RALEIGH, N.C. – A Presbyterian church was happy to have Jeremy and Jodi Stokes as Cub Scout leaders, at least until officials there found out they are Mormons and told them they would have to step down because the church does not consider them real Christians.
The Stokeses enrolled their sons as Scouts at Christ Covenant Church, a Presbyterian congregation about 10 miles from Charlotte, then expressed interest in volunteering as leaders. Church officials were initially thrilled earlier this month, the Stokeses said, until they saw on the couple's application forms that they belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
After two Scout meetings, the Stokeses were told their sons, 6 and 8 years old, could remain in their packs, but the parents couldn't serve as leaders.
"I can't believe they had the audacity to say, 'You can't be leaders but we want your boys,'" Jodi Stokes said. "Are you kidding me? Do you really think I'd let my boys go there now?"
The Stokeses story was first reported in the Charlotte Observer.
Christ Covenant spokeswoman Stelle Snyder said in an e-mail Tuesday the church was taking action to "assure that our parameters for leaders are clearly defined and well-communicated to volunteers and those interested in leadership roles for church sponsored programs such as the Boy Scouts."
The e-mail included a link to a site explaining the differences between Mormon and historical Christian doctrine. Snyder declined to comment further, but said the church wishes the Stokes family well.
"We had bought the uniforms, we had gone to two meetings, they had played with the other kids," Jodi Stokes said. "And then my sons are saying, 'Mommy, why can't we go back there?'"
Members of the Salt Lake City-based LDS church strongly identify as Christians, believing that salvation is possible because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But significant theological differences separate Mormons from most Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches.
The LDS church treats as holy scripture writings, like the Book of Mormon, which aren't recognized by other churches, but which it believes were divinely revealed to Joseph Smith in the 1820s. Mormons also disavow belief in the core Christian doctrine of the Trinity — that the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one — instead believing the three to be individuals united in a single purpose.
Major doctrinal differences exist between many Christian churches, said Kathleen Flake, a professor of American religious history at Vanderbilt University, yet few other denominations endure the kind of scrutiny that Mormons are subjected to.
Flake suspects Mormons have endured more criticism because of a general lack of understanding about what they believe, and also because of their willingness to proselytize to Christians and non-Christians alike.
"They proselytize anyone, whether you're a Baptist or a Buddhist," she said. "If you're interested, they want to tell you about it."
Christ Covenant in Matthews, which has about 2,350 members according to its website, belongs to the Presbyterian Church in America, a conservative Evangelical denomination. Evangelicals have consistently criticized the LDS church.
During the Republican presidential primary in 2008, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist, criticized his Mormon rival Mitt Romney over some of the LDS church's beliefs.
Regardless of doctrinal questions, Christ Covenant's Cub Scout program is within its rights to deny the Stokeses leadership positions, according to Mark Turner, executive director of the Mecklenburg County Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which also includes the Cub Scouts.
As an example, he offers a unit operated by a home-school association.
"That unit will only serve youth that are home-schooled. Period," he said. "If you're in the unit for three or four years and your family sends you back to school, you're out of the troop. That's their niche."
The Boys Scouts have been the target of preferential treatment lawsuits since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2000 that the group has a constitutional right to exclude openly gay men from serving as troop leaders. The group also requires its members to swear an oath of duty to God, although not specifically the Christian God; Scout groups are chartered in Mecklenburg County at synagogues and mosques, Turner said.
As long as groups that charter Scout units follow the guidelines set by the national organization, they can set their own additional policies, he said.
A home-school group is actually how the Stokes family learned about the Cub Scout program at Christ Covenant. Members of the home-school association they belong are also members of the church, Jodi Stokes said.
"It was just awkward because we know them on a different level, and then they say, Oh, you're not a Christian," she said.
The family has joined a Scout program offered at their local LDS church, an option they hadn't considered before because it didn't offer a Tiger Scout troop for boys as young as their 6-year-old. Both Jodi and Jeremy — who is an Eagle Scout himself — are leaders in the new program, which has allowed their youngest boy to participate.
"My little guy has his uniform and he's tagging along," she said. "I'm glad we're participating, I just don't want this to happen to another family."