Friday, May 12, 2017

A longtime LDS Scouter's views on the LDS Church dropping support of some Scouting programs

I still remember what it felt like to officially become a Cub Scout. My oldest brother had been a Cub Scout and had recently advanced to the Boy Scout troop. Brother #2 was now a seasoned member of the Cub Scout pack. My family couldn't afford official Cub Scout pants, but upon my induction I received an official Cub Scout shirt with appropriate patches, a neckerchief with slide, an iconic blue Cub Scout web belt with its gold buckle, and a Cub Scout cap. I had arrived. I was part of something big, noble, and important.

That sense of pride was repeated as I made transitions to succeeding BSA programs sponsored by my LDS ward. I was so proud to don the khaki Boy Scout uniform. Eventually I became an Explorer and even represented my council at the National Explorer President's Congress in Washington DC. (The LDS Church later transitioned from sponsoring Exploring to sponsoring Venturing.)

It was with great pride that I became a member of the Order of the Arrow, Scouting's national honor society, and then became an Eagle Scout the following year. My summers working on Boy Scout camp staff provided a strong platform for a life of dedicated service to others. So valuable were my youthful associations with the BSA that I have volunteered as a Scouting leader throughout my adult life, hoping to provide for others something akin to what my leaders provided for me during my formative years.

During my first couple of decades as a member of the BSA, the values of the LDS Church and the BSA seemed to mesh well, even as the BSA was challenged in various venues for holding to traditional values. But it is no secret that the approaches of the two organizations have increasingly diverged during the current decade.

The fraying division starkly came into focus as I prepared to attend National Order of the Arrow Conference in the summer of 2015. The BSA had voted to permit gay leaders, after the LDS Church had asked that the final vote be delayed until after top church leaders could confer on the matter. The Church responded with a public statement saying that it was "deeply troubled" by the vote and that it would carefully review the matter. (See my 7/27/15 and 7/30/15 posts.)

We went to NOAC under a cloud of uncertainty as to whether our LDS contingent members would still be members of the BSA after the conference. Toward the end of the summer the Church announced that it would continue to sponsor BSA units. (See my 8/26/15 post.) Still, the Church's announcement of the continuation of the LDS-BSA relationship made it clear that this partnership was subject to future revision.

A part of that future became present yesterday when the Church announced that it will discontinue sponsoring Varsity Scout and Venturing units at the end of 2017. See:

Let me first address the obvious points of this policy change. This announcement will change nothing about the way the vast majority of LDS units in North America run activities programs for young men ages 14-18. Quite frankly, only a tiny percentage of LDS units have really been doing either the Varsity Scout or Venturing programs for many years now. The policy change merely makes official what has long been occurring in most wards and branches.

By saying this I intend no disrespect to those leaders who have valiantly worked to implement these programs in their units. Those units will be impacted by this decision. But most of the young men targeted by these programs during this century have been Varsity Scouts or Ventures in name only. Most of the LDS boys registered in these programs couldn't tell you anything substantive about their programs. This undoubtedly is part of the reason the Church is dropping its support of these programs.

In its announcement, the Church signaled its continued support of the Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs, targeting boys ages 8-13. LDS boys ages 14-17 who wish to continue working on Boy Scout advancement will be registered with the troop. I assume that most of these will still attend Mutual with their respective age groups.

There has long been a sentiment in North American LDS culture that a young man is pretty much done with Scouting when he turns 14. It's been like a rite of passage. They think that their 14th birthday means that they will never wear a Scout uniform again. This is true for many. But some boys have continued Scouting even when the Varsity Scout and Venturing programs have been largely absent in their wards. I believe that this new change will intensify the end-of-Scouting tendency and will further thin the ranks of those that wish to continue their Scouting efforts.

Last night at Scout leader round table meeting, a member of our district relationships committee (a member of a local stake presidency) warned against reading too much into the Church's announcement. In instances like this, he noted, we sometimes have a tendency to assume we know what will happen next, when, in fact, we don't.

He's right. Many will assume that the Church is merely taking a piecemeal approach discontinuing its association with the BSA. That may be true. But I'm willing to take the statement at face value. North American LDS Church members have long exhibited strong support of the Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs, notwithstanding those Church members that don't care for Scouting programs. (A friend and his wife call Scouting "The 'S' word.")

Regardless of intention, yesterday's announcement can't help but have a chilling effect on Church members' enthusiasm for the portions of the Scouting program the Church will continue to support. People may not know what comes next in the relationship between the LDS Church and the BSA, but they probably can't help but notice a pattern.

The Church's Q&A about the Scouting policy change ends by asking, "Is this a reaction to the news that the Boy Scouts of America is considering the inclusion of girls and young women in its programs?" The answer simply says that this was not a known factor at the time the decision was made. It make no allusion to what might happen if the BSA goes co-ed with its programs now known as Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. But I would be very surprised if the Church continued to sponsor Scouting at that juncture.

