SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church, the oldest and largest charter organization of the Boy Scouts of America, will drop Scouting from its Young Men's program for boys ages 14 through 17.
Today, about 1 in 6 American Scouts is Mormon. Effective Jan. 1, the move will carve as many as 180,000 Mormon boys from the Varsity and Venturing Scout programs in the United States and Canada, replacing the programs with activities created for boys in those age groups by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The church will continue to sponsor Cub Scouts for boys 8 to 10 and Boy Scout programs for those 11 through 13 in those two countries, but statements released by the church about the announcement signaled that it may drop those programs in the future.
The overhaul is stunning, because Scouting has been an indelible, seemingly inseparable, part of the LDS Church's Young Men program for 104 years, but it isn't a major surprise. Church leaders quietly have considered dropping Scouting from its Young Men and Primary programs for many years for multiple reasons.
"There has been talk or rumblings about the church leaving the Boy Scout program for years," said Cory Macy, a former Scoutmaster in Vineyard, Utah. "There are a lot of merits to Scouting, but I just didn't think the church had a lot to gain from being tied to the Boy Scouts for the Varsity and Venturing programs."
Church leaders announced the change and the reasons for it on Thursday via statements released on mormonnewsroom.org.
Why the move?
The church also released a letter from the First Presidency that explained the decision is part of "the church's ongoing effort to evaluate and improve its service to families and young people worldwide."
The mormonnewsroom.org statement shared more detail.
"In most congregations in the United States and Canada, young men ages 14-18 are not being served well by the Varsity or Venturing programs, which have historically been difficult to implement within the church," the statement said. "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 BSA released a statement on Thursday that said in part, "Although thousands of youth and leaders who participate in Venturing crews nationwide embrace and support the program, we recognize that not all programs are a perfect fit for all partners. We anticipate that many youth from the LDS Church will continue to participate in Scouting beyond the age of 14 as young men work to earn the Eagle Scout rank."
Church leaders long have wrestled with concerns about inequity within the church caused by Scouting. Hundreds of thousands of LDS boys in other countries did not have access to Scouting, and the church has spent more on American boys than girls because of its financial commitment to the Boy Scouts of America.
Discussions about those issues began before highly publicized controversies over BSA decisions to accept gay Scout leaders and gay and transgender Scouts and long before last week's news that Scouting has considered admitting girls to more of its programs. The church said Thursday those issues weren't part of the decision because "BSA has always allowed the Church to operate its programs in ways that are consistent with our standards and beliefs."
Four years ago, when BSA voted to admit openly gay Scouts into troops, LDS leaders noted that the church always admitted gay Scouts and would continue to do so. However, when BSA voted to allow openly gay Scout leaders in July 2015, the church publicly said for the first time that it was re-considering the Scouting program.
"The church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation," the statement said. "However, the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America."
That 2015 statement stated that Scouting didn't meet the needs of most of the international church's young men.
A month later, church leaders decided to continue with Scouting for American and Canadian boys and young men after BSA affirmed "the right of all religious chartered organizations to select their Scout leaders in accordance with their religious beliefs."
The LDS Church has been a major part of the BSA since it became the first chartered BSA organization in 1913.
"The church partnership with the BSA was a blessing to the relatively new Scouting organization," LDS-BSA relationships director Mark Francis said last month at the annual LDS-BSA Relationships Seminar in Salt Lake City. "In addition, the willingness of the BSA to accept the church as a chartered partner during a time when there was not a favorable view of the Mormons was also an act of goodwill. Collectively, we have the capacity to solve the toughest problems and find solutions to benefit everyone."
