As the Boy Scouts of America celebrates its 100th anniversary, the storied organization's first institutional sponsor — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — can certainly claim a prominent place at the birthday table. It was a century ago this month that the BSA was organized on a national basis. Three years later, the Church formally became an official citizen of the Scouting community. A century has passed, and Scouting's guiding challenge that boys remain "physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight" have become a part of the fabric of Aaronic Priesthood holders across the United States.
Since the beginning of the Church's friendship with Scouting, general priesthood leaders have championed the teachings of Scouting. They've long understood that Scouting can help a young man prepare for future priesthood duties, missions, temple marriages and lifelong service in the Church.
"I am pleased to stand firm for an organization that teaches duty to God and country, that embraces the Scout Law," said President Thomas S. Monson in an October 1993 general conference address. "Yes, an organization whose motto is, 'Be Prepared,' and whose slogan is, 'Do a good turn daily.' The Aaronic Priesthood prepares boys for manhood and the weightier duties of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Scouting helps our boys to walk uprightly the priesthood path to exaltation ... The priesthood program of the Church, with its accompanying activities, including Scouting, will help and not hinder you as you journey through life."
From the beginning, Scouting, with its spiritually driven precepts, appealed to Church leaders as an ideal program for the Aaronic Priesthood. The first LDS-sponsored Scouting organization was organized following a motion introduced by President Anthony W. Ivins of the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association (YMMIA). The Church became formally affiliated with Scouting in 1913. Today the Church sponsors more Scouts and Scouting units in the U.S. than any other organization.
In her book, Lest We Forget ... A Historical Review of the Great Salt Lake Council, BSA, Kerry Ross Boren writes about the first LDS Boy Scout troop.
"Troop 1 was chartered by Boy Scouts of America to Waterloo Ward in Salt Lake City. ... On the first outing in the summer of 1911, the newly formed Scout Troop camped out at Brighton, a recreational area in the Wasatch Mountains east of Salt Lake City."
Since that first campout, LDS Scouts have participated in outings by the thousands in mountains, deserts and beaches across the country. Scouting's central purpose among members has been followed since the beginning of Waterloo's Troop No. 1: to function as the activity arm of the Aaronic Priesthood while helping boys realize their spiritual and physical potential as deacons, teachers and priests.
Speaking to a 1996 gathering of Boy Scouts in Fillmore, Utah, President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of his love of Scouting and its capacity to prepare young priesthood holders for future challenges, callings and opportunities. "If every boy in America knew and observed the Scout Oath, we would do away with most of the jails and prisons in this country," he said. "If each of us would live up to those few words, 'On my honor, I will do my best,' whether it be in school, whether it be in our social life, whether it be in our business or professional life, if I will do my very best, success and happiness will be mine."
President Monson remains a lifelong champion of Scouting. A recipient of BSA's Silver Beaver and Silver Buffalo awards (along with International Scouting's highest award, the Bronze Wolf), President Monson is in his fifth decade of service on the National Executive Board of Boy Scouts of America. He remains the board's longest-tenured member.
Some 405,676 youth are chartered in LDS Scouting units. More than 37,000 units (that includes Boy Scout troops, Cub Scout packs and Venturing youth) are operating in Church wards and branches. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of members are volunteering in wards and branches as Scoutmasters, den leaders and in other official Scouting capacities.