The Mormon church is pulling its older teens from the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in 2018 but said the decision is not related to BSA policies opening Scouting to gay and transgender males.
Rather, the BSA Venturing and Varsity programs designed for 14- to 18-year-olds no longer meet the church’s needs, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said May 11 in announcing its decision. Beginning Jan. 1, 2018, the church will start its own program in place of Venturing and Varsity, programs limited to the U.S. and Canada.
“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 “Questions and Answers about Changes to the Young Men Program (Q&A)” said at mormonnewsroom.org. “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 Mormon church made an exception for 14- to 18-year-old boys who want to continue in Scouting to earn the Eagle Scout rank, saying such boys would be “registered, supported and encouraged.” Mormons will continue to use BSA Boy Scout and Cub Scout programs for boys ages 8-13.
The BSA expressed appreciation to the Mormon church, BSA’s first and largest sponsorship partner in the U.S., and said it looks forward to continued cooperation with Mormons. Through Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, BSA serves about 330,000 Mormon youth.
“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,” BSA said in a press release. “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.”
About 185,000 Mormon teenagers currently participate in Varsity and Venturing, church spokesman Eric Hawkins told The New York Times.
When BSA opened its leadership to gay men in July 2015, the Mormon church released a statement saying it was “deeply troubled” by the decision and would reexamine its association with Scouting.
“When the leadership of the Church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August (2015), the century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined,” the church said in the July 2015 statement. “The Church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation. 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.”
After BSA assured local troops of the freedom to set their own leadership standards, the church no longer took issue with the BSA policy, according to the church’s latest remarks.
“The BSA has always allowed the Church to operate its programs in ways that are consistent with our standards and beliefs, and they have been very supportive,” the church said in its Q&A. “The Church is always evaluating what is best for our youth and families, and will continue to do so.”
BSA’s earlier policy change in May 2013 to open its membership to homosexuals did not contradict Mormon policy; rather, Mormon boys are expected to remain sexually pure in practice.
The church made its decision before BSA announced Jan. 30 a change in its membership rules to allow transgender boys (girls who identify as boys) to become Scouts, the church said in its Q&A.
Will girls become Scouts?
After the latest BSA change opening its membership to girls who identify as boys, the National Organization for Women (NOW) petitioned BSA to allow girls to join Boy Scouting regardless of their gender identity.
“It’s long past due that girls have equal opportunities in Scouting,” NOW President Terry O’Neill said in the Feb. 21 issue of Circa. “Women can now hold all combat roles in the military, and women have broken many glass ceilings at the top levels of government, business, academia and entertainment.”
The rank of Eagle Scouts would benefit girls in various ways including college admission, O’Neill said, noting that Scouting Canada has been co-ed since 1998.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., in his May 11 Briefing podcast, questioned whether BSA would continue to be a male organization.
“The interesting policy line right now is that the Boy Scouts require membership to be limited to boys or those who identify as boys,” Mohler said. “We’ve already seen the Boy Scouts of America repeatedly capitulate to the sexual revolution. But the big question now is whether they’ve got to capitulate all the way to ceasing to being the Boy Scouts.”
Historically, BSA staunchly defended its right to limit its leadership and membership to heterosexual males, winning a legal battle in 2000 in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Archdiocese of Kansas City is severing ties with Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA), Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann said in a May 1 statement, describing GSUSA as no longer a compatible partner. Instead, the archdiocese will work with American Heritage Girls, a mentoring group based on Christian values.
“With the promotion by Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA) of programs and materials reflective of many of the troubling trends in our secular culture,” Naumann said, the Girl Scouts no longer is “a compatible partner in helping us form young women with the virtues and values of the gospel.”
Naumaan said GSUSA accepts transgender girls on a case-by-case basis and supports birth control and abortion by donating funds to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGS), an organization tied to International Planned Parenthood.
GSUSA, in a statement on its website, denies any partnership or association with Planned Parenthood.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)