For many years, the Boy Scouts of America has provided the core of the LDS Church's program for boys in the U.S. But we're on the verge of losing the Scouting program entirely.
If the courts follow the normal pattern of hostility to religious values even in private organizations, Scouting will be compelled to accept homosexual Scoutmasters. And the day that happens, there is zero chance that the LDS Church will continue to affiliate with a morally defenseless BSA.
And without Scouting in the church, is there really anything for boys at all?
And does anybody care?
You see, boys don't have it as easy as some hyper-feminist mythmakers would have us think.
Remember back in 1992 when we were flooded with news stories about how psychologists had discovered that girls were being downright persecuted in the public schools? According to the latest research, we were told, girls who enter the middle grades full of enthusiasm are stifled and silenced because boys are always getting called on in class, while girls are ignored.
Wow. Something had to be done, everyone could see that!
The trouble was, this flew in the face of my own experience.
I was an eager-beaver boy in school, but I learned quickly that the only way I'd get along with my (usually female) teachers was to act just like the smart girls did. The boys who didn't were always getting in trouble.
I found out for myself, years later, when I was given a "problem" primary class to teach. The wicked 9-year-old boys had driven three female teachers to quit in the past couple of months. In those days, when primary met in the afternoon, male teachers were unheard of. But as a self-employed writer, I could take them on. Guess what? The boys were no problem at all. I wasn't bothered that they needed to bounce out of their chairs now and then. I understood their need to compete and show off. We had a great class.
Growing Up in a World Run by Women
These days, male teachers are more common in both grade school and primary, but the majority of teachers in both institutions are women. And that means that boys grow up in an environment, at school and at church, where their normal behavior is viewed as a problem, while the normal behavior of girls is considered perfectly acceptable.
A recent article in The Atlantic Monthly (Christina Hoff Sommers, "The War Against Boys") demonstrates that the claim that girls are being mistreated and put down in the schools is not only bad science but is the opposite of the truth. Because the research fit the preconceptions of the politically correct, it was promulgated through the press almost without a single doubt or question. But in fact, all the credible, peer-reviewed research shows that it is boys who enter school eager and hopeful, and come out of it far more likely to have been put down, shackled, discouraged, broken--too often turned into "failures" or "problems" by a system determined to make them behave in ways that are completely foreign to their nature.
And even though many educators and researchers are beginning to call attention to the oppression of boys in the educational system, there's still plenty of pressure in the other direction, from people who believe that the only cure for all of society's ills is to get boys to behave like girls.
For many years, I've heard my female friends complain about how the Young Women's program is somehow short-changing girls. "Everything in the girls' program is oriented toward temple marriage, as if that were the only goal in life," my friends complain, "while the boys get to talk about the Gospel."
Yeah, right. Obviously, they've never been in an Aaronic priesthood quorum meeting or seen what the program for young men usually is.
As a kid, I would have loved to have somebody talk about what it means to be a husband, a father, a grown-up. Where were the lessons about how to function in adult callings in the church, or how to be a man in the real world?
Down the hall, the girls were getting lessons that someone had actually worked on for more than 10 minutes before the meeting. And they had activities that did not involve the bouncing of balls in the cultural hall.
I didn't envy them long. I was out of the young men's program by age 15 because it was clear that my local leaders had no idea how to deal with boys like me--creative, non-athletic--even when we had testimonies and kept the commandments and cared deeply about the Gospel. It occurred to no one that if a youth "program" had no place for such a boy, it might be the program that needed changing.
After Scouting, What Will We Offer Our Boys?
The only exception to this regime of systemic carelessness was Scouting. The Scoutmasters actually had some training. They prepared a different lesson or activity every week. They got us outdoors, where we suburban boys could have some experience with nature. We actually had to sleep in the tents we pitched.
If Scouting is disqualified, what will our program for young men be then? And even if it's not, what can we do to bring our Sunday program and our weekday program for boys over 13 up to at least the level of the programs for girls?
It Can Be Done
I've known some good bishops in my day, but the one who made the most difference for the Aaronic priesthood was Mike Lewis. He not only was there for the activities, but he also called on the young men to do real things. For instance, when people moved into or out of the ward, it wasn't the elder's quorum Bishop Lewis called on to help with loading and unloading the truck--it was the Aaronic priesthood.
Those boys learned to work hard and well. People moving into the ward got to meet these young men--weird haircuts, baggy pants, and all--by watching them work carefully, tirelessly, cheerfully alongside their bishop and their leaders.
Bishop Lewis called young men's leaders who showed the boys trust and respect. There were lessons that addressed real issues in the lives of men. There were activities that appealed to every good aspiration and interest.
The scriptures talk very clearly about what the Aaronic priesthood is for--to minister to the temporal needs of the saints. This isn't a vestigial requirement. It's a solemn responsibility--to set boys to work meeting people's needs so they can earn respect from adults and in their own eyes.
The church is most likely to lose boys at precisely this age.
Here's a radical thought. Maybe the problem isn't the boys, or the age they're going through.
Maybe the problem is that they are yearning to do something hard, something real, something that matters, something they love. The world is eagerly telling them that they're worthless, that manliness causes all the problems in the world.
Let's tell them--and show them--that the Lord has a very different idea of who they are and what they can do.