SALT LAKE CITY — With the LDS Church re-evaluating its centurylong ties with the Boy Scouts of America, local council leaders in Utah aren't sure what the future holds for the program.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sponsors the majority of troops in the state, including 99 percent of those in the Utah National Parks Council, the largest in the country with almost 80,000 boys.
"Until we get further direction from the church, all the hypothesis in the world is just that," said Stan Lockhart, president of the council that encompasses all troops south of Salt Lake County.
"Clearly, the church and the national Boy Scouts are not aligned," he said. "That has to happen one way or another."
The BSA on Monday ended its longstanding ban on gay Scout leaders, prompting the LDS Church — the nation's largest faith-based sponsor of Scouting — to say it intends to re-evaluate its affiliation with the organization and consider creating an international program of its own.
Where that leaves more than 437,000 boys in nearly 38,000 LDS-chartered Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops and Venturing crews nationwide is unclear. About 200,000 Scouts live in Utah along with thousands of Scout leaders.
Retired Great Salt Lake Council public relations director Kay Godfrey said it would be "devastating" for the BSA if the LDS Church were to pull out. It would not only lose a huge chunk of its membership but all the money the church provides for the program, he said.
"I can't imagine a larger blow," Godfrey said, adding he could see other church-based sponsors following suit. "There may be a mass exodus if something like this happens."
Lockhart said for now "there isn't an option" for local troops other than continuing to build character, integrity and life skills in the young people Scouting serves.
"We know what the church statement said. We don't know what future statements will say," he said.
Leaders with Utah's other two councils — Great Salt Lake and Trapper Trails — closed ranks Tuesday and did not respond to requests for interviews. The Salt Lake-area council numbers more than 76,000 boys, while Trapper Trails in northern Utah has nearly 50,000, the majority of whom belong to LDS-chartered units.
The three Utah councils later issued a joint statement, saying though many have expressed concern about the future of Scouting in the area, they can't speculate about the LDS Church's decision. The councils were "deeply disappointed" that the BSA did not grant the church's request to delay the vote.
"Regardless of the outcome, we want to be part of the solution for LDS youth and all youth in the community. We will move forward in full support of the church’s decisions and efforts while continuing our work to 'prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law,'" according to the statement.
The councils said they respect their chartered partners’ rights and decisions, and will continue to serve them in whatever capacity they need.
In 2013, the LDS Church and BSA celebrated 100 years of Scouting together with a stage production in the 21,000-seat Conference Center in Salt Lake City titled, "A Century of Honor."
The theme reflected the church and Scouting and how the values and principles have remained constant during the longstanding partnership. Scouting and church responsibilities for Mormon boys are intertwined. The church’s Duty to God program incorporates Scouting practices to help them learn service and leadership.
The new BSA policy also affirms a chartered organization’s right to choose troop leaders based on its religious principles and provides that local Scout councils will not interfere with that right.
That brought reaction from other faith-based groups.
The National Catholic Committee on Scouting said it's not entirely clear how the BSA policy squares with previous policy changes and how it will work in practice.
"At the same time, we express strong concern about the practical implications of this resolution, especially for our young people in Scouting, and whether the term 'sexual orientation' will be correctly understood and applied only in reference to sexual inclination and not to sexual conduct or behavior," according to an online letter to Catholic Scouters.
"We also express concern that the resolution articulates a position on adult sexual conduct that does not make clear that sexual behavior should be reserved to a husband and a wife in marriage."
The Catholic Church sponsors 8,100 Scouting units, totaling 259,000 youths.
The United Methodist Church, second only to the LDS Church in number of congregations that host Scout troops, supported the new BSA policy, noting local churches will still be able to pick their leaders in more than 10,700 units involving about 350,000 youth.
Gilbert Hanke, the top executive of United Methodist Men, also pointed out in a statement that the BSA resolution says it will defend religious chartered organizations against discrimination claims or actions.
But LGBT rights groups such as the Human Rights Commission says the resolution doesn't go far enough and called on the BSA to start considering a full national policy of inclusion. Lambda Legal questions whether the new policy would withstand legal challenges longterm.
Godfrey said he expects there will be a lot of time and money spent in court.
Even though Scouting has opened its doors, he said, there are groups that want to force sponsoring organizations to "take in all people" regardless of their feeling on the matter.
"That's going to eliminate a lot of sponsors of Scouting if it ever went that direction," Godfrey said.
Contributing: Paul Nelson, KSL Newsradio