Statements & Letters

Boy Scouts of America Update

Comments (28)
  1. Rev. Glenn F. Merritt says:

    This is a “measured” response that is well thought out and researched by our leadership. Thanks to President Harrison and Rev. Day for not letting this slip through the cracks.

  2. As a pastor, both of whose sons became Eagle Scouts, I am grateful for this biblical response to the sad tragedy of the Boy Scouts’ trajectory. And a “trajectory” it is… because each of their successive compromises builds their momentum. There remain, as this document readily acknowledges, many devout adults and youth still involved with the organization. I join my LCMS sisters and brothers in praying for everyone’s congregational and individual leading in this matter.

  3. James R Keller says:

    I am not certain that this letter is helpful. A fair summary of the recommendation is that congregations which continue to charter (not sponsor) Scout units do so at their own risk. This is, at best, a punt.

    First, I too was disappointed in the retreat by BSA on this issue. I also believe that Mr. Gates was wrong when he claimed the position of the Scouts was no longer legally defensible. What was “indefensible” was the potential loss of millions of dollars in support from organizations facing pressure from the LGBT community. BSA also punted, saying it was now up to chartering organizations to make the selection decisions.

    The paraphrase of the legal memorandum suggests that First Amendment protection (as in the Hosana Tabor decision) may not be available as Scout leaders are not “ministers” or “enrolled” members of the Synod. But, then again, neither are Sunday School teachers and administrators, teen group volunteers, day school aides, etc. If Scouting isn’t a ministry of the church, what is it?

    Perhaps it all boils down to the question of whether congregations are prepared to step up to their existing responsibilities to oversee THEIR Scouting programs and properly select and monitor the leadership of THEIR units. (Yes, the chartering church “owns” the unit. Examination of the Annual Charter Agreement makes that clear.)

    The Troop and Pack at our church are both more than 25 years old. In those 25 years, the congregation, through its leadership, has carefully monitored the process of selecting leaders and has continuously monitored the programs for doctrine and safety. In those 25 years we have not had a challenge to a decision on leadership roles.

    When the original Memorandum of Understanding was adopted by BSA and the LCMS, there was no specific rule regarding the sexual orientation of prospective leaders. Those rules were added later. Today, we have returned to the former status quo. I am confident that congregations will continue to exercise good judgment in selecting leaders of good moral character as in the past.

    Will it be Synod’s position that the young men (and young women) will be left to find their way within the secular world rather than find shelter in Scout units operated by the LCMS?

    1. Alexia Arensmeier says:

      Thank you James Keller for stating my thoughts so clearly. I have been involved in scouting and my church for many years. I am also involved with scouting on the District and Council level. For me it comes down to individual children.

      The young man invited to join our troop by his neighbor and friend who came up beside me as we were entering a church and said “Mrs. A. I’ve never been to church before.” The only religious education he received in his youth was through our Troop.

      What about the young boy brought to our pack by his father who is coming back to church because of our strong scouting program?

      There is no program that equals the recognition that achieving the rank of “Eagle Scout” provides. As was stated earlier “the chartered organization owns the unit” as with Sunday School, VBS, and everything else when a congregation pays attention to it’s obligations to young people great things happen.

      1. Tony Lambert says:

        Trail Life does honor the work/dedication a young man achieved, by Gods grace, in BSA with equivalent ranks:

        I have worked with many Eagle Scouts who feel the Freedom Award is just as rigorous to get and the required Freedom experience on top of all the other work really ties it all together.

    2. Timothy C. Schenks says:

      “But, then again, neither are Sunday School teachers and administrators, teen group volunteers, day school aides, etc. If Scouting isn’t a ministry of the church, what is it?”

      Mr. Keller, those individuals are responsible to members of Synod (pastors and congregations). That is why Scouting isn’t a ministry of the church.

  4. Walter Syzmanski says:

    Is there any consideration in joining with the Lutheran Pioneers? They are an established organization and are indeed Confessional.

    1. David Schwarz says:

      Walter — say more about Lutheran Pioneers. Never heard of them.

  5. Rev. Bob McCanless says:

    As an EX-Eagle Scout, and 37 year long FORMER member of the BSA, my sons & I were voted OUT of Scouting on May 23, 2013, for REMAINING, morally straight.

