SALT LAKE CITY — The future relationship between the Boy Scouts of America and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is now uncertain after the Scouting body voted Monday to rescind a nationwide ban on gay Scout leaders, prompting strong words of concern from the church and a promise to re-evaluate its century-long affiliation with the organization.
"The Church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation," church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a prepared statement. "However, the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America."
Boy Scout leaders said the decision, which passed by a 45-12 vote of its National Board and is effective immediately, will allow religious organizations to continue appointing adult leaders using their own criteria. But the LDS Church statement said church leaders are "deeply troubled" by the vote by the National Board to allow gay Scout leaders.
As a global organization with members in 170 countries, the Church has long been evaluating the limitations that fully one-half of its youth face where Scouting is not available. Those worldwide needs combined with this vote by the BSA National Executive Board will be carefully reviewed by the leaders of the Church in the weeks ahead."
Hawkins also confirmed the church is considering the possibility of creating an international program similar to Scouting and also made for young men ages 12 to 18.
"As a global organization with members in 170 countries, the church has long been evaluating the limitations that fully one-half of its youth face where Scouting is not available," he said. "Those worldwide needs combined with this vote by the BSA National Executive Board will be carefully reviewed by the leaders of the church in the weeks ahead."
Hawkins told KSL on Monday that church leaders Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, General Young Men's President Stephen Owen and General Primary President Rosemary Wixom, all of whom belong to the BSA National Board, voted against the new policy.
The Boy Scouts of America issued a prepared statement following the vote:
"This change allows Scouting's members and parents to select local units, chartered to organizations with similar beliefs, that best meet the needs of their families. This change also respects the right of religious chartered organizations to choose adult volunteer leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own."
The Catholic Church, another large charter organization with the Boy Scouts, did not offer a formal response to the vote Monday.
Stan Lockhart, president of the BSA's Utah National Parks Council, which is responsible for all of the state's Scout troops south of Salt Lake County, said he was unsurprised by the policy change but stunned by the LDS Church's initial response.
"At my level there is a very strong link to our chartered partners," Lockhart said, noting that more than 99 percent of his council's troops are LDS-chartered. "It's just a surprise to me to hear that (church) statement, because my own experience is quite different. We've just had a very positive, productive relationship with the LDS Church."
Lockhart said he was at the national BSA conference in May, where the proposal to allow gay Scout leaders was first introduced. The LDS Church was strongly represented there, he said, but he hasn't been privy to any policy discussions since that time.
"It appears from the statement that there's work to do on behalf of the national organization and working together with the church," he said.
More than 430,000 of the BSA's roughly 2.6 million Boy Scouts belong to units sponsored by the LDS Church, making it by far the largest charter in the country. As a whole, the number of BSA youth membership declined almost 6 percent from 2012 to 2013, the most recent year full data is available.
Lockhart said he hasn't considered what may become of the BSA in his council or Utah generally if the LDS Church no longer participates.
My thoughts are how can we strengthen our relationship and work closer together. ... We need to be aligned on what we're trying to do and why we're trying to do it.
–Stan Lockhart, president of the BSA's Utah National Parks Council
"You know, it's way too soon to tell. I haven't even thought in that direction," Lockhart said. "My thoughts are how can we strengthen our relationship and work closer together. ... We need to be aligned on what we're trying to do and why we're trying to do it."
Gov. Gary Herbert said Monday before the decision that it's up to the Boy Scouts of America how to handle the issue.
"That's a decision the Boy Scouts of America need to make and they'll do it based on what they think is in the best interests of the Boy Scouts and far be it from me to tell them how to run their organization," Herbert told reporters.
Herbert also said prior to the vote and response by the LDS Church that he expected religious groups affiliated with the BSA would be given flexibility.
"I expect consideration ought to be given there for their unique positions when it comes to the gay community," the governor said, adding he expects Scout leaders to "be methodical and use some wisdom and thought in whatever decision they render."
Monday's vote will also allow openly gay employees at the Boy Scouts of America. The BSA's 17-member National Executive Committee also approved the change in policy in a unanimous vote earlier this month. In May, National President Dr. Robert M. Gates said he worried about the future of Scouting if the BSA didn't change its stance on gay leaders.
Due to the social political and legal changes taking place in our country and in our movement, I did not believe our adult leadership policy could be sustained. Any effort to do so was inevitably going to result in simulteneous legal battles in multiple jurisdicitons and at staggering cost.
–BSA National President Dr. Robert M. Gates
"Due to the social political and legal changes taking place in our country and in our movement, I did not believe our adult leadership policy could be sustained," Gates said in a video announcement Monday. "Any effort to do so was inevitably going to result in simulteneous legal battles in multiple jurisdicitons and at staggering cost."
Hawkins of the LDS Church criticized the timing of the BSA's decision as inconsiderate and hasty.
"In spite of a request to delay the vote, it was scheduled at a time in July when members of the church's governing councils are out of their offices and do not meet," Hawkins said. "When the leadership of the Church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August, the century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined."
The Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT-rights organization, said the Boy Scouts should not allow church-sponsored units to continue excluding gays.
"Discrimination should have no place in the Boy Scouts, period," said the HRC's president, Chad Griffin. "BSA officials should now demonstrate true leadership and begin the process of considering a full national policy of inclusion."
In 2013, after heated internal debate, the BSA decided to allow openly gay youth as Scouts, but not gay adults as leaders. Several denominations that collectively sponsor close to half of all Scout units — including the Roman Catholic Church, the LDS Church and the Southern Baptist Convention — have been apprehensive about ending the ban on gay adults.
The BSA's top leaders pledged to defend the right of any church-sponsored units to continue excluding gays as adult volunteers. But that assurance has not satisfied some conservative church leaders.
"In recent years I have seen a definite cooling on the part of Baptist churches toward the Scouts," said the Rev. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "This will probably bring that cooling to a freeze."
Under the BSA's new policy, gay leaders who were previously removed from Scouting because of the ban would have the opportunity to reapply for volunteer positions. If otherwise qualified, a gay adult would be eligible to serve as a Scoutmaster or unit leader.
Gates, who became the BSA's president in May 2014, said at the time that he personally would have favored ending the ban on gay adults, but he opposed any further debate after the Scouts' policymaking body upheld the ban. In May, he said that recent events "have confronted us with urgent challenges I did not foresee and which we cannot ignore."
He cited an announcement by the BSA's New York City chapter in early April that it had hired Pascal Tessier, the nation's first openly gay Eagle Scout, as a summer camp leader. Gates also cited broader gay-rights developments and warned that rigidly maintaining the ban "will be the end of us as a national movement."
The BSA's right to exclude gays was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000. But since then, the policy has prompted numerous major corporations to suspend charitable donations to the Scouts and strained relations with some municipalities.
More recently, the BSA faced a civil rights investigation in New York and lawsuits in other states over the ban.
Kenneth Upton, a lawyer for the LGBT-rights group Lambda Legal, questioned whether the BSA's new policy to let church-sponsored units continue to exclude gay adults would be sustainable.
"There will be a period of time where they'll have some legal protection," Upton said. "But that doesn't mean the lawsuits won't keep coming. ... They will become increasingly marginalized from the direction society is going."
After the 2013 decision to admit gay youth, some conservatives split from the BSA to form a new group, Trail Life USA, which has created its own ranks, badges and uniforms. The group claims a membership of more than 25,000 youths and adults.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche, Associated Press