SALT LAKE CITY -- The Mormon church has given its blessing to the Boy Scouts of America on its latest proposal to lift the gay ban for youth members but continue to exclude gays as adult leaders.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posted a statement on its website Thursday saying it is satisfied with the proposal, which the Boy Scouts announced last week and will submit to its National Council at a meeting in Texas the week of May 20.
The Salt Lake City-based church said it is satisfied that the Boy Scouts of America has made a "thoughtful, good-faith effort to address issues that, as they have said, remain `among the most complex and challenging issues facing the BSA and society today.'"
It added the proposal recognizes that "Scouting exists to serve and benefit youth rather than Scout leaders, a single standard of moral purity for youth in the program, and a renewed emphasis for Scouts to honor their duty to God."
The reaction from the LDS church comes six days after the Boy Scouts of America made its major announcement. The Mormon church has more Scouting troops than any other religious denomination in the country so there was widespread interest in what it would say about the proposal.
The LDS church still teaches its members that marriage is between a man and a woman and that same-sex relationships are sinful. In December, however, the church launched a website encouraging members to be more compassionate in discussions about homosexuality. The website says Mormons should be loving and respectful toward gays and lesbians, while appealing to gay and lesbian Mormons to stay in the church.
It marked the most significant outreach yet to gays and lesbians by the Mormon church, which has about 14 million members worldwide.
The Boy Scouts of America issued a statement Thursday saying the organization is deeply appreciative of its long-standing relationship with the Mormon church and pleased to hear it is satisfied with the proposal. Scouting is successful because of strong relationships with chartered organizations like the Mormon church, the Boy Scouts' statement said.
The latest proposal from the Boy Scouts of America is a compromise on the divisive issue; the organization earlier floated the idea of completely lifting the ban on gays. Gay-rights groups, which had demanded that the ban be removed, have criticized the latest proposal as inadequate.
In making its announcement last week, Boy Scouts of America estimated that easing the ban on gay adults could cause widespread defections that cost the organization 100,000 to 350,000 members.
Utah likely was included in that estimate.
The Boy Scouts' Great Salt Lake Council is one of biggest in country, with 5,500 troops and 73,400 youth. Almost all of those troops are sponsored by the Mormon church.
In a survey the council sent to its members, four out of five Scout leaders and parents said they're opposed to lifting the ban on gays. About 4,700 adults responded to the survey, which the council shared with the Boy Scouts. Nearly half of the respondents said they would quit the Boy Scouts if the ban on gays is lifted.
The Great Salt Lake Council has not yet weighed in on the latest proposal. Members are going to meet to discuss it at their May 8 meeting before coming out with any opinion, said Rick Barnes, executive of the Boy Scouts' Great Salt Lake Council.
The wrenched decision by an organization founded in 1910 on quasi-military and Christian values came after months of debate and member polling, and the final vote looked much like America's general feeling on gay rights: Sixty percent supported the decision, which does not extend to gay adults. But the minority 40 percent may have stronger feelings, fueling a potential search for a new "character" organization for boys.
That debate had already begun this weekend in places like northern Virginia, where the Arlington Catholic Diocese is "prayerfully considering" leaving the Boy Scouts, as Bishop Paul Loverde told the Washington Post.
Boy Scout troops are sponsored by third party groups, the majority of which are churches. About 110 million Americans have been Boy Scouts since the organization was founded as part of the international Scout movement. In the 1980s, the organization went through a series of sex abuse scandals, and last year it was forced to release 20,000 pages of internal documentation of some 1,200 sex abuse cases that took place between 1965 and 1985.
That background explains in large part why the Boy Scouts of America has struggled to repair its image, and why the organization voted to continue excluding gay leaders.
But that concession isn't enough for some critics of the decision, including some in
Baptist churches, which sponsor over 100,000 of the Boy Scouts' current 2.6 million members.
“Frankly, I can’t imagine a Southern Baptist pastor who would continue to allow his church to sponsor a Boy Scout troop under these new rules,” Richard Land, a senior Southern Baptist Conference official, said Friday in an interview with the Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news agency.