That sounds like a powerful set of values to me. I do a lot of hiring these days, and I’d give anything to find candidates who consistently lived a third of these twelve values. But by the time of my own time in scouting, the disappointing cynicism of my generation made fun of those values instead of regarding them.
As just one example, Arvid Engen on the TV show Head of the Class was a Boy Scout. He also had perfect attendance, was a member of the glee club, the school orchestra (where he played the triangle), played the accordion, read Carl Sagan, had a 4.0 grade average, and was a lunchroom monitor. To a child of the 80’s and 90’s, that’s a perfect caricature of the untouchable, nerdy, bully-magnet.
When I attended Boy Scouts during my high school years, I would hide my uniform in a backpack, run as fast as I could through the neighborhood, and take a back entrance to the building. I did all of that so that no one would find out that I was a Boy Scout and then make fun of me for it.
It shouldn’t surprise us that a generation who made fun boys of getting good grades or living a value-based life has also ended up devaluing adult men in general. In 2012, Elder Todd Christofferson lamented at LDS General Conference that “In too many Hollywood films, TV and cable shows, and even commercials, men are portrayed as incompetent, immature, or self-absorbed. This cultural emasculation of males is having a damaging effect.”
I’m grateful that my kids are growing up in a time where it’s once again considered “cool” to get good grades, develop talents, be socially responsible, and read science books. If I described Arvid Engen to either of my kids, they’d probably ask if he could come over sometime to watch Dr. Who reruns. These kids just aren’t as nasty and contemptuous as we were.
Jerry Seinfeld,Chris Rock, Larry the Cable Guy and other comedians now avoid school campuses because they complain that this new generation is impossible to entertain. They are too “PC.” They aren’t cynical enough. But that’s something I’m very glad about. And it’s one more evidence to me that, despite all the negative press they get, this really may be the greatest generation we’ve ever seen.
It doesn’t occur to my son to be embarrassed about Boy Scouts. He eats it up. So do his friends. They all look online to track their progress and they all look forward to their activities. And, probably no surprise, it seems that their view of fatherhood and adult manhood is also restored. Even in the media, they’ve got the guy from the Cheerios commercial as a retort to the Homer Simpson of my childhood.
This last week, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that it was reevaluating the future status of its century-old relationship with the Boy Scouts. The specific issue at hand has to do with whether it makes sense for sexually active homosexual men to be scout masters. That’s a complex issue which I don’t pretend to comprehend wholly and is something for which I’ve not yet staked out any solid personal opinion. But, as I’ve talked to many, many Mormons of all backgrounds and sympathies on this, it’s clear to me that this particular issue is perhaps just an occasion to reexamine a relationship that might not work very well anymore anyway.
Scouting has itself become more bureaucratic and complex over time. If you doubt that, spend an afternoon at the local Scout office trying to buy a badge or wade through the labyrinth of guides, tools, and hacks for building a pinewood derby car.
Despite its longstanding relationship with the LDS church (its largest single charter), the national BSA leadership sent a political message by scheduling a key vote at a time that they knew the Mormon representatives could not attend. That seems like a pretty good sign that we could all use some separation of church and scouts.
Plus, the Boy Scouts of America, for all its worth with in the 50 US States, does not have a strong corollary program to meet the needs of a full half of the LDS youth since they live in other countries. And the program is incredibly expensive. I’ve been shocked not only by how much church budget we use, but also by the supplemental costs from additional fund raisers, membership drives, and hundreds of private purchases made by parents and local leaders.
So, while there may be a single prominent issue at hand, it may be the case that it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to continue a formal relationship. Mormon boys could continue being Boy Scouts, but not through church-sponsored charters. And the church could roll out its own program that coupled spiritual development with the life skills and activities that were formerly associated with the scout program.
To reach a time where the relationship needs to be examined is a cause for sadness, because it’s been a rich century of partnership. I imagine these are tough times for the Mormon Prophet, Thomas Monson, who is a lifetime Boy Scout and a recipient of the Silver Buffalo and Bronze Wolf awards. I also know that that many Mormons, including myself, feel similar to my uncle Quinn Monson, a BYU professor who was interviewed by National Public Radio about this issue. Uncle Quinn choked up a bit as he contemplated a Mormon future without Boy Scouts in it.
I feel that way too. I’m nostalgic and sad. I’m uncertain of the future. But then I also have some reason for hope.
My wife and daughter went to the LDS Girls Camp this week. They had a small total budget for the camp. They had no official affiliation with any outside entity. They had no merit badges and no rank advancements. But they did have a wonderful week in the woods spent swimming, kayaking, singing songs, making fires, sleeping in tents, hiking, building rafts, constructing A-frame shelters, and playing volleyball with a cow’s tongue. They also had a spiritual evening around the campfire where they shared testimonies and talked about their future and their potential as daughters of God.