A Salute to Scouting: 100 Years of the BSA

by | Feb. 05, 2010

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You've seen them in uniforms, toting flags in parades, camping in the mountains, and you're sure to have seen them at your local LDS meetinghouse.

You might ask why Church leaders believe so firmly in a boys' organization. Scouting, you'll find, is about more than just learning to light a campfire and set up a tent. The great merit of this program is its emphasis on service and duty, and that is why the Church has been by its side for ninety-seven years.

Like so many great things, this monumental program began with one man's vision -- in this case, one man in search of a little adventure.

Baden-Powell -- the Father of Scouting At the time when Latter-day Saints were building the Salt Lake Temple, and soon after the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association (YMMIA) was organized in 1875, an Englishman by the name of Robert Baden-Powell joined the British Army.

Longing to see combat, he often volunteered for assignments and served in numerous posts, including that of a spy in several countries. Through his experiences, he became an expert at reconnaissance and scouting techniques and authored several books. Although he advanced through many ranks, he hadn't seen the action he longed for after more than twenty years of service.

His chance finally came when he transferred to Mafeking, South Africa, where the Boers, enemies of Great Britain, laid siege to the town for 217 days. Baden-Powell organized local citizens into fighting units, instructed soldiers to pretend to lay landmines and barbed wire, and even mounted a cannon from the 1700s onto an armored train to attack the heart of the Boer camp. He also made use of the boys' corps of messengers, who accomplished a number of smaller tasks throughout the town. Although not responsible for organizing this group, he was impressed by them and later wrote about them in a scouting manual.

Returning to Britain a national hero in 1903, he was surprised to learn that his military book, Aids for Scouting, had become a bestseller and was being used by youth and youth leaders. Baden-Powell began rewriting his book to better accommodate youth. He tested his ideas out in 1907 when he went camping with twenty-two boys on Brownsea Island. After publishing Scouting for Boys the next year, he began organizing Scouting groups and set up the office of the Boy Scouts of England. King Edward VII granted the Boy Scouts a royal charter in 1910 and advised Baden-Powell to retire from the army so he could focus on Scouting.

Boys' organizations were not a new concept, however. In the United States, several groups, such as Daniel Carter Beard's Sons of Daniel Boone and Ernest Thompson Seton's Woodcraft Indians, already existed. Baden-Powell corresponded with Seton and gathered many ideas from him. Later, at a dinner in the United States, Baden-Powell claimed he received a lot of inspiration from both Seton and Beard. "At best," he once said, "I am only a sort of uncle of the international movement."

Scouting became more popular and spread more quickly than other boys' organizations. Seventy-six countries began Scouting between 1908 (when it officially started in England) and 1920. As Scouting progressed, Baden-Powell continued to be involved; after marrying Olave St Clair Soames, he even helped his wife in building up the Girl Scout movement. He died in 1941.

Scouting Adopted in America and the Church The history of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) begins with a legend. It is said that Chicago newspaperman William Boyce was traveling in London and had become lost in a thick fog when a boy appeared and helped Boyce find his way. Boyce attempted to give a tip, but the boy refused because he was doing his duty as a Boy Scout. Soon after, Boyce sought the Scouting for Boys handbook and, upon returning to the States, formed the Boy Scouts of America in 1910.

As Baden-Powell's model of Scouting became more popular, groups across Europe and the United States sprang up and began using the title "Scouts." The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints noticed the movement as well and, using the structure of the YMMIA, Anthony W. Ivins, general superintendent, organized the MIA. Scouts in 1911. The Church organized patrols and developed lessons for boys similar to those in official Scouting.

In 1913, the Boy Scouts of America invited the Church to be an official part of their program. Bryant S. Hinckley -- father of Gordon B. Hinckley -- and Oscar A. Kirkham traveled to New York City and, after hearing about BSA's focus on honor, service, and duty to God, returned with a favorable opinion. At a meeting with the YMMIA committee, Hinckley moved to officially adopt the BSA program. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve approved the decision.

The Boy Scouts issued a charter on May 21, 1913, to the MIA Scouts, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints became the first institution to be officially affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America program.

The LDS Church expanded the Scouting program and since that time has produced more Boy Scouts than any other organization in the United States. Today, the Church is still leading the pack, with over 37,146 units and approximately 402,127 Scouts at the end of 2008.

While the majority of LDS Scouts are in the United States, LDS young men also participate in Scouting in many other countries, such as Indonesia, Japan, Korea, South Africa, Germany, England, and Canada.

Scouting and Young Men Although many think the Church's use of Scouting is primarily to teach camping and outdoor skills, its main goal is to complement Aaronic Priesthood development.

Priesthood, in essence, is a plan of service to others. In order to more fully serve others, young men are expected to live high moral standards, and they grow to be men with strong, virtuous foundations that continue to benefit the Church and the world. Likewise, Scouting is designed to turn young, spirited boys into disciplined, responsible men, who also have a strong moral foundation and can make the world better. The purposes are parallel.

"The ideals of Scouting," George Albert Smith said, "like the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, are intended to make boys better companions, more useful citizens, and happier individuals."