    I have been disappointed at the snail’s pace at which this decision has come. As a former BSA employee, I warned them 20 years ago about the dangers of relying on liberal mainline churches as charter partners, and the need to develop closer ties and more units with churches like, the LCMS. They went and did the EXACT opposite. Since the BSA voted US out by their NEW policy of moral indifference (THEY changed; we DIDN’T), the bond was OFFICIALLY broken on 5/23/13, on THEIR end.

    As a future charter partner for both Trail Life USA & the American Heritage Girls, I am aware of their Calvinistic tendencies. The way to offset that is to be a STRONG charter partner, with congregational involvement. As someone who who learned this through my work with the BSA, a STRONG charter partner involvement will dictate local practice. THAT’S how the LCMS can utilize their programs to our congregations’ advantage.

    Let us keep ever vigilant in utilizing both programs, that we do NOT revisit this same morally relativistic end we’ve experienced with BSA/GSA. Proper supervision and involvement on OUR end is critical.

    1. Jarod says:

      I’ve been part of Trail Life USA for over a year now and I don’t see the Calvinism tendencies of which you speak. I’m on the church board of a Nazarene church that actually has a BSA group chartered there bit my sons do not participate in the BSA. If I have missed something about TLUSA being Calvinist, I’d really like to know about it.

      Jarod- Oklahoma

  6. Thomas Goethe says:

    I am disappointed that the Synod focused primarily on legal issues and not moral ones.I have deep concerns about what my son will be exposed to when he attends BSA functions that involves units that promote the homosexual agenda. Trust me, there are such units. I can shield him from those influences within some units, but there is no way to guard him from others.

    I also do not understand the reluctance to be involved with Trail Life. Yes, there are doctrinal issues between denominations, but it seems that we have far more in common than we have in differences. Rev. McCanless makes an excellent suggestion that if we become a strong partner with Trail Life, we can influence it so that it respects our faith.

    The Synod is wise, at least, in having lost trust in BSA, but it seems to be unwilling to fully accept what that means. Telling congregations to get lawyers is not a moral stand.

    God Bless.

  7. Kelley Erhardt says:

    I am so saddened by this decision. I currently have 2 young men on the Eagle trail at their home LCMS church. Where does this leave an active troop of 70+ members plus as many adults? In a world full of change, how does it help the young men to learn to deal with adversity? What truly would Jesus have done? Would he not have helped a man

    1. PhredJones says:

      Indeed, Jesus would have helped.

      Best of luck to your troop as it seeks a new charter partner who will put youth first.

      1. Jason Kiefer says:

        Are we not called to put God first? Above all things? Follow the ways of God and not the ways of man? If you cared for youth in a God-pleasing matter, should you not bring him up in the wisdom of the Lord?

    2. Jarod says:

      I believe Jesus would help anyone and showed us how. Jesus also didn’t start his own ministry as a youth. He was well-grounded in his relationship with his Father. Even then, look at who he surrounded himself with? Sure he spent time with sinners but his closest friends were devoted followers. I believe we have to make sure our children are secure in who they are in Christ so they may be the light to others. Exposing them to some of these issues at a young age could be detrimental to them. The world is already doing all it can to keep them from a relationship with Christ, I don’t want to take chances with my kids’ eternity.


  8. Dan Engle says:

    This was the proper thing to do. The BSA violated the MOU by superseding “the authority of the local pastor and the congregation in any phase of the program affecting the spiritual welfare of those who participate.” The LCMS in this action is merely calling a thing what it is.

    Whereas Scouting allowed some modularity to the religious beliefs of its members, now it is dictating a point of religious doctrine. It has stepped closer to becoming a Lodge. As an Eagle Scout and a former scout camp counselor who has benefited greatly from membership in the Boy Scouts, this saddens me.

    Thank you for your consistent and confessional leadership.

    1. Vernon says:

      I am having trouble finding where BSA is “dictating a point of religious doctrine.”

      Could you point me to the BSA documents so that I can share them with my church leaders?

