Thursday, February 21, 2013

To the COJCLDS on LGBTQ in the BSA

(Read it in a better viewer here)

Dear Church Leaders,

The recent announcement by the Boy Scouts of America regarding a potential change in the policy barring homosexuals from membership has been of great interest and excitement to me. I have strong opinions about this issue and am emotionally vested in the upcoming decision to be announced in May. Based on discussions I have had with other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is clear to me that my beliefs and opinions on this matter are a minority opinion within the faith. This fact notwithstanding -- indeed, because of this fact -- I feel impressed and obligated to share my beliefs. To be clear, I support a change in the BSA's policy that would permit each local chartering organization to decide if it will permit homosexual members within its scouting units, consistent with that organization's beliefs.

My support for this policy is an outgrowth of my experiences in the Church, in Scouting, and in my professional activities. I am an active member of the Shaker Heights Ward of the Kirtland Ohio Stake. I served an honorable full time mission and have served in young men presidencies, and as an executive secretary and ward clerk. I am also an Eagle Scout and have served as an assistant scoutmaster in Troop 662 of Shaker Heights, Ohio for more than five years. Additionally, I have worked with homosexual members of my community in the course of my professional life and developed open relationships of trust and respect with them. Through all of these experiences and deep reflection, I have developed the belief that a change in the BSA's policy will be a benefit to the scouting movement and to thousands of boys who cannot or do not participate because of the current policy.  Supporting this policy change would also open the door to better relations with those of other faiths and allow for more productive dialog between our faiths.

Before elaborating on the reasons and principles on which I base my stated policy preference, I wish to express how I feel regarding homosexuals and those who live a homosexual lifestyle. First and foremost, I accept and believe in the Church's teaching that “family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children”and that “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God 1” to be the foundation of the family unit. I accept and believe in the Law of Chastity; that sexual relations are intended by God to be shared by lawfully married men and women.

Holding these beliefs, however, does not prevent me from recognizing the divine worth of those who do not share these same beliefs.  I have a firm belief in the divine heritage of those who choose to live a homosexual lifestyle.  Although they disagree with me on this one aspect of my faith, my belief in their divine heritage compels me to assist them in any way possible to improve their lives, seek happiness and fulfillment, and develop a relationship with their Savior.  Through my discipleship of Christ, I feel a moral obligation to provide the same acts of service, charity, and compassion I would give to those who share my beliefs.

The Scouting program is committed to “build[ing] character, train[ing] [youth] in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and develop[ing] personal fitness.2”  These are characteristics that benefit youth and adults of every race, gender, religion, and even sexual orientation.  Those who uphold these values are those who will have the greatest impact on shaping the future of our communities, and development of these values should be encouraged in all youth and adults.

The principles and values that Scouting encourages share considerable overlap with the purposes of the Aaronic priesthood3.  Scouting and the Aaronic priesthood both encourage giving meaningful service; both encourage obtaining education; both encourage building worthy husbands and fathers; and both encourage commitment to one’s religion.  Denying homosexuals the benefits of the scouting program removes an effective and successful way of encouraging such values that are known to grow better individuals and, subsequently, better communities.  I believe that if we wish to encourage these values in our young men, we should also encourage them in all young men.

The dissonance that arises is that, according to the Church’s teachings, an individual cannot uphold the doctrines of family and chastity while choosing to live a homosexual lifestyle.  This is understandable dissonance, and I believe it is sincere.  Instituting a change in the BSA’s policy is difficult for those who believe as we do, as it cuts into a central belief of our religion.  I understand and empathize with this concern.

Being a volunteer with a troop chartered by an Episcopal church has given me great insight into the beliefs of others.  While I can empathize with the concerns of LDS scouters, I also empathize with the concerns of scouters from other faiths.  For some, such as the Episcopalian parishioners with whom I volunteer, the choice to live a homosexual lifestyle is not at odds with their view of a moral and chaste life.  This disagreement, however, has not hampered our ability to serve the youth who come to our troop.  We have recognized that the greatness of our similarities easily overcomes our differences, and mutually agree to let each other “worship how, where or what [we] may4.”

