Abolish the Eagle Court of Honor

On Sunday evening our ward held an Eagle Court of Honor for 6 of our young men. An impressive feat for any ward, but especially impressive to me as we live in the Midwest, far away from the epicenter of LDS scouting. It’s a credit to an excellent scoutmaster and involved and interested parents. It’s also a credit to 6 incredible young men. As I sat through the program, however, something bothered me — it’s something that has bothered me before. As the program stretched from an hour into an hour-and-a-half, I became more and more disconcerted.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that scouting isn’t really my scene. In Mormon parlance: I don’t have a testimony of scouting. This isn’t to say that I don’t think it’s a wonderful program. For those who are invested in scouting, it teaches lifelong skills like hard-work, discipline, ingenuity, determination, and [insert Scout Law here]. It provides young men who are so inclined with an outlet for personal achievement and exploration. I was not so inclined as a youth. I didn’t like camping (I have a severe allergy to being outside and the complexion of an albino ghost), I didn’t like earning merit badges, and I didn’t want to participate in scouting. I earned my Eagle but did so begrudgingly, at the insistence of my parents. I didn’t even have a court of honor. I was so bitter about the hoops I’d been coerced into jumping through that the only ceremony I would allow was for my mother to present my Eagle to me in our home during family home evening — it was my passive-aggressive way of rebelling against the man. So, perhaps my criticism of anything scout related comes from my own personal bias. My opinion should probably be taken with a gigantic grain of salt.

Because of my own admitted biases, I generally keep my mouth shut when it comes to scouting in the Church. I’ve learned that almost any perceived criticism or attack on scouting is met with forceful push-back from true scouters. I understand this and appreciate the zeal — no question scouting has had an incredibly positive impact on a great many young men (as President Monson often points out). Defense of such a laudable program is itself laudable. As such, I’ll try to be clear: I am not attacking scouting as a program. It’s a genuinely great program. I do, however, have some trepidation about certain aspects of scouting, the Eagle Court of Honor included.

As I sat in the Chapel watching the award ceremony, something kept gnawing at me. There was nothing particularly egregious about the program. It had been planned by these young men’s mothers and it was similar in every way to every other Eagle Court of Honor I’ve attended in my life: color guards; the pomp and ceremony of the Eagle Pledge (or Curse, or whatever it’s called); mothers and fathers coming to the pulpit to pin their sons; state legislators presenting flags flown over the state capital; young men and leaders alike extolling the virtues of scouting; copious amounts of cake and ice cream in the cultural hall afterwards; and, tables full of memorabilia and photos the scouts collected on their journey to Eagle. So what was so bothersome? Two things in particular.

First, there is a certain lack of modesty involved in Eagle Court of Honors. There is no other program/award given in the Church that involves the pageantry of an Eagle Court of Honor. The only thing that even comes close is a good old-fashioned Mormon wedding reception (the only thing that a wedding reception and an Eagle Court of Honor have in common is that no-one really wants to attend either). Every other progression/award given in the Church is done without pretension. The Duty to God award is given during the business portion of Sacrament Meeting without parents or any other pageantry — literally 30 seconds (less if your kid is shy). Blink and you’ll miss it. Personal Progress is the same. Yet, we dedicate an entire evening to Eagle Scouts. When I discussed this with my in-laws, my mother-in-law suggested that the reason for all of the pageantry and backslapping is because of what a monumental accomplishment it is to become an Eagle Scout. I don’t dispute this, it is a difficult thing to do and should be commended. We don’t, however, celebrate any other difficult and commendable things we do in Church with a dog-and-pony show like we do with the Eagle. We don’t dedicate a Sunday evening in the chapel to a returned missionary, with cake and ice cream afterwards, and a slide show of all the difficult things he did on his mission. I would argue that serving an honorable mission is more difficult by degrees than becoming an Eagle Scout (as someone who has done both). Indeed, there was a time in the not-too-distant past when the pageantry associated with missionary homecomings was starting to resemble Eagle Courts of Honor. The Brethren put the kibosh on such practices, and rightfully so.

I would be much more invested in scouting if it still involved really awesome hats.

So, the lack of modesty I find a bit obscene. Perhaps it’s minor and I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but it bothers me nonetheless (there’s always a solid chance that I’m the one who’s wrong). The other issue that I find troublesome is the utter lack of corollary recognition for young women in the Church. Young women work for and receive the Personal Progress award, but as mentioned above, it’s done without either pretense or pageantry. My mother-in-law, again, pointed out that this is probably because Personal Progress is not as difficult to achieve as Eagle Scout (I don’t know this to be true, it’s quite possible that the requirements for the two awards are equally difficult to complete and I and my mother-in-law are both ignorant). This seems like a bit of a cop out to me. I’ve felt for a long time that we tend to give short shrift to our young women at the local level. I admit to being rather ignorant of the specific requirements for Personal Progress, but I know it’s not a walk in the park. I know that it requires substantial sacrifice and effort on the young woman’s part. As such, young women who work hard and complete all of the requirements for Personal Progress deserve just as much recognition as our young men do, or perhaps, our young men deserve less. It’s not the young woman’s fault that the requirements she diligently fulfilled aren’t as regimented as those for Eagle (again, somebody, anybody correct me on this before I hurt someone).

For now, it is what it is. Scouting, for the foreseeable future, is the activity arm of the Aaronic Priesthood in the United States and will likely remain so until social pressures push the BSA so far to the social left that the Church considers its partnership with such an organization untenable. And, perhaps I’m wrong anyway, and young men do need the pageantry and recognition that comes with the Eagle Court of Honor. I suspect that if and when my oldest son—currently 12-years-old — receives his Eagle, my wife will want to celebrate the accomplishment with a much-too-long awards ceremony (she is his mother after all). I’m personally hoping he opts for something a bit more modest. A special family home evening perhaps?