Friends we are, and friends we’ll ever be.
The words of this familiar Scout song—often sung at the close of a campfire—echo the future of the LDS-BSA Relationship. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said during his remarks at the May 2018 National Annual Meeting, “This is not a divorce. We are friends now and we will be friends forever.”
The powerful relationship between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America spans over a century, but the organizations will soon change from “partners” to “friends.” How will that friendship look?
Many elements of the new relationship will unfold in the coming year as key Church and BSA leaders work out the details. Regardless of how things develop on a national scale, however, what should our future friendship look like on a personal level?
As an employee of the Boy Scouts of America and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I often reflect on the term used in the May 8, 2018 announcement: “fully engaged”. (Read the announcement here.) During our final year of partnership Church members have been asked to be fully engaged in Scouting within our ward units.
This request seems reasonable and clear. Stay involved. Work on rank advancements. Attend activities. Follow the guidelines of the BSA including completing Youth Protection Training, registering incoming youth, wearing uniforms, and attending council and district events and camps. In my opinion, these activities are a simple demonstration of an “engaged” attitude.
Above and beyond the obvious, however, there are two additional ways I suggest staying “fully engaged.”
First, think outside the box—your box.
Consider your local council’s FOS campaign. This annual financial drive is aptly named Friends of Scouting. It may be easy to digress to the attitude that “since Scouting in the Church is going away, we no longer need to support FOS.” But just because the Church is not chartering BSA units doesn’t mean we want Scouting to fail. Remember, we are still “friends.”
Even when we aren’t officially partnered with an organization—or directly affected by it—we can still be charitable and kind. In fact, both the Church and the BSA have set a standard of serving beyond their own boundaries. The Church freely donates monies and items to many charities around the world. The BSA blesses others through the numerous Eagle projects performed by Scouts each year. In fact—by requirement—an Eagle project must help an entity outside of the BSA.
Charity is by definition thinking outside of our box. That’s what giving is. That’s what friends do.
We are often quick to support needy people around the world suffering from the devastating effects of hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and other disasters. What about neighborhood boys who are struggling with digital addictions, loss of fatherly influence, and lack of real physical activity in their lives? The BSA is addressing all these catastrophes in our society, and I believe they deserve our support as well—whether or not we are directly involved.
Last week a young man in my own ward completed his Eagle project. It was gratifying to see the incredible support he received as he collected donations for children in Africa. This Scout’s efforts will be directly noticed by those children who receive the gifts overseas, and indirectly felt by our local families who gathered the items.
As Shakespeare wrote, “The quality of mercy is not strained… It is twice blest. It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
When the BSA council shows up at your door inviting you to be a “friend” of Scouting, I suggest you smile, be a friend, and consider blessing the lives of local youth—even if your own son is not one of them.
Again, think outside the box. Your box.
The LDS-BSA partnership is changing, but we can still benefit by looking back at the patterns and prophets of the Church. We find support for Scouting through quotes, actions, and involvement from every prophet from Joseph F. Smith through Thomas S. Monson. It is hard to imagine that all of those prophets—now watching this transition from the other side of the veil—would want us to suddenly cast off our friends.
On the contrary, they would (I believe) hope and anticipate that this transition happens positively, with real support of our good Scouting counterparts; understanding that the Church must move on, but continuing as friends in our communities side by side. As the song from the musical Oklahoma! states, “The farmer and the cowboy should be friends.”
The LDS-BSA partnership has been a glorious 105 years. Millions of lives—both members and non-members—have been blessed. Let’s conclude this incredible legacy by ending on a positive note. We can affect these attitudes in our neighborhoods and wards.
Speak positively about the Boy Scouts of America and their programs. Thank former leaders who have dedicated so much. And, if you choose, continue to be involved in a community unit, providing Scouting opportunities for other young people around you. At the same time, I invite BSA employees to be kind as well when interacting with Church members and leaders.
I am personally grateful for the LDS-BSA relationship. I often reflect on the many missionaries and fathers who have been strengthened and taught through Scouting activities. I am grateful for the experiences my own sons have had because of Scouting in the Church. Additionally, one of the greatest benefits of Scouting I have observed is bringing together good people of many faiths in an effort to strengthen the youth of America. My hope is that Scouting will continue to bless many lives in the coming decades.
I invite us all to move forward supporting, strengthening and working side by side with our BSA neighbors as together we prepare the world for the Second Coming.
I pray that—as the song predicts—Scouting friends we’ll always be throughout eternity.
~Mark R. Francis has served as LDS-BSA Relationships Director for the Boy Scouts of America since 2012.