      So far, I have found the following:
      Declaration of Religious Principle in the BSA Charter and Bylaws.
      “In no case where a unit is connected with a church or
      other distinctively religious organization shall members of other
      denominations or faith be required, because of their membership
      in the unit, to take part in or observe a religious ceremony distinctly
      unique to that organization or church.”

      2013 Membership Standards Resolution
      “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America
      on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”

      2015 Resolution on Adult Leadership Standards
      “No adult applicant for registration as an employee or non-unit-serving volunteer,
      who otherwise meets the requirements of the Boy Scouts of America, may be denied
      registration on the basis of sexual orientation.”


      “The Boy Scouts of America affirms that sexual relations between adults should
      be moral, honorable, committed, and respectful. Adult Scout leaders should reflect
      these values in their personal and public lives so as to be proper role models for youth.
      The Boy Scouts of America affirms the right of each chartering organization
      to reach its own religious and moral conclusions about the specific meaning and
      application of these values. The Boy Scouts of America further affirms the right of
      each chartering organization to select adult leaders who support those conclusions
      in word and deed and who will best inculcate the organization’s values through the
      Scouting program.”


      “The Boy Scouts of America will defend and indemnify to the fullest extent
      allowed by law any bona fide religious chartered organization against any
      claim or action contending that the chartered organization’s good faith refusal
      to select a unit leader based upon the religious principles of the chartered
      organization is in violation of the law.”

      It seems to me that the units can continue to choose leaders with the same standards that the church uses for all of it’s volunteers.

      1. Dan Engle says:

        There is significant dissonance between the first paragraph of the A.L.S. that you quote and the last two paragraphs.

        One of the major premises for joining Scouting is that younger members model the good behavior of older scouts and adults. Our leaders are to be examples to the younger. As soon an adult performs immoral behavior (whatever it is) and doesn’t repudiate it, confess it, etc., it’s out there as an example and as a teaching moment. It’s held up as an acceptable moral model, tacitly by most or explicitly by the person performing the behavior.

        In a philosophical vacuum a leader can teach a scout how to tie knots, shoot firearms, cook over an open flame, prepare a budget, perform first aid, etc., without discussing immoral behavior that they justify for themselves. The topics do come up, whether by example or by direct question. The BSA will want its leaders to answer one way, the LCMS congregation another. At this point it’s a matter of doctrine.

        1. Vernon says:

          Oh, I thought you were saying that the BSA was dictating religious doctrine. I didn’t realize that you were talking about individual leaders.

          The first quoted paragraph of the Adult Leadership Standards resolution is specific to non-unit employees and volunteers.

          It is up to us to choose leaders for our unit that will set good examples for our youth. The second quoted paragraph reaffirms this, and the third says they will support our choices.

          The challenge is that we only have normal people to choose from that may not set the perfect example of behavior at all times.

    2. PhredJones says:

      BSA reserved the local pastor’s right to select leaders according to his faith’s teachings. LCMS chose to leave because there was an easy excuse. If you truly believe Scouting is dictating religious doctrine, you haven’t read the membership policy.

      1. Scott says:

        And the BSA warned the LCMS of the possibility of lawsuits when certain individuals are denied leadership.

  9. Scott Leonard says:

    As Scoutmaster of a 50+-year-old LCMS congregation-chartered Troop (& father to a soon-to-be Eagle Scout), I have been disappointed with the direction BSA has taken in the past few years. I have also struggled with how to communicate Scripture-based truth when it comes to the differences between the beliefs of other Scouts & Scouters, not only of other denominations, but of non-Christian religions such as the LDS. To follow on with a point Mrs. A brings up, the new (as of Jan. 1, 2016) BSA rank requirements include discussions on the Scout’s Duty to God, which can help us direct a Scout to a greater understanding of his relationship with God. Hopefully the Synod will provide direction to congregations such as ours in a timely manner so that decisions can be made soon on future involvement.

    Also, as a father of a daughter involved with (& husband to a leader in) American Heritage Girls, I would like to see the LCMS develop, as Rev. McCanless encourages, a stronger tie with that group, as well as its brother organization, Trail Life. It would be good to see the LCMS lead from the front, instead of needing to address an organizations failings after it has left its moorings.

