Welcome to the LDS Scouter Blog. We hope to provide you with valuable information, share useful resources and maybe even improve some attitudes and Ward Scouting programs. The recommended way to use this blog is to start with the post, "Why I started this blog." Then browse through the post titles in the archive (found in the sidebar) for topics of interest.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why do Mormons...?

Every so often I get in a conversation with a "traditional" (non-LDS) scouter and they often have a question or comment on how the Church conducts the scouting program. I'm afraid that most often, it's a (well-earned) criticism and it bums me out that the church's scout programs often have a bad reputation. This morning I got in a conversation with a fellow at our local scout shop. (OK, it's really just a tiny corner of a clothing store; they're just kind enough to also supply scout supplies). We were commiserating about the difficulties getting volunteers to help out with pack and District activities. I mentioned that I've been doing our local day camp for the last couple years and he grinned and said he'd done it four four years in Reno. He said something like, "No offense, but it's really hard to get the LDS packs to supply volunteers." I had to agree that it's often really difficult to get LDS volunteers. He offered several suggestions, but unfortunately, they wouldn't really work in our situation.

I think sometimes, in the Church, we tend to think that unless we have been called, we don't have to help out. Cub Scouts is treated as drop off child care and Boy Scouts as something to be studiously avoided. In addition to the Cub Scout program being the basis for preparing a boy to be a priesthood holder and preparing him for his mission, it is a program to train parents. Parents should learn early on (hopefully someone will take them aside when their oldest son turns eight and explain the Cub Scout program to them and what is expected of them) that they are an integral part of their son's scouting experience. Whether he succeeds or fails will be highly dependent on how well they lead him. The scouting program is also good for parents. How much easier is it for the parents of a young man that has been an active scout to send him on a mission than the parents whose son has never been away from home in his life? At least the scout's parents know he can survive a weekend in the wild and that he probably won't starve to death in his first few weeks in the field. (He might only be able to prepare a very limited menu of burned food and may be in danger of burning down his apartment, but at least he won't starve).

Sometimes my conversations with traditional scouters come around to how we as LDS groups tend to pencil whip the boys through the program. (To be clear, pencil whipping is when a requirement is signed off but the boy hasn't really fulfilled it or met the objective. This cheets both the boy and the leader). I generally have to agree that it does happen. A year or so ago, our District Eagle Scout Project coordinator passed away and the people that took it over were aghast at some of the projects he'd approved. I don't know if he was LDS or not, but it does seem that we put such a high focus on getting the Eagle that sometimes we lose track of the importance of the boy earning his advancements. The guidelines for being a merit badge counselor are pretty specific that the counselor can't change the requirements. Of course, there are occasionally rare instances where it is appropriate to fit the requirements to the individual's abilities, but it shouldn't happen very often. I've seen whole groups signed off when collectively the group barely passed the minimum requirements, let alone each individual. (One traditional scouter told me after last year's Day Camp that a number of LDS groups had given belt loops for the activities we'd done at Day Camp, even though we'd only superficially covered the requirements. The intent was to get them started and they could finish off the requirements at home or at Den Meeting). It's important to remember that a boy having a shirt full of decorations is far less important than his having the knowledge he gains from learning and doing on his own and his knowing he didn't slide by. Neither the scout nor his leaders can claim to be trustworthy when awards are given and not earned.

One big reason these kinds of conversations really burn me up is that the Scouting program is also supposed to provide missionary opportunities. Generally we tend to think that these opportunities are limited to the boys we might bring into the program (less-active or non-members). I'd guess in reality we make just as big of an impression on their parents and other scout leaders. Some of these people are really the salt of the earth, but because of the examples they see in our leaders and parents, they'll never desire to join the church.

I attended Naval Science Institute in the summer of 1998. In the first few weeks we identified some areas we thought the service was lacking in leadership. We agreed that our small group wasn't likely to make huge changes, but our motto was "Change Your 10%". We agreed that wherever we went, each of us would do our best to improve the 10% we had influence over. In the years since 1998, I've had other conversations that make me not-so-proud to be an LDS scouter. All I can do is agree that we [LDS scouters] should be doing things the right way, try to lead by example and change my 10%.


Evenspor said...

I have to admit that I have had the attitude of doing the minimum possible in my calling and not volunteering or being involved in anything outside of that, so I was a bit ashamed to learn that the view many people have of Mormons is that we only do what we're "assigned" to and never volunteer for anything.

I was listening to some more of the audio book of "The Other Side of Heaven" and was reminded by Elder Groberg that service is about sacrifice. We're all busy, and we all can come up with excuses not to help.

Anonymous said...

It's tempting to blame our "if you're not called, you don't get involved" culture, but that's really a by-product of our "don't touch the ark" culture, which is frequently reinforced.

So what's wrong with using callings to drum up more volunteers for a day camp? Our stake has taken over the district day camp (one of the worst-run camps I've ever seen) and we're basically using "assignments" (not quite "callings") to staff it.

Evenspor said...

Sometimes that's what has to be done.

firebirdluver said...

Anon- Actually, I think it's a great idea to extend callings (or "assignments") to assist with special activities like Day Camp! I think it's sad if that's necessary, but I'm 100% behind that idea. The ultimate goal is to make those kinds of events fulfilling and useful for the boys and it's too bad people have to get a special invitation to help out.

In fact, that was the premise behind the letters I sent to our Stake Presidents last year. Unfortunately, it didn't work out too well; the Stake Presidents passed it off to the Stake Primary Presidents, who in turn did what they could. However, that method narrows the pool of resources down from the entire stake to the people the Stake Primary President has authority over. I would think that there are a number of High Priests and Relief Society sisters that would really enjoy Day Camp, but never having been informed of the opportunity, they don't get involved.

Margaret Ida said...

Amen and Amen - particularly about 'pencil whipping' - I really appreciate the expression. I grew up outside the Church with two brothers in Scouts (and I did Girl Scouts). THEY EARNED their badges and recognitions. My parents HELPED - they encouraged and supported with what resources they had (time, energy, and a little money). They volunteered, cheered them on, and expected those boys to COMPLETE the requirements to their BEST ability. And that is what makes the Scouting program an ideal activity arm for Aaronic Priesthood in the Church.
Unfortunately, the programs I have seen administered in the Church with my six boys have none of them begun to live up to the standards I expected from them. And I attribute most of it to the attitudes of the adults - both parents and leaders. It is an attitude that focuses on the program's success being defined by how many boys receive how many recognitions - and attribute that success to parental and leadership involvement. It won't be until unit and family leaders accept, understand, and administer the program as a garden in which their boys grow that it will begin to fulfill the potential for building young boys into spiritually, physically, emotionally, and socially confident, responsible and mature adults that Lord Baden Powell and our Latter-Day prophets have purposed for it.

firebirdluver said...

Margaret - Thanks for your comments. I like the concept of Scouting as a garden; the gardener can till, weed, water and do all the things necessary, but the plant has to do the growing; the gardener can't do that for the plant.