A brief history of the LC-MS & the Boy Scouts of America
Unfortunately, it would take another 30+ years of wrangling, between the BSA National Leadership, and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, to iron out all the initial ‘bugs’ in the program, that would then make it suitable for use in OUR congregations. Not that our Synod is particularly finicky – rather, our Synod is rather PARTICULAR about our confession & witness to Christ Jesus; that NOTHING… would detract from it, nor come BETWEEN it, and any of our members – especially, our youngest, and therefore most vulnerable members.
Much of this history that I will detail, comes from the following paper - A Tale of Two Synods: Lessons from the Dissolution of the Synodical Conference - by Dr. Mark Braun, Associate Professor of Theology at Wisconsin Lutheran College (a school of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod [WELS]), which he presented at a conference of WELS theologians in 2001. It also provides an interesting insight into why the
Like any organization, the BSA’s earliest years were highly experimental, as its founders labored to craft the best program to achieve its stated goals. Making SURE those goals didn’t conflict with our efforts as a church body, was the task of the Synod’s Bureau of Information on Secret Societies. As much as that might SOUND like something from J. Edgar Hoover’s days at the FBI, it was actually – and simply – the department of the Synod charged with looking into which public organizations were beneficial, and which had oaths that were contradictory with our obligations (and therefore unfairly burdened the conscience of a believer) as a Christian. Masonic organizations, for example, have long been verboten for our members, because membership forbids confession of the specific person of Christ Jesus as our Savior. In the LC-MS today, the Commission on Theology & Church Relations (CTCR) is responsible for such oversight.
As an example, of an early ‘sticking point’ for the LC-MS, one of the earliest BSA requirements was, that Scouts were to attend the same church as their Scoutmaster (this requirement was dropped sometime in the late Nine-teens or early 1920’s). Needless to say, if your Scoutmaster was Baptist, and you were a member of the LC-MS, this presented too high a stumbling block to Scouting!
Furthermore, LC-MS officials of the day, perceived there to be conflict of interest between the Scout Oath, and the three ecumenical creeds of the church (Apostles, Nicene & Athanasian). “Some of the most powerful and widely-read position statements against Scouting came out of Concordia Publishing House, authored by Missouri Professor Theodore Graebner. Scouting ignored mankind’s sinfulness and the need for repentance as essential ingredients to genuine moral development. Scouting’s “daily Good Turn” led easily to “pharisaical work-righteousness.” Graebner accused Scouting of creating a false image of God and religion by placing all religions on an equal plane. The Scout oath was frivolous for “exacting of boys the common virtues of life which they should be expected to do as a matter of course.” Graebner saw numerous parallels between Scouting and lodges, once labeling the Boy Scouts “a preparatory school for Freemasonry.” No doubt this thought was reinforced by the great numbers of early Scout leaders who WERE Masons; like, Sir General Robert Baden-Powell, Daniel Carter Beard, and E. Urner Goodman, amongst many others.
In time however, the concern over the oath was explained sufficiently that it was to be understood as the same sort of oath, as the Pledge of Allegiance. Granted, neither the Pledge nor the Scout Oath, is NEARLY as important as the three ecumenical creeds for a Christian; they are simply one of MANY oaths we take in life, that govern our civil behavior in the world. Elected officials take an oath, at their swearing in. Military officers take an oath upon their commissioning; doctors stand by the Hippocratic Oath, so on & so forth. Suffice it to say, the major concern was over unionism (mixed worship – at campouts – amongst non-Lutherans) & syncretism (mixed worship with non-Christians), & proved the hardest points of contention to deal with. To its credit, BSA leaders continued to meet with leaders of the LC-MS, to address and correct these issues to the Synod’s satisfaction. While such services often still take place in camp, accommodation is made for any and all religious groups that require it – including LC-MS members; even at events like NOAC and the National Jamboree.
At the 1943 Synod Convention, the Synod’s Bureau of Information on Secret Societies reported that it was unable to find “any factors which would violate our principles” and it could not discover “anything in the practices of scouting, as outlined in [Scouting] handbooks to which a Christian parent, scoutmaster, or pastor would take exception.” Pastors and congregations were urged to exercise “sole and unrestricted right” to “control everything of a religious nature that is to be superimposed upon the official scout program.” Since the committee felt convinced that by appointing congregational scoutmasters, the objectionable features of scouting were removed, it recommended that the matter of scouting should be left to the individual congregation to decide." This position was reaffirmed at the 1950 Synod convention, and the Boy Scouts have remained a valuable partner ever since, in the development of our youth as “physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight” members of society.
Because the BSA does not dictate religious doctrine, but leaves that to the Scout’s denominational authorities, the LC-MS has worked to develop for Lutheran boys, a four-fold God & Country award program, that teaches not only our understanding of how an individual puts their faith into action, but it even helps young boys learn the catechism, in preparation for their confirmation in years to come. In former days, the program award was known as the “Pro Deo et Patria,” and was only available to high school-aged Scouts. Now, 1st, 2nd, & 3rd grade Cub Scouts can earn their “God and Me” award; 4th & 5th grade Cub Scouts work on their "God and Family" award; Middle school-aged Boy Scouts work on the “God & Church” Award (quite possibly the best-looking medal of ALL the denominations' P.R.A.Y. awards!), while High school-aged boys work on either their “Living Faith (which is now almost completely phased out)” or “God & Life” award (successor to the “Living Faith” award). All these are taught utilizing the P.R.A.Y. materials by our congregations’ Pastors, according to the beliefs, doctrine, & practice of the LC-MS.
Adult leaders who serve Lutheran Scouting units for five continuous years (regardless of their church affiliation), may be nominated for the “Servant of Youth” adult recognition award. By FAR though, the hardest adult religious recognition to achieve, is the Lutheran Lamb award. Other denominations only require their leaders have five years of service, before they are eligible for their church’s recognition. The Lamb Award requires a minimum of ten years continuous service to Lutheran Scouting interests, before a Scouter may be nominated for this award.
In 2000, our Synodical President, the Rev. Dr. A.L. Barry, was one of only six denominational leaders to write the Supreme Court, a friend of the court brief on behalf of the Boy Scouts in their national trial to maintain leadership standards, which the Boy Scouts won (Dale v. BSA). Likewise, our Synod works directly with the BSA leadership through the District & Congregational Services Youth Ministry Department, to continually review how Scouting may best serve the interests of our 6,000+ congregations. The LC-MS is also a vital partner of the National Lutheran Association of Scouters (NLAS), which helps provide Lutheran Chaplaincy services for summer camps, and Lutheran-specific resources for our Scouts, Scouters, and congregations that charter Scout units, among its most visible work.
Scout Sunday is normally recognized on the Sunday closest to the BSA’s incorporation anniversary – February 8 – each year. It is a time to recognize those congregations which charter local Scout units, and honor the service of Lutheran Scouts, leaders & Scouters in the congregation. While Concordia –
Rev. Bob McCanless,