  10. Lee Turpen says:

    This is a well written explanation that I can understand as an LCMS member and as an adult scouter. I would encourage a very deep look before jumping in with Trail Life however. What I have seen has deterred me from going that direction as it would simply be exposing my kids to non-liturgical, watered down, incorrect theology. I would never want to choose between the frying pans to jump into…

  11. Elvera Satterwhite says:

    Iglesia Luterana Amigos de Cristo has sponsored a scout pack and troop for the past 10 years. We were offered a “Scout Reach” grant by our local council, which means our boys and our troop do not pay many of the typical fees, so it is an affordable program for us with a really limited budget, and families who are living paycheck to paycheck. We receive incredible support from the local council. In their home countries, scouting was offered, but was expensive so only the wealthy could be a scout. Our boys are proud to be a scout, and their families are proud of them. Many, most in fact, of the parents of these first-generation immigrant boys work the evening shift to make more money, which means the boys are “latch-key” kids with too much free time and limited guidance. The structure of the scouting program is invaluable to them, and we have seen so many changes as they grow from boys to men. Four boys are currently working on their Eagle projects. Two Webelos will earn Arrow of Light in a few months. We CANNOT abandon them at this point. We can, however, and DO carefully screen all adult volunteers, and make sure to offer wholesome and God pleasing programs to the boys. I hope LCMS never issues the order that we cannot continue.

  12. Richard Tatara says:

    Regardless of who charters the Scout unit, the BSA program emphasizes “duty to God”, and it is the responsibility of the Scout and his/her parent to define the meaning of these words. The BSA Religious Emblems program is an important way to connect the individual Scout to their faith. So regardless of the position of the LCMS on the right/wrong of chartering a Scout Unit, I certainly hope that our clergy will continue to take an active interest and role in helping Scouts earn their religious emblem awards. Anytime they learn of a Scout in their congregation they should ask the youth, “How can I help you earn your religious emblem?” I would be disappointed to see this additional touch-point for learning during a youth’s formative years be overlooked, especially as a result of the complexities of the charter issue.

  13. John says:

    How can we engage as a church when we exclude more and more of Gods children?

  14. Brian Gorman says:

    As an active LCMS member, Scoutmaster, Eagle Scout and father of 2 Life Scouts (one of which is in process on his Eagle project with our LCMS charter), I find the actions of both BSA and the LCMS very troubling. BSA’s actions in compromising their values and giving into pressure from groups who only care about their own agenda even if it means destroying Scouting are a sad and poor decision. The LGBT agenda found the soft spot of many organizations – money – and got most of what they wanted EXCEPT that the religious charter organizations choose their scout leaders. As long as this is in place, the religious charter organization has the ability and authority to align their scout units according to their beliefs. The decision here from LCMS appears mainly focused on potential legal liabilities and disgust with BSA, not the theological. The LCMS has raised alarm bells and punted to the individual LCMS congregations without providing a path forward for the youth we serve (both LCMS members and non). The LCMS is correct in that our troop is 20% LCMS boys (35% LCMS adult leaders) and ~50% of our Church’s LCMS scout youth go to other troops chartered by other churches. Is this an appropriate reason to send a troop away from the LCMS to another chartered organization that does not have the same beliefs? What message does that send to our scouts and their families be they LCMS members or not? This is a tremendous opportunity to connect non-Churched youth and their families to Jesus. I have seen many boys attend our troop and then start attending our Church with their families. Our troop of 50 boys would not be as successful if it was not for the support of our LCMS charter. Does the LCMS intend to retrench and hide in the hopes that the walls we surround ourself in will hold instead of professing our faith to those that come to us in the form of our scout families? I pray that the LCMS will remain engaged and our charter LCMS Church decides to continue supporting our Scout units.

  15. Dr. Michael Caudle says:

    What happened in the GSA and has now also occurred in the BSA is reflective of what is happening in our Armed Forces. I am a retired U. S. Army officer. The Clinton administration opened the door to the LGBTQ citizens with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, and the Obama administration made total acceptance a requirement. If I were a young man contemplating a military career again, I am not certain that I could bring myself to do so again. Once these thresholds are crossed, there is no turning back. While I am saddened by this turn of events, I fully support the decision by the LCMS. I am thankful for leaders willing to stand up and be counted.