membership policy.

**** Edit ****

I want to add something here, just to make sure I am not misunderstood. That is, we need to make a distinction between same-sex attraction and homosexual behavior. This is the stand the church takes in Handbook 2, section 21.4.6. When I talk about keeping homosexuals out of scouting, I am referring specifically to those who openly practice homosexual behavior. I make this distinction because those who describe themselves as "openly gay" seem to indicate that they either do participate in homosexual behavior or intend to do so because they have feelings of same-sex attraction. There are those who suffer from same-sex attraction who do not participate in any homosexual behavior. As stated in the church handbook, those individuals should not be excluded from anything. However, if I were a bishop, I would certainly be very careful about which callings I would want to give that individual, as much for his/her own safety and protection as those they serve.

Monday, January 28, 2013

"I cannot manage the past..."

At Wood Badge this year I'll be teaching the session on Values, Mission, and Vision. In that session, a quote from Margaret Thatcher is used:
"I cannot manage the past. There are other people in my government who manage the present. It is my unique responsibility as the leader to shine a spotlight on the future and marshal the support of countrymen to create that future."
I always liked it as a statement about the importance of vision in leadership, but I don't think I really applied all of it to my Scouting responsibilities. Let me paraphrase it for an adult leader in Scouting:
"I cannot manage the past. There are other people in my troop/team/crew (i.e. - the youth leaders) who should be managing the present. It is my unique responsibility as the adult leader to shine a spotlight on the future and marshal the support of troop/team/crew members and other adult leaders to create that future. 
In other words, the boys should be managing the present, planning and leading the meetings and activities. The adult leaders are there to teach and inspire--to show what is possible and then help the boys make it happen.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fixing Entitlement Culture

I just watched a video on Glenn Beck's The Blaze TV about fixing entitlement culture. The first part of the video is a mother describing how she gave her kids more responsibility at home and the difference it made in them. A lot of what she said reminded me of Scouting and what Scouting promotes for our youth--if it is done right.

You can find the video here:

Monday, January 14, 2013

Leaving a Legacy

One of the lessons taught at Wood Badge is about Leaving a Legacy. It uses the movie Mr. Holland's Opus to make the point. In that movie, Mr. Holland, the high school music teacher is honored at his retirement with a surprise concert featuring music he wrote, performed by many of his former students. One of those students makes the comment that they were his masterpiece; that his real legacy was in the lives of the people he touched.

I've been thinking about that this morning and what my legacy will be. 

When I went to Wood Badge, the vision that motivated me, and the ticket I worked to help me realize that vision, was aimed at having a real, functioning, thriving Venturing crew that would persist after I had gone.
I didn't feel like I got there by the time I was called to something else. I know I made progress, but I also know there are things I could have done better. I frequently think of things that I wish I had done. At the same time, however, I honestly felt like I was doing everything I could at the time.

At church yesterday I heard something that made me feel like everything I have worked for has already been erased.

The young men's president announced (in a combined Aaronic priesthood meeting) that they were going to take all the young men on an overnight activity to the bishop's cabin. It sounds like a great activity. And I am thrilled that they will be going out and doing something.

I just have a couple problems with it. First, it seems to have been planned entirely by the adults, with no youth involvement. When it was announced by the adults yesterday, it was the first time the youth had heard about it. I suspect that the adults will do everything at the activity, too. I guarantee that the bishop isn't going to wait around for the youth to start cooking dinner. He's the kind of person who won't sit by when there's work to be done. What that means, though, is that the youth will have absolutely no responsibility here. All that will be expected of them is to show up and play.

The second problem I have is that this "camp" is replacing the district sponsored winter camp. They will be going to the cabin just one week after the camp. I know the YM president had the information about winter camp. I was there when he got it. But he didn't even give the youth the option to go to the winter camp. He didn't even mention it. In fact, when he announced the cabin trip he made the comment that "it's better than camping in the snow."

Now, I wouldn't have a problem taking the Venturers to the cabin at the same time the Scouts were going to the winter camp, but to replace the scout's camp with this tells me that Scouting simply isn't important to the adult leaders. There are other things that tell me that, as well. And I'm sure the youth see it, too. 

In this one two-minute experience (combined with the knowledge of other things) I could see, in my mind's eye, a giant eraser wiping out everything I worked for for four years. As if nothing I have done matters in the least. It was devastating.

Now, maybe I'm being a little dramatic. Maybe it won't be as bad as I imagine. I'm sure there is a plan behind this trip that I don't know about. Maybe it's exactly what the boys need. But I still worry.
Of course, one thing about Leaving a Legacy is that our real legacy isn't always what we had imagined in the beginning. Right now, there are two young men serving the Lord as missionaries in Brazil. I am clinging to the hope that something I did will live on in them and in their service. I cling to the hope that for them, at least, my efforts were not wasted.