Furthermore, we have recognized that it is not for us, as scout leaders, to instruct the youth in our troop about what is moral or immoral with respect to sexual relationships.  As stated by the BSA, “same-sex attraction should be introduced and discussed outside of its program with parents, caregivers, or spiritual advisers, at the appropriate time and in the right setting5.”  Understandably, it is difficult for many LDS scouters to separate scout leaders from religious leaders.  However, outside of the LDS scouting units, it is not uncommon for scouting leaders to not be directly affiliated with the religion holding the charter.  Troop 662, for example, is hosted by an Episcopal church.  The charter rep is Episcopalian, but attends a different congregation.  The scoutmaster is methodist; I am LDS; and other assistant scoutmasters and committee members include people from Lutheran, Universalist-Unitarian, and Jewish faiths.  While we encourage all of our youth to pursue their religious education, we do not consider ourselves the proper resource for that education.  This separation is a major difference between LDS and non-LDS scouting.

For this purpose, I feel it is important that we allow each chartering organization to decide for itself what its policy will be with respect to homosexuals.  Doing so will allow each unit to make a policy consistent with its own morals and beliefs and to allow parents and youth to seek out troops that support and uphold their own beliefs.  I feel that enforcing any other policy would be disrespectful of other religions and would unnecessarily deny the benefits of citizenship, preparedness, and physical fitness available to those who participate in scouting.

While voicing my opinions on this policy, I would also like to state my hope that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will continue its support of the scouting program if the proposed policy change takes effect.  There are numerous benefits for the Church through its support of scouting, such as insurance, infrastructure, and training.  I believe the training available to scouts and scout leaders is especially beneficial to LDS scouters.  The BSA provides a training program for youth protection for which no similar training exists in the Church.  Basic training for leaders in the BSA exceeds any training I’ve received through the Church, and I believe leaders who have had the BSA trainings have led better youth programs in the Church than those who have not.  The National Youth Leadership Training program for youth may be one of the most successful and effective training programs in the country, as is its adult counterpart, Wood Badge.  Programs such as these are not found in the Church, and participation in them would unquestionably improve the quality of teaching and leadership in the Church.

Lastly, I believe that an opportunity exists now to be leaders in our communities and in our country.  We have an opportunity now to initiate a dialog that promotes tolerance, understanding, and respect with those who disagree.  I have had deeply personal discussions with individuals of other faiths on this issue.  Some of them had stated that they felt no policy change would be adequate except a policy that required full inclusion of homosexuals in all scouting units.  After discussing with them my beliefs regarding family and chastity, while also stating that I felt that other religions should be free to practice according to their beliefs, they have developed a respect for my beliefs.  These individuals now support the proposed policy--out of respect for my beliefs, they have eased off of their earlier stance in favor of a policy that allows all religions to practice according to their beliefs.  We do not completely agree in all religious matters, but we have grown to respect and appreciate each other’s beliefs, as well as mutually support the other in those beliefs.  I believe this can be accomplished on a wider scale.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and an avid scouter, I encourage Church leaders to support the proposed policy change.  Allowing and encouraging chartering units to set their policies regarding homosexuals will promote tolerance, respect, and community.  The scouting program will become available to more of our country’s youth, promoting better leadership, citizenship, and better participation in religion.  The Church will be able to maintain access to training programs, activities, and physical resources while simultaneously building relationships with other faiths through which the gospel can be shared.  I appreciate your time and consideration of my thoughts and look forward to many years of service to God and to the youth of our communities.

With Love and Faith,

Benjamin Nutter
Shaker Heights Ward, Kirtland Ohio Stake
Assistant Scoutmaster, Troop 662, Shaker Heights, Ohio

1 The Family: A Proclamation to the World 
3 Handbook 2, 8.1.3 
4 Articles of Faith, 11 
5 Bryan Wendell, “Boy Scouts of America clarifies its membership policy,” Bryan on Scouting,

1 comment:

  1. Many of us think like you Ben. Great letter!