The LDS Church, which sponsors more Boy Scout troops than any organization on the planet, was “deeply troubled” last month when the BSA national executive board decided that it was OK for Scout leaders and employees to be openly gay — which may mean, post Obergefell, openly married to a person of the same sex. It seems that the church’s general authorities were all on vacation and hadn’t been kept in the loop. They announced they’d be taking a good hard look at the situation.
Now they have, and have decided to keep Scouting as the church’s program for male youth, at least for now. The Scouts’ position is that religious bodies with whose teachings the new policy conflicts can continue the ban, and presumably the church will stay the course unless the courts rule otherwise.
Polling showed rank-and-file Mormons ready to sever the century-old connection, but LDS leaders recognize that adapting to the norms of the ambient society is a strategy to survive and prosper. In the 1890s, they formally abandoned the theologically important practice of plural marriage and surrendered much of the church’s economic power in order to gain statehood for Utah. In 1978, they overturned the doctrine that forbade men of black African descent to be ordained to the priesthood.
Careful accommodation to gay rights has been a hallmark of the church this year. In March, the Saints joined forces with the Utah LGBT community to pass landmark state legislation that protects the latter from discrimination in housing and employment while protecting the rights of religious institutions to discriminate. The legislation, of a piece with the Boy Scouts’ decision, drew criticism from some conservatives in other faith traditions.
No doubt, the latter wish the Mormons had withdrawn the hem of their garment from the BSA. That would be in line with the “Benedict Option” advanced by blogger Rod Dreher, who has made a splash by urging religious conservatives to retreat into their own worlds, a la the monks who preserved European civilization from the barbarians in the early Middle Ages.
Of course, it’s not as if other traditions haven’t prospered by accommodating themselves to prevailing social norms. Evangelical leaders no longer berate their flocks for drinking, dancing, getting divorced, and indulging in secular pursuits on the Lord’s Day. Catholic bishops now embrace religious liberty in a way that would have appalled their predecessors prior to the Second Vatican Council.
What’s different about LDS leaders is that they don’t pretend otherwise. Good for them.