Mormons sustain the Boy Scouts of America
By BY JENNIFER PREYSS - JLPREYSS@VICAD.COM
Feb. 1, 2013 at midnight
Updated Jan. 31, 2013 at 8:01 p.m.
Boy Scouts Zachary Wallace, 13, and Carlo Aros, 13, raise their right hands and form a three-finger salute.
At the front of a small room inside the Victoria ward Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the boys led Scout Master Danny Ripa, church counselor, Eagle Scout Andrew Thiriot and fellow Boy Scout Gabriel Garcia, 13, in a familiar Boy Scouts of America oath.
"On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout law; to help people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight."
It's an oath the boys recite together each Wednesday night during scout meetings.
And Ripa, who grew up scouting in the same Gulf Coast Council Troop 421 that he now leads, said it's an oath many scouts carry into adulthood - an oath he also believes corresponds with the LDS church.
In the church, "We strive to emulate the Savior. And that's true in scouting as well," said Ripa, 32, who also earned the prestigious Eagle Scout Award more than a decade ago. "We pray before meals and meetings, and we talk about life and duty to God. They're learning how to make good choices and become good men."
The national LDS church agrees.
To date, it is the only Boy Scouts-affiliated faith group to adopt scouting as a requirement for its male youth.
So, while scouting is popular among Catholics and other Protestant denominations, the Mormon church leads every faith group in both scouting members and scouting units.
If the LDS church were to exit scouting, which the BSA-Discrimination website claims the church has threatened to do if the Boy Scouts change their policy on morality issues - such as allowing open homosexuals in the organization - the Boy Scouts risk losing a large base of its organization.
In 2011, the Boy Scouts of America reported the Church of Latter Day Saints had 37,882 units and 420,977 scouts. The second largest scouting group behind the LDS church is the United Methodists, with 11,078 units and 371,491 scouts.
"It doesn't surprise me. All our youth are automatically enrolled in scouting, and we try to make sure that if they show up" to church "they're a part of the program," said Victoria's LDS Bishop, Shilo Monney, 36. "I think the scouting program teaches the principles of the founding prophet, Joseph Smith, and those principles help them become better men so they can better govern themselves."
Monney, who was called to the bishop post two years ago, is also an Eagle Scout. He said he knows first hand that scouting encourages boys to become better Christians.
"Being a Christian is about being Christ-like. Those principles are taught in the Boy Scouts - to be honest, true, chaste, benevolent and do good to others. Those are all things that someone who follows the teachings of the son of Christ should do and should be," the Bishop said.
A 2001 Boy Scouts of America membership report states that from 2000-11, the LDS church was the only faith organization in their system not to experience a membership decline. But their numbers also didn't remain static. LDS membership increased by 2.3 percent.
The United Methodists, Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, Episcopals, United Church of Christ and the Christian Church-Disciples of Christ, each experienced a decline in units and overall membership, ranging from 7.1 percent to 22.8 percent.
Zachary, a student at Stroman, said he's been scouting since he was 8 years old at the LDS church, beginning with the Cub Scouts.
"Kids these days think scouting is stupid. They think they're too cool for it. But I'm a scout, and I'm not afraid to say it," Zachary said, mentioning he one day hopes to earn the Eagle Scout Award. "It teaches you survival skills. And if I'm trapped in the woods one day, you're going to be the one crying, and I'm not."
Each of the scouts said they enjoy that many of their camping and scouting adventures are Mormon specific. When they're together, they can pray and dialogue about God on scouting trips in a way the entire group understand.
"It would be easier if all scouts were Mormon, then everybody would know the book of Mormon, and we could use the same books," Zachary said.
But Ripa agrees boy scouting behooves all boys, of every faith because it teaches them about becoming godly men, husbands and fathers.
"Scouting is something that builds good men. I'm a better man for it," he said.