Additional Resource

Bishop Gary E. Stevenson Boy Scouts of America National Annual Meeting Keynote Speech


Transcript of a speech given by Bishop Gary E. Stevenson, Presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at the Boy Scouts of America national annual meeting on 23 May 2013.


Welcome and Introduction

Hello and welcome to all of you, my Scouting friends and colleagues. What a great honor it is for me to be with you this morning. I am grateful to Paul Moffat and the committee for this superbly organized event. I also acknowledge the National Key Three: Wayne Perry, Tico Perez and Wayne Brock for their capable leadership.

Have you noticed? To be around Scout leaders is to be around Scouts. Unlike leaders in many organizations, most BSA leaders are very close to those whom they serve. Much is asked of and much is given by adult leaders of the BSA. For this, I express my appreciation to you and for you.

I am also happy to report to you that I too have been in the trenches. This includes snow caves, summer camps, overnighters, merit badge course work, and rank-advancement reviews. As the father of four sons, I could show you battle scars from 12 pinewood derbies. With the completion of a board of review last week for my youngest son, each of them is now an Eagle Scout. I know what you are thinking, and I agree: this speaks to my wife, Lesa, rather than to me.

One of the greatest privileges and cherished opportunities in my life was to associate with a special group of Scouts as one of their adult leaders over a four-year period more than a decade ago, culminating in a court of honor where 17 of them received their Eagle award together one evening.

Well, as we are gathered here this morning in the tradition of this Duty to God breakfast, let me begin with the following. I am very aware of the controversial moral, legal, and policy issues that face this great organization. They are deep and they are wide and they will test the best in us. Although I don’t speak directly to these issues this morning, I believe it constructive counsel for each of us to pray that divine direction manifest itself upon those who have the weighty responsibility to lead this organization appropriately.

A Strong Foundation

In 2004 Hurricane Ivan swept through the Caribbean and the United States. At its peak, it reached category 5 strength and winds as high as 165 miles per hour, becoming the 10th most intense Atlantic hurricane on record.[1] Damages were estimated at nearly 19 billion dollars.[2] One of the islands hit hardest was Grand Cayman. During part of the storm, the entire island was completely covered with water and was reported to have even disappeared from satellite.  

One homeowner there was Dick Mason. Aware of the approaching storm, he fled to a bunker for protection. When the storm passed and it was safe to leave the bunker, he emerged to a scene of devastation. Home after home was torn apart—nearly 85 percent of the buildings on the island sustained damage. As Dick walked back to his home on the coast, he did not know what he might find there. Then, as his street came into view, he found, amid the devastation, a single home standing intact on the road—his home. He even found lights on because his generator had survived. Now there’s a man who understood the motto “Be Prepared!”

Why had his home withstood the wind? Because years earlier he had understood the power of a strong foundation. When the home was built, he had prepared his foundation 20 feet down, boring and anchoring into bedrock. To some, that depth may seem excessive. Yet Dick maintained the importance of a deep foundation to secure his home. And that strong foundation provided safety against the intense storm.

A solid, deep foundation is always critical for success—not just in individuals, homes, and families, but also in businesses and organizations. Prior to my full-time assignment with the LDS Church, I was co-founder and principal of a consumer products company.  As the business grew into worldwide markets and head count increased to over 2500, so did its complexity.  We engaged a consultant to help us adopt a world-recognized quality standard, called ISO 9000.  This was an extensive and complicated integration process.  Interestingly, prior to commencing their considerable consultation, the first task was a thorough review of the company mission statement.  Their extensive experience had taught them that without such a statement, and a culture which understood and supported it, product quality would never be world class.

A foundation or mission statement seems to be a common denominator in many great organizations—and lacking in some of those not so great. To stay focused on its mission, it develops a succinct statement that informs every meeting and drives every decision. That mission statement is clear and concise, and it motivates and inspires. It can guide an organization, decide the destiny of a generation, or determine the fate of a nation.  Examples abound:

For General Norman Schwarzkopf and his multi-national coalition, it was two words: “Liberate Kuwait.”

