LDS Church Partially Pulling Out of 100+ Year Partnership With Boy Scouts of America

Andrew Garrison, 11, of Salt Lake City, looks over the Rockwell exhibition at the Church History Museum Monday, July 22, 2013, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Twenty-three original, Boy Scout-themed Norman Rockwell paintings are on display in Salt Lake City to celebrate the 100-year relationship between Scouting and the Mormon church. The Rockwell exhibition that opened over the weekend at the Church History Museum will run through year's end. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Rumors of a split have been going around for years, but today the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) announced that effective January 1, 2018, they will no longer support Boy Scouts of America programs for boys ages 14 to 18.

The Church will continue to charter Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs in local wards (congregations) for boys ages 8 to 14. Only Varsity and Venturing programs are affected by the change.

When the news broke this morning, many assumed it was in response to recent changes in BSA policies, including allowing openly gay leaders and transgender Scouts. After each of those policy announcements, the Church issued statements saying the moves were inconsistent with their values and that they were looking at other program options for teenage boys (though they have always admitted gay Scouts and said they’ll continue to do so).

While those issues undoubtedly were a part of the Church’s decision, today’s announcement cited the move “as part of the ongoing effort to evaluate and improve its service to families and young people worldwide.” An FAQ page elaborates a bit:

“[T]he Varsity or Venturing programs…have historically been difficult to implement within the Church. This change will allow youth and leaders to implement a simplified program that meets local needs while providing activities that balance spiritual, social, physical and intellectual development goals for young men.

The LDS Church and BSA have been affiliated for over 100 years. Today 1 in 6 American Scouts are Mormon, and the current national commissioner of the BSA, Charles Dahlquist, is a prominent Mormon who served as the church’s general Young Men’s president. The Church makes a multi-million dollar lump sum payment to the BSA every year, which they will make in 2018.

As a mother of two Mormon Eagle Scouts, and a son who is currently in a Mormon Boy Scout troop (he turns 14 this month – it will affect us very soon), I have mixed feelings about it. Scouting has been an invaluable part of my older boys’ lives. But, while my youngest loves certain aspects of Scouting, he’s not much for camping or the rifle range, so he misses activities with his church group. But, for boys who love Scouting, they’ll have to attend both Scouts and Young Men’s activities.

Also, since Scout leaders in the LDS Church are not true volunteers – they are “called” (or assigned) to the task – they aren’t always passionate and diligent about helping the boys. Many times it seems that LDS Scouts are held to lower standards than boys from other units.

A long-time adult Scout leader from Southern California, where there are a large number of LDS units, said:

“Scouting should be something that the boys and men wish to participate in. It should not be a religion directed/coerced experience. Some of the worst scout leaders were those “set asides” from LDS. It was sad to see those LDS troops that came in last in every Camporee event because they were not taught basic scouting skills.”

A mom from Idaho who’s had two boys achieve the Eagle rank supports the change, but has concerns about how the Church’s promised support of boys who don’t attain Eagle by the age of 14 will pan out.

Once they hit 14 the program fell apart. My boys struggled to get their Eagles, but they did. [My son] turns 14 in June. He has 6 merit badges left, and it’s all well and good that the church supports them continuing on, but that doesn’t change the requirements that they have leadership roles, spend time in rank, and need a set amount of logged activities and campouts. Not sure how this will be accomplished. Honestly, I have never liked the way our troops were run.

Another Scout mom believes that, from a religious standpoint, it makes sense, so the boys who aren’t into Scouting don’t feel left out and leave the church.

As Young Men enter high school they struggle to balance between school, Scouts, and other activities. My son is currently one of the only boys who regularly attend Scouts and Scouting events. Most of our Young Men seem to avoid. I feel that the change will help keep the pressure of Scouts out and leaders more successful at retaining Young Men.

In the materials put out by the LDS Church today, they reference a new program that will take the place of Scouting for boys 14-18 in the United States and Canada. It is assumed that the program will be similar to the Personal Progress program for Young Women, which costs a fraction of Scouting to administer. The discrepancy in how church funds (which all come from member tithing) are allocated between teen boys and teen girls has been a contentious issue for decades.

But, since the LDS Church will still be registering all of the boys from the time they are 8 until they are 14 – for now, at least – chartering units, and having each congregation provide leaders, it seems that today’s announcement isn’t quite the bombshell it first seemed.