Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Boy Scouts to allow girls to join Cubs and Scouts — What does this mean for LDS Scouting?

The Boy Scouts of America announced today that girls will be allowed to join its Cub Scout and Scouting programs (see BSA press release, KSL article). There is already a lot of knee-jerk reaction to this announcement. Let's see if we can take a more level-headed approach.

At least some of us in Scouting circles have been aware that discussions about admitting girls to the program have been occurring for some time and that these discussions became quite serious earlier this year. The BSA now has plenty of experience with its Venturing, Sea ScoutsExploring, and Stem Scouts programs, which offer mixed sex environments for various age groups.

There has been a lot of internal and external pressure to admit girls to Scouting. Some who have loved what Scouting does for boys have wanted that same experience for their girls. The first lawsuits attempting to force the BSA to open the ranks of Scouting to girls were filed decades ago. But some opined that when the BSA opened Scouting to "transgender boys" earlier this year (see CSMonitor article, my 5/12/17 post, my 5/20/17 post) admission of girls to the program couldn't be far off. After all, how could the organization argue successfully in court that it would admit biological girls who feel like they are boys but not other biological girls?

While research is all over the place on the value of single-sex youth programs, Scouting and Cub Scouts operate with a very deep tradition of being only for boys. Many supporters believe that youth need opportunities to spend time in environments with peers of the same sex. The BSA announcement makes it sound like the organization is trying to honor this desire while also making it possible for girls to participate in the program.

Cub Scout dens, which are the smallest Cub Scout unit, will operate as single-sex organizations. Each pack, which is the next larger Cub Scout unit, may host only boy dens, only girl dens, or both boy and girl dens.

One of my first thoughts was whether Cub dens and packs sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would take on girls who now attend the Church's Activity Days program. Although I found no official announcement on the Church's Newsroom site, KSL reports that Church spokesman Eric Hawkins says that Activity Days programs will continue to operate as usual.

Hawkins goes on to say, "We recognize that the desire of the BSA is to expand their programs to serve more young people in the United States. The Church, too, continues to look at ways to serve the needs of our youth worldwide."

Read into that what you will, but the Church has made no bones about the fact that it would like to develop a young men's activity program that is more uniform worldwide, and that Scouting is incapable of filling that role. So it sounds like the Church will eventually get out of Scouting completely. But who knows when? Next year? 20 years from now? That's not clear.

Suffice it to say that for now, LDS-sponsored Cub Scout units will continue to admit only boys in their youth ranks, regardless of what non-LDS Cub Scout units do.

Starting in 2019 the BSA will "deliver a Scouting program for older girls that will enable them to advance and earn the highest rank of Eagle Scout." The press release doesn't provide many clues as to what that program might look like. But the Family Scout Fact Sheet and the Family Scouting FAQ make it sound as if the Scouting program for girls will be parallel to, but separate from Boy Scouts.

The BSA has previously said clearly that sponsoring organizations will continue have broad control over who may join the Scouting units they sponsor. So until the Church implements a different program, LDS-sponsored Scouting units will continue to be male-only organizations.

More than a few people are upset that the BSA has made so many shifts in expanding membership in recent years. First gay youth, then gay adults, then transgender boys, then girls. Some say that this has weakened support for BSA programs among its traditional base. It is possible, however, that the BSA is working to stem an increasing tide of membership losses and struggling to remain relevant in a changing world.

While the Church has traditionally had a very strong say in BSA policies, I suspect that the fact that it will ultimately leave Scouting can't help but diminish its influence with the organization. Each of these two organizations must pursue the paths that make the most sense to them. That may mean continued divergence.

And while I feel that I and many others have benefited greatly from the close association of the LDS Church and the BSA, this divergence does not have to be a bad thing for either organization. I am certain that the Lord is fully capable of using this situation to advance His cause.