While the broader culture continues to move away from male-only programs for youth, the Church finds gospel centered value in continuing to offer single-sex programs for its youth ages 8-18. (I was going to write that the broader culture is moving away from single-sex programs for youth, but I'm not sure that's true. Support for many girl-only programs seems strong, while male-only programs in general are increasingly viewed as ignoble. Still, there is a motivated effort afoot to completely erase all distinctions of sex, allowing individuals to define sex for themselves. So there's no telling where this will go.)

I don't have a crystal ball that tells me where the relationship with the LDS Church and the BSA is going or how soon it will get there. What I can say is that over the space of many years, millions of boys have benefited from this relationship. But the values of the two organizations may diverge to the point that this partnership no longer makes sense.

If we get to that spot, I will find myself no longer be registered with a BSA unit. I could go out and find a community unit to link up with or I could found a community unit. That would be noble, but I've got too much going on in my life as it is, so that prospect seems doubtful for me.

Regardless of whether the Church ultimately drops Scouting completely, I will always look on my decades of involvement with the BSA with fondness and gratitude. I can't begin to enumerate the good that has come into my life through Scouting. I won't live in nostalgiaville, but I will always find ways to serve others in a meaningful fashion.


Scott Hinrichs said...

I was at a Scouting event today where this was the topic du jour among the adults present. I suggested to a friend that the LDS Church would likely pull support for remaining Scouting programs if the BSA decided to admit girls to its Cub and Boy Scout programs. He cited the January decision to admit transgender boys to these programs. Noting that these are biological girls who identify as boys, he asked how the BSA can legally say that its programs are for boys only. He surmised that it won't take long for the BSA's boy only stance to crumble completely.

This makes logical sense. While boys and girls share many of the same interests and needs, the Church recognizes that they still have distinctive needs that are not adequately addressed in mixed-sex settings. Thus, the Church finds value in having single-sex programs for its youth ages 8-18. When the BSA can no longer provide programs that fit this bill, it seems that the Church and the BSA will find it necessary to part ways completely.

Scott Hinrichs said...

After watching this interview with Charles Dahlquist, who currently serves as National Commissioner for the BSA and who previously served as LDS Church Young Men General President, I am no longer certain that the Church would drop Scouting completely if the BSA were to make Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting co-ed programs.

Brother Dahlquist notes that the BSA now largely leaves questions of membership up to the charter organizations and that religious sponsors have wide legal latitude in these determinations. Thus, although the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts now admit transgender youth who identify as boys, sponsoring churches are under no obligation to do so in their local units. It would seem that this would also be the case if the remaining BSA programs sponsored by the Church were to become co-ed. Just as the Church has long done with the Venturing program, which is officially co-ed, it would be able to sponsor Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops that admit only male youth.

The Order of the Arrow, on the other hand, would need to embrace a mixed sex environment if the the Boy Scout program becomes co-ed. This leaves me wondering what the OA would do with its strong tradition of promoting brotherhood if this were to happen.

The OA's fundamental pursuit of brotherhood has seemed problematic to me ever since the first female adult members were admitted to the OA in the 1980s. The OA has been able to keep this quirky reference because it is primarily an organization for youth that has only admitted male youth to date. (This is because the OA is a Boy Scout organization, so that it admits only youth that are registered as Boy Scouts or Varsity Scouts. Both of these programs currently admit only male youth.) Adults are only ancillary to the OA, in that they are part the program solely to support the youth.

If what is now Boy Scouting becomes co-ed, the OA will have to admit female youth members. Since the goal of brotherhood would be seen as exclusionary and discriminatory toward female youth members, it would seem that a fundamental redesign of the program would be necessary. This would bring a whole new set of challenges to my role as OA chapter adviser. But I'm quite certain that the OA would be up to handling both the challenges and positive opportunities such a development would bring.

Unknown said...


I am very appreciative of your well thought out comments. I've been looking for some level-headed reasoning on this announcement from other blog sources (UNPC, LDS-BSA, Bryan on Scouting, etc.), but alas, nothing. Then I remember coming across your blog during the gay issue and really appreciated your comments.

Our ADC at RT on the same evening of the announcement said essentially the same thing, and to not assume that the next shoe to drop would be the church not associating with boy scouts and then cubs. I'm currently called as a Scoutmaster and Assistant Deacon's Quorum Adviser, so I'll have to keep the mindset that I'm "all-in" until the Church says otherwise. But it's tough to keep a good attitude when there are so many in the church who despise scouting. More and more, the closer boys in our quorum get to age 14, they too start to loose interest in merit badges and advancements. So we've tried to focus on scouting activities that interest them, instead of doing merit badges that only a few want to pursue.

Thanks again for your insight!

Scott Hinrichs said...

Thanks for the compliment. It's not bad to focus boys on other features of Scouting when they lose interest in advancement. Remember that advancement is only one of the eight methods of Scouting. It is not one of the program's aims, which include developing values and character.

Unknown said...

True, but unfortunately when we read in the churches statement last week that boys are still encouraged in their desire to attain Eagle, the majority of the members of the church interpret that to mean that Eagle is the only goal in scouting, thus missing​ the aims of scouting. Nowhere in handbook 2 does it mention Eagle, yet that seems to be the focus.