The LDS Church has an interesting relationship with the Boy Scouts of America. In the United States, the Church is such a big part of Scouting that the BSA doesn't want to anger Church leadership and face the threat of withdrawal. While the Church is ok with homosexual boys joining Scouts, the Church (and other similarly socially conservative religions) is probably a big reason that homosexuals can't be leaders.
After all, look what happened in New Zealand and other countries. Once the kiwis (and others) started allowing gays as leaders in their Scouting organization, the Church dropped its affiliation and instituted its own program. Now, Scouting is only part of the Young Men program in the United States and Canada.
But, in spite of my feelings on gays, and whether or not gays should be treated as, you know, people, my feelings toward BSA are mixed, especially since my son enjoys Scouting. And, while I think he's a good kid, he's still more interested in things that affect him directly. I'm not quite ready to engage him over quitting Scouts over the policy on gay leaders. That's probably weak, but at this point, thanks to the already-fraught discussion on gays we had with my son once (thanks [name redacted] for sparking that bit of dinner-time angst), I'm not going there again for at least another couple of months.
Recently, though, we were confronted by a situation that did affect him directly, although it wasn't about BSA; it was about the Church's policy on letting moms do traditionally “dad” things with their sons.
Why Am I Going to Scout Camp, Anyway?
Last year, as Webelos, the boys could go on an overnighter to Camp Fife. But they were required to have a parent attend with them. My husband will never, EVER, in this life (and probably the next) go camping. He is vehemently against Scouting, and even if he didn't think Scouting is the stupidest thing out there for “turning boys into men,” he still wouldn't go camping.
Camp Fife wasn't considered a Church activity, so I went with The Boy (no questions asked), and was appointed the leader “in charge,” and one of the other boys' fathers was my “assistant.”
A good time was had by all.
Fast-forward to this year. As 11-year-old Scouts, these boys are expected to go on campouts more often. They went on a campout during the Scout-O-Rama, and it was a bit wild, with boys acting as pre-teens (no matter their gender) do when away from home.
Pillow fights, loud talking, and staying up past “lights out.”
The result was that when planning to stay overnight at Camp Bartlett, the leaders encouraged dads to come along. While a parent wasn't necessary for this overnighter, my husband was adamant that I go along because he didn't want his boy mixed up in shenanigans again.
The Boy also expressed a desire for me to come along: “It would have been better with you there, mom. I don't think the other boys would have acted like that. At least, I wouldn't have been in the middle of it with a bloody nose.”
So I did what any good Mormon lady does. I asked The Boy's Scout Leader if I could come. He said he would check. He called Camp Bartlett. Camp Bartlett doesn't care if a woman comes along because the BSA doesn't have a problem with female leaders. Because we have a combined group for the 11-year-old Scouts, the leader also contacted a member of his bishopric and a member of my bishopric. Everyone was totally cool about me going to the overnighter.
Then the question was posed to stake leaders. Who definitely were not cool about it, and quoted Church policy. According to the Church's Scouting Handbook (which adds to the Scouting rules/regulations/whatever to define what happens in a Priesthood-type setting):
Female leaders do not attend overnight campouts with these [eleven-year-old] boys. Fathers are invited and encouraged to participate in the overnight camping experiences with their sons and with boys whose fathers cannot attend. (*Emphasis mine.)
The Scout leader asked if there was a loophole. After all, I'm not going as his female primary leader; I'm going as his parent. But the stake leaders were firm and immovable.
Feeling the Rage — And Finding Away Around the Rules
My first feelings all had to do with rage. One of the reasons the stake leader gave as justification for keeping moms out of it — even while encouraging dads to come along — was that, “this is a time for boys to get out and start doing it on their own.”
The implications of this statement staggered me with the blatant gender stereotyping. I know I should be used to it because I'm a Mormon. Gender stereotyping is part of what we do because these stereotypes are part of current doctrine. And heaven help you if you don't fit that gender stereotype without trying to conform to it.
- Moms are hovering and over-protective and won't let their sons do anything while camping. Clearly, none of these men have been about when I've told my son, while camping, to leave me alone and start the fire himself. He knows how to do it, and I'm close by. Why should I leave my sleeping bag? And by the way, I let him cook regularly, while supervising from an appropriate distance, at home and in the woods.
- Sending a man along is like sending no adult supervision because they're all incompetent when it comes to taking care of children. This bothered me because I know plenty of men (my husband among them) who are good fathers and provide plenty of adult supervision. Interestingly, a number of these men are not members of the Church and, as such, do not have the “benefit” of Priesthood ordination, power, and authority to help them learn to responsibly care for others. (Can you feel the snark?) Besides, my husband is far more likely to take over for The Boy than to let him “start doing it on [his] own.”
These stereotypes limit both women AND men.
I was rather conflicted, too, by the fact that my husband, the patriarch of the family, insisted that I go along if The Boy was to attend. Not that we really adhere to any sort of traditional gender leadership ideas in our home. But I found it amusing, in a rage-y sort of way, that the Priesthood Authority in our home was being usurped by people who can't (or won't) understand our (clearly messed-up) situation.
So, leaders were willing to deny a boy this opportunity because of my lady parts. Either that, or they were willing to have The Boy go without a parent, against the express wishes of his Patriarch Father. And they weren't ready to make an exception — despite a recent talk from the Stake President about how sometimes exceptions to rules are made when circumstances warrant it.
As the rage at the injustice of it all threatened to overwhelm me, my husband looked at me and said, “I think you should just go anyway.”
The next day, I told my son that the Church wouldn't let me go because I'm a woman. “That's stupid. You're good at camping. You should come anyway,” he said.
I felt a bit of shame because I was ready to accept that I wouldn't be able to go — and neither would my son. This is one of the realities that surprises many people that know me. I often stand up for myself. But, for some reason, I wilt a bit when confronted with male Church leadership. My husband says it's something that he doesn't understand about me.
Well, long story shortened a bit (it's too late to make this long story short), I throttled my rage enough to come up with a tenable solution to this problem. I called the Scout office and registered us separately, and paid BSA directly. The office assigned me to the same campground as our troop, and when I told the Scout leader, he said it was a good solution, since we would go up completely separate and not technically be part of the Church group.
So Much Trouble for Not-Quite Nothing
The sad thing is that we ended up not going anyway. An unexpected family obligation and commitment took The Boy and me out of town for the better of a week. When we got back, my son and I talked about turning around and leaving again to go to Camp Bartlett. He said that he'd rather just chill at home. “Besides,” he pointed out. “We have family camping trips planned with grandma and papa this summer. Those will be more fun anyway.”
Even though we didn't end up at Camp Bartlett, we did come up with another solution to our Scouting-through-Church-activity problem. The Scout office gave me information about the non-denominational troop here in Logan. (There is only one troop in the area not affiliated with the LDS Church.) I called and the Scout leader told me that they strongly encourage at least one parent to be involved.
Even better? He said that my gender didn't matter and that he thought I'd fit in well with the other parents, including moms, of the boys in the troop. The Boy plays baseball until the end of June, so he won't attend any Scout meeting anywhere until July. When July rolls around, I think we'll head over to the Presbyterian church and check out their troop.
It will probably be more pleasant than fighting with my Church leaders for the next seven years.