For Abraham Lincoln: “This nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”

For America’s Founding Fathers: “In God we trust.”

For the followers of Jesus: “Love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:39).

And for a Boy Scout: the Scout Oath. Central to the Oath: “I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country.” 

Isn’t it impressive that this great organization, so far ahead of its time, established this foundation or mission statement, integrated it deeply into its culture, and practiced it, beginning in 1910.  Ask any man who was a boy scout, and you will find near 100 percent recognition and an “off the chart” recall of this mission statement.  

Duty—shall we drill down just a little deeper?  Thomas S. Monson, the leader of my church and a longtime member of BSA’s National Executive Board, said, “I love and cherish the noble word duty and all that it implies.”[3]

Duty to God is the heart of Scouting. It is a founding principle as old and deep as the organization itself. What does it imply? The World Organization of the Scout Movement defines duty to God as “adherence to spiritual principles, loyalty to the religion that expresses them and acceptance of the duties resulting therefrom.”[4] And a BSA duty to God task force said, “Spirituality, reverence, morality, [and] ethical behavior . . . are terms which reflect and demonstrate ways to fulfill duty to God.”[5]

Eric Liddell

British Olympian Eric Liddell embraced this duty to God throughout his life. The movie Chariots of Fire tells the story of his preparation for and competition in the 1924 Olympics. In the movie, Liddell, a devout Christian, learns that the race he is most likely to win—the 100-meter—will be held on Sunday. He boldly announces that he will not run on the Lord’s day, despite pressure from the British Olympic Committee and the Prince of Wales himself. Fellow runner Lord Andrew Lindsay, having already won a silver medal, graciously offers Liddell his place in a longer race—the 400-meter—to be held on Thursday. Liddell accepts the offer and runs the race of a lifetime, defeating the heavily favored opponents, and winning a gold medal.

Before the race, the Duke of Sutherland, who tried to convince Liddell to run on Sunday, discusses the turn of events with Lord Birkenhead, leader of the British team.

“A sticky moment,” says the Duke of Sutherland.

“Thank God for Lindsay; I thought the lad [Liddell] had us beaten,” Lord Birkenhead responds.

“He did have us beaten, and thank God he did,” responds the Duke.

“I don’t quite follow you,” says Lord Birkenhead.

The Duke of Sutherland then clarifies his meaning:

“The ‘lad,’ as you call him, is a true man of principles and a true athlete. His speed is a mere extension of his life, its force. We sought to sever his running from himself.”

 Care must be exercised that we never sever Scouting from itself, but rather that it stand firm and remain strong in its foundation. What is that foundation? It is found in the Scout Oath and Law. It is found in Scouting’s methods and aims. And it is found in the Scout charter and bylaws, which I quote:

“The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. In the first part of the Scout Oath or Promise the member declares, ‘On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law.’ The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members.”[6]

The understanding of duty to God is fundamental to Scouting. It’s a foundation that maintains great strength, just as Eric Liddell’s devotion not to compete on Sunday strengthened him. His speed derived from his character and integrity. Make Eric Liddell run on Sunday, and you shear him—just like Samson—of his strength and his power. But let him stay true to his duty, and you will see his strength flourish.

The Road to Manhood

Sometimes we forget that we are part of a like-minded faith-based society —  that the precepts embodied in the scout oath, are generally regarded and respected in our culture.  Recent studies indicate that 80% of Americans believe in heaven and 73% believe God has a plan for them.[7] That notwithstanding, boy scouts of today face issues not faced by generations before them:  declining morals, technology, addictive behavior, and declining academic performance to name a few.   I believe that the key to solving these issues lies in family and duty to God. If boys truly understood what their duty to God entails and lived it, they would grow safely into manhood. That is where the Boy Scouts of America can help. Speaking on behalf of the organization I represent, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I feel that it is this common belief in duty to God that has forged the iron-strong connection with Boy Scouts of America we have shared over the last 100 years. One hundred years of evidence has shown that this impact-proof, non-rusting core principle works better than whatever has been, historically, the next-best idea. Duty to God is where the power lies. Duty to God is what changes lives.

