In an unexpected turn of events, the LDS Church announced it will withdraw from the Varsity and Venturing scouting programs of the Boy Scouts of America and Scouts Canada. The Varsity program is used for young men aged 14-15 (Teachers), and the Venturing program is used for young men aged 16-18 (Priests). The church will retain it’s partnership with the Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs in the United States and Canada serving boys aged 8-13.
The newsroom announcement explained the reason for the changes:
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. 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.
In a related Deseret News article, Charles Dahlquist II concurred. Dahlquist is the current BSA national commissioner and a former Young Men general president.
Dahlquist said the BSA’s Venturing and Varsity never found solid footing in church-sponsored units.
“The numbers are there, the registrations are there,” he said, “but they really haven’t caught on in the church. … All of a sudden, it drops off for whatever reason, and we lose too many of our young men between ages 14 and 16.”
Church leaders deny the changes are