Since 1931, an LDS apostle has served on the BSA's National Executive Board. LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson, who holds Scouting's highest honor — the Silver Buffalo Award — has been a member of the BSA National Executive Board for 47 years. The BSA has honored his vast contributions to Scouting twice in the past year by naming buildings for him. In October, the Thomas S. Monson Lodge opened at the Hinckley Scout Ranch in Utah, and construction is underway on the BSA's Thomas S. Monson Leadership Excellence Complex at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is currently on the BSA's national board along with Brother Stephen W. Owen, the general Young Men president, and Sister Joy D. Jones, the general Primary president.
The current national commissioner of the BSA is Charles Dahlquist, a former general Young Men president in the church and a former member of the General Church Scouting Committee.
"As much as I hate to see these young men move out of Scouting," Dahlquist said, "I have the belief that this will be a wonderful, unifying opportunity for Latter-day Saint youth, to be able to reach their potential in ways that we have not seen possible."
Boys, parent react
Ben Puffer, 17, of Washougal, Washington, recently completed his Eagle Scout project. He is completing paperwork and expects to meet with a board of review to finalize the award before he turns 18 in six weeks.
"I'm pretty shocked," he said. "I'm a little saddened the church is dropping Scouting. I feel like Scouting has been a really great program that taught me a lot and led me on a lot of great adventures."
He said he was a reluctant Scout at age 12, "but I wound up accomplishing a lot of things I'll be proud of the rest of my life. I feel like Scouting is phenomenal and that we should have kept it."
Jacob Bauman, 15, of Thatcher, Arizona, was happy to hear about the decision. His grandfather and uncles on his mother's side and his cousins all earned their Eagle Scout awards, but his father did not and he recently decided not to pursue it.
"I've been OK with the Scouting program and participated in the weekly activities when we do it in our ward, but I like the idea that we can focus less on Scouting and more on the Duty to God program."
Bauman's mother, Julia, said Jacob was an enthusiastic Cub Scout and Boy Scout until he turned 13 or 14.
"Then he fizzled out," she said. Though Scouting has been important to her family, she welcomed the decision.
"I felt like it's something that needed to happen for a while," she said. "I'm glad the church saw that and did this. I'm glad they'll focus on things more important to his age group. I'm hopeful there will be some good alternatives."
The LDS Church makes an annual lump sum payment to BSA to help cover the participation of its boys and young men. The church will make the exact same payment to BSA in 2018 that it did this year so that BSA will not experience any immediate financial hit.
The First Presidency said young men who want to continue to work toward "the rank of Eagle Scout or Queen Scout should be encouraged and supported and should be properly registered as Scouts."
A Queen's Venturer Scout is a Canadian equivalent to BSA's Eagle rank.
The challenge of creating a program for all of the church's boys and young men around the world remains. The church's Thursday statement alluded in multiple places to working toward programs that could replace Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. For example, it said the church is sticking with the Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs because they "currently meet the development program needs of boys from ages 8 through 13." The statement noted that "previous statements have indicated that the church wants a program that serves all young men around the world." It also noted that "the church continues to look for ways to meet the spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual needs of young men around the world."
While the church's Thursday statement said it hasn't completed "the global program" that will serve young men around the world, it does have activities prepared to replace the Varsity and Venturing programs. Those activities that can be seen at lds.org/youth/activities and ymactivities.lds.org. They have been in place since 2013 as a resource for youth and their leaders around the world.
"When followed, these activities can provide better opportunities for spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual growth," the church's statement said.
Brother Owen, the general Young Men president, called leaders Monday at both the BSA and Scouts Canada, informing them of the church's decision.
The changes address the disparity of funding and activities between the church’s Young Men and Young Women programs.
"Church leaders have long been aware of this concern," the faith's statement said on Thursday morning. "This new program brings the spending into balance for youth ages 14 through 18. This will continue to be a factor in the ongoing exploration and creation of a worldwide youth program."
Today, about 470,000 LDS boys and young men participate in Scouting programs in the United States and Canada. As of August 2015, that represented nearly 17 percent of Boy Scouts in America.
More than 280,000 LDS boys and young men are between the ages of 8-13 will remain associated with Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.