A God-given vision of their potential as men is powerful when it’s as common as a compass to young Scouts.

Yes, the answer to the challenge of the century is simple: duty to God. This answer is a bold but true concept, one for which I claim no authorship, and which has existed from the infancy of this organization.  When asked where religion enters into Scouting, Lord Robert Baden-Powell replied, “It does not come in at all. It is already there. It is a fundamental factor underlying Scouting.”[8]

Teach the Cadence and the Meaning

As a young Boy Scout, I learned the Scout Oath. I recited it each week with the following cadence breaks:

On my honor,

I will do my best,

To do my duty,

To God and my country.

I don’t think I am alone in this. Most of us probably learned it that way. But now that I am on the other end of life, I see the misplaced pause in the cadence separating duty and God. I should have been saying:

On my honor,

I will do my best,

To do my Duty to God,

And my country.

It feels very different to say it that way, but it has the right emphasis. Or should I say that removing the oral pause between “duty” and “to God” adds the proper respect and priority.  This notwithstanding, I have a feeling that even if we taught all Scouts this respectful cadence, we would still have to teach them the deeper meaning of the phrase “duty to God.”

Interestingly, one of our past Hollywood heroes taught this precept exceptionally well.  Once when actor John Wayne attended a Scouting event, he was asked to comment on the Scout Oath and Scout Law. He said:

“Duty to God. Nice words. Trouble is, we learn them so young we sometimes don’t get all the understanding that goes with them. I take care of that in my family. As each boy reaches Scout age . . . I break it down for him with a few things I’ve picked up in the more than half a century since I learned it. With[God], life can be a beautiful experience. Without Him, you’re just biding time.”[9]

Teaching Duty

So here is the lesson for us. Duty to God is a new concept for young minds. Scouts need the understanding that goes with this principle of life. And that needs to be taught and explained and shown by example.

It’s so easy to get focused on the things that we can measure, like miles and merit badges, that we forget that our central focus is on things that can’t be measured. Robert Baden-Powell must have seen that in the future when he warned nearly a hundred years ago: “In training our Scouts, keep the higher aims in the forefront. . . . Don’t let the technical outweigh the moral. Field efficiency, back woodsmanship, camping, hiking, Good Turns, jamboree comradeship are all means, not the end. The end is CHARACTER with a purpose.”[10]

There are opportunities to teach in every activity, every hike, every knot tied—because duty to God is the essence of Scouting, woven through every detail. I offer an example of mine while in a role as an adult Scout leader, some years ago.

The excitement was palpable for the nearly 20 Boy Scouts and leaders, as we arrived at the West Thumb boat launch of the Yellowstone Lake.  Reservations had been made for the remote South Arm campsites, accessible only by an hour-long boat ride across the lake, commencing a week of fishing, hiking, and scouting fun.   As quickly as the gear and the boys were loaded in the boats and embarked to cross the lake, so did the dark thunderheads form and begin to roll across the lake.  Winds picked up, and dangerous dark white-capped waves began to form.  “Push forward,” “turn back,” “let’s offer a prayer” were three suggestions heard by me from the boys as I navigated the stormy waters.  Well, a prayer was offered, and we did turn back, without incident.  That night, we all gathered to reflect on “What did we learn from this activity?” and “What were the problems?” and “How did we overcome them?” The conversation quickly turned to insightful, spiritual-based metaphors.  Conversation centered on choices, temptation, dark clouds, rough water, unexpected obstacles, and the existence a loving Heavenly Father who will help.  That experience and our reflection upon it that night, likely has been and will be the catalyst for spiritual thought for many of those boys, now men, for years to come.         

Duty to God in Action

Now that’s the essence of what we do—giving boys an understanding of the words duty to God. That means we must teach them, translate for them, and help them see the connection between what they’re doing in the mechanical and how it relates to the moral. Duty to God is not a consolation prize; it is the main prize. And as we focus on it, we will see its effects.