Through Scouting, young men also learn leadership and responsibility, further enabling them to fulfill various roles as they progress in the Aaronic Priesthood and eventually receive the Melchizedek Priesthood.

"Scouting is Aaronic Priesthood," says Elder F. Melvin Hammond, an emeritus general authority of the Church. "I can't disassociate them. They're together."

Through most of his life, Hammond has been involved with Scouting, but he was especially involved while serving in the Young Men organization, first as a counselor and then as general president. Having worked firsthand with young men, he knows the challenges they face. "These young men need something to help them through all the tragedy of drugs, crime, and pornography that is so often mentioned by the brethren. What we need are young men that grow up to be great men. I think Scouting does that."

The success of young men in this world is important to the Church, Hammond says. Scouting creates an inner power in boys that makes them great. "That's really what we try to do in the Church -- help our boys become great, noble citizens and servants of Christ. That's what we want for them, and I think Scouting has a real impact on them."

Prophets and Scouts The impact of the LDS Church's involvement with Scouting can not only be seen in the number of boys that participate but also in the support and service of its own leaders.

Joseph F. Smith, who accepted the program into the Church, and every Church president since has fully endorsed Scouting; in fact, many Church presidents have been involved in it. George Albert Smith served as president of a local council for several decades and also served as a member of the BSA's National Executive Board. Ezra Taft Benson was one of the Church's foremost Scouters. He became an assistant Scoutmaster in 1918 and later became a member of the National Executive Board in 1949. He was continuously involved in Scouting throughout his life and heartily endorsed the program for young men.

The Silver Buffalo, the BSA's highest award, has been given to nine Church presidents, including President Thomas S. Monson, for their service in Scouting. This award was created in 1926, and other recipients include thirteen U.S. presidents, Walt Disney, Neil Armstrong, and Jimmy Stewart.

"The epitome of a Scouter in this Church is Thomas S. Monson," Hammond says.

President Monson joined Scouting at age twelve, was a Life Scout and Explorer crew member, and has been involved in Scouting ever since. He has served in numerous positions in Scouting, including a merit badge counselor, chaplain at a Canadian Jamboree, member of the Canadian LDS Scouting Committee, and member of the General Scouting Committee of the Church. President Monson became a member of the National Executive Board for the BSA in 1969 and has had the longest tenure of any member of the board.

As a BSA delegate, President Monson traveled to World Conferences in Tokyo, Nairobi, and Copenhagen and also served as a member of the International Committee. He has also aided many Scouting projects, food drives, and other programs.

Along with other presidents of the Church, President Monson has received numerous Scouting awards. He is one of two Church presidents, the other being President Benson, to receive the Bronze Wolf, international Scouting's highest award, which has been awarded to only three hundred and twenty people in the last seventy-four years.

"Scouting teaches boys how to live, not merely how to make a living," President Monson has said. "How pleased I am that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1913 became the first partner to sponsor Scouting in the United States."

Growing in America During its one hundred years, the Boy Scouts of America has grown to be an important icon. "It may have been the most important growing, maturing experience for our three boys," says William F. Cronk III, past national president of the BSA and current chairman of the World Scout Committee. "If you go to an Eagle Scout court of honor and see . . . six or seven seventeen-year-olds stand up, listen to them speak and observe how they present themselves -- you can feel and see their self confidence, their self esteem, and the depth of their character."

Cronk, who has been involved with Scouting since he was a Cub Scout, says Scouting helps define a boy's adult personality and is the beginning of comfortable experience in leadership. With Boy Scout alumni that number in the hundreds of millions, they can have a tremendous impact on the world around them.

"There's no . . . other organization that has that kind of power, influence, and alumni. It's just overwhelming," Cronk says. "The Boys Scouts of America is celebrating its one hundredth year. To have organizations that have been around for over a hundred years -- somebody must be doing something right. It's pretty remarkable."

Cronk, while not a member of the LDS faith, calls the Church a "brilliant partner" with the BSA and acknowledges the strong relationship between the two. "The Church has just been an unbelievable supporter of Scouting. They are magnificent caretakers and enthusiastic. They're generous with their money, their time, and their calendar. I'm very impressed."

The Future of Scouting With shifting times and interests, the novelty and importance of Scouting has dimmed for many. One question members ask today is if the Church is going to leave Scouting. "My answer to that, although I no longer speak for anybody but myself, is no," Hammond declares. "The Church is not going to get out of Scouting -- as long as Scouting maintains the high standards of morality, judgment, and wisdom that [it does] now. . . . It has such great impact on our young men.

"There are a lot of young men who are not in Scouting that are great and will be great," Hammond continues, "but [Scouting] still has the ability to create that inner power that makes them good."

Scouting represents the adventure of boys growing to be great men who make their country a better place. So what has the Boy Scout program meant to America and the Church in this last century?

Ezra Taft Benson answered that question perfectly when he said, "I would to God that every boy of Boy Scout age in America could have the benefits and the blessings of the great Boy Scout program. It is truly a noble program; it is a builder of character, not only in the boys, but also in the men who provide the leadership. I have often said that Scouting is essentially a spiritual program, a builder of men."

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