My name is William “Bill” Bryson and I currently serve as the council president for the Far East Council, which is headquartered in Japan, and provides BSA programs for Scouts and Scouters in Japan, Okinawa, Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, and the Philippines. Over the last several years I have had many wonderful opportunities to work with the LDS Scouting program. Here are some of my thoughts regarding my experience.
1. Troop 91 in Taipei, Taiwan
Troop 91 is the oldest BSA troop in Taiwan and the only remaining legacy troop from the days that the US military was there. Prior to 1979, all BSA troops in Taiwan were chartered by the Department of Defense. When the US military left Taiwan in 1979 and 1980, the only troop that was handed over to civilian control was Troop 91, which was attached to the Taipei American School (formerly the Department of Defense School in Taipei). Troop 91 also has a feeder Cub Scout pack, Pack 91. Both units are currently chartered by the Taipei Youth Program Association (TAS), an organization which provides athletic and other activities for (mostly) lower school and middle school children from TAS and other schools in the northern Taipei area.
This is my twelfth year as a Scout leader in Taiwan. During that time, and during all of the years before (as far as I am aware), there have always been LDS Scouts and Scouters in both the pack and the troop. One of my predecessors as Cubmaster of the pack had served as the bishop of the English-speaking ward in Taipei. His wife served as my committee chair for the five years I was Scoutmaster of Troop 91, and continues to serve in that position to this day (indeed, I was the one who recruited her as committee chair). At present, the troop committee chair, Scoutmaster, and unit commissioner are all Latter-day Saints, most of them with stake-level responsibilities. I once asked my successor (the current SM, Brian Christensen) why the local ward did not have its own Scout troop. He responded that during his term as bishop there had been a discussion of that issue, but the senior leaders of the ward had determined that Pack and Troop 91 served the needs of the ward’s Young Men, and there was therefore no need to create a new troop. A similar conclusion had apparently been reached by the bishop who preceded me as Cubmaster.
The relationship between Troop 91 and it’s LDS members can best be described as a seamless symbiosis, and is characterized by flexibility, tolerance, and a recognition that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Specific examples:
A. All of our campouts begin on Fridays. While some of the campouts are two nights, we assist the LDS Scouts and Scouters with whatever travel arrangements they need to get home on Saturday so that they can attend church on Sunday. I have also offered to allow the LDS Scouts and Scouters to hold their own service on Sundays if the event is outside Taiwan, or even to put together an inter-faith service in which the LDS Scouts and Scouters can participate.
B. The Young Men’s group includes a weekly troop meeting in addition to their three-hour Sunday routine. So, they have three hours in church, one hour after church and one hour (really one and a half hours) on Tuesday evening. The Young Men leaders usually volunteer as assistant Scoutmasters (ASMs), so this works well.
C. We have previously, at the request of the bishop, placed all of the LDS Scouts in a certain age group in the same patrol, and appointed an LDS assistant Scoutmaster to work with the patrol (every patrol in our troop has an ASM assigned to it). In exchange, we have asked the bishop to make sure that all of the boys in the patrol are treated equally in terms of opportunities for rank advancement and leadership. This arrangement has always worked out well.
D. We emphasize both aspects of Reverence—adherence to one’s own religious practices and respect for the religious practices of others—in the operation of the troop. This may be somewhat easier in a community like ours, as our troop has seven different nationalities/ethnicities (USA, Canada, Taiwan, Portugal, India, Korea, and mainland China) and at least eight different religious groups (LDS, Roman Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, local folk religion, and at least two different brands of Protestantism). The “Rainbow” aspects of our troop demographics, and the wildly divergent theologies represented by our religious groups, make prejudice against any one religious tradition difficult, if not impossible.
E. All Scouters take the view that the most important value is the good of the troop, and making sure that the boys have a positive, enriching, meaningful, and fun Scouting experience in the troop. Any Scouter who is discovered not to share that value is prevailed upon to hand their position to someone else.
F. We do not differentiate service projects by whether or not they are being organized by an LDS Scout or a non-LDS Scout. All projects receive equal advertising within the troop and as a result we have massive turn-outs for all of our service projects (indeed, the ward’s Young Women organization volunteered to prepare the lunch at my son’s Eagle Scout project). Our biggest projects are often the ones organized by the LDS Scouts because they can also call on the ward for additional volunteers; the LDS Scouts and Scouters routinely turn out for all our projects.
G. There is a common understanding that the troop is off-limits for evangelism and proselytizing. This understanding is not directed at any one religious group (all groups like to spread their gospels), and given our religious diversity this has not been a difficult understanding to maintain and “enforce.” That being said, the LDS ward regularly invites any interested Scouts to participate in, or just come watch, their annual Christmas pageant, which used to be held in a public park here in Taipei and is now held on the grounds of the Taipei Temple. We award service hours to any Scouts who participate in either setting up, taking down, or acting in the pageant. When it was held in a public park, we also used to sleep on the set to discourage vandalism, something which earned the boys both service hours and a camping night. I played the innkeeper three years in a row and my son was the innkeeper’s son one year. Lots and lots of fun!
H. As Scoutmaster, I did everything I could to try and understand both The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter referred to as “the Church”) and the relationship between the Church and the BSA. This inquiry has extended over a long period of years, with lots of conversations with the troop’s LDS Scouters and with a bike buddy of mine who is a member of the ward (you can learn a lot during a 100k bike ride!). This has been quite a journey for me, and I have gained an appreciation for the fact that nobody supports BSA Scouting, whether within or outside the United States, more than the Church.
2. The Troop in Singapore
A few years ago, I taught SM/ASM Leader-Specific Training to a group of adults at our council camporee in Chiang Mai, Thailand. After one of the sessions, a young ASM from a troop in Singapore approached me about some comments I had made about the troop’s relationship with the local LDS ward. He wondered how LDS Scouts could maintain their identity as LDS members but join a troop which was not chartered by the Church.
I basically went through points A – D above with him, and emphasized the importance of point E, for both the LDS Scouts/Scouters and the non-LDS Scouts/Scouters. I also shared with him my view that each local ward must make a decision as to whether or not it is possible for the ward, by itself, to provide the same program with the same resource support as the local non-LDS troop. LDS Scouters who lived in the States prior to living in Taiwan have all uniformly told me that Troop 91 has an A-list outdoor and advancement program, providing opportunities for our Scouts that mainland US troops could only dream of, and I hope that is one of the values that the local ward sees in staying with Troop 91. I suggested to the young ASM that, in all likelihood, the combined resources of the ward and the non-LDS component of the troop could probably provide a phenomenal program that would be better than anything either could do on their own.
I also cautioned him, however, that if the ward had specific concerns, then those should be discussed with the existing troop leadership. In my experience, commonality of purpose and flexibility of attitude can accomplish a lot.
We had a few more discussions over the course of a few days, most of which were along the lines of what I have outlined above. I have never heard back from him, but I note that there is no LDS-sponsored troop in Singapore, so I assume that the ward and the troop were able to come to some kind of understanding. I hope so; I would consider that a positive outcome.
I am grateful for my association with LDS Scouts and Scouters and hope that we will have many more wonderful Scouting opportunities in the future.