We will see Scouts like a group of young men from Queen Creek, Arizona, two of whom have already achieved the rank of Eagle. But more important, they have learned—and now live—their duty to God. This was evidenced last fall when Liz Johnson became concerned about her daughter Chy, who was being bullied at school. Born with a genetic defect that limits her brain function to a third-grade level, this 16-year-old sophomore was being pushed in the halls and even had trash thrown at her. When Chy’s mom could receive no assistance from the teachers and administrators, she contacted Carson Jones, the school’s starting quarterback who had once escorted Chy to the Special Olympics. She hoped he could find out the names of the bullies.

Given the situation, surely telling Liz the names would have been doing a good turn. But for a Scout who understood his duty to God, that was not enough. Carson said, “Telling on kids would’ve just caused more problems.” Instead, Carson invited Chy to eat lunch at a table with him and his teammates. Then running back Tucker Workman made sure someone always walked with her between class, and cornerback Colton Moore made sure she sat by the team in class.

As you can imagine, no one bullied Chy with this group of starting football players—who went on to win the state championship—escorting her. Chy now calls this group “my boys,” and she sat near them at each of their football games to cheer them on. Rather than coming home from school crying, Chy began to enjoy a life filled with excitement and joy. No one is “mean to me,” she says, “because all my boys love me . . . so much.”

Chy’s mother refers to these Scouts as “angels in disguise,” but the young men are humble in their heroism. Tucker points out, “It feels good to know that we helped someone else, because . . . everything for us is going well, but someone else needs to feel good too.” Powerful words from someone who understands his duty.[11]

One of my predecessors, Keith B. McMullin said, “As men and women and boys and girls do their duty to God, they feel impelled to do their duty to one another, to their family, to their church and nation, to all things entrusted to their care.”[12] The young men of Queen Creek, Arizona, understand that, and it’s changed lives—theirs and others, including many students at the school who now have a better understanding of what it means to be “helpful, friendly courteous, [and] kind”—to do one’s duty to God.

We live at a time when there is great need for youth to look outward, focusing less on themselves and more on others. This is a time to reinforce and defend duty to God. That is the message of Scouting. It always has been, and ever should it be.

May we never neglect our duty. May we be true to the standard upon which scouting was based—duty to God.  I end where we began, with an emphasis on the importance of a strong foundation, anchored in bedrock, strong enough to withstand a category 5 hurricane.   Our young men need a foundation that is stronger than any and all of us — the foundation of duty to God.

Some may not see the sacred gatekeeping role scouting plays. They may see only fundraising and not a foundation. Others may brand scouting activities as merely outdoor recreation, but it can and must be shown that BSA is not a camping club; it is a character university centered on duty to God. I quote again from Robert Baden-Powell: “The whole of [scouting] is based on religion, that is, on the realization and service of God.”

I stand here today with a resolute belief that Scouting must never overlook this core principle. We still need duty to God. We always will.  When the societal and political winds come, and they surely will, scouting cannot unhinge itself from this foundational principle. This great organization cannot be deterred when we remain strong in our solid foundation, when we stand united for duty to God.

As Eric Liddell raced toward the finish line in Chariots of Fire, someone in the crowd asked, “So where does the power come from—to see the race to its end?”

Then came the answer I hope we always remember: “From within.”

Thank you.

[1], quoting: National Hurricane Center; Hurricane Research Division; Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (February 15, 2013). “Atlantic hurricane best track (HURDAT version 2).” United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved April 28, 2013.


[3] Thomas S. Monson, “The Call of Duty,” Ensign, May 1986.


[5] task.html

[6]Charter and Bylaws of the Boy Scouts of America, article IX, section 1, clause 1

[7] Mark Chaves, “The Decline of American Religion?” The Association of Religion Data Archives (2011).

[8]Religion and the Boy Scout and Girl Guides Movement--an address, 1926.




[12] Keith B. McMullin, “Our Path of Duty,” Ensign, May 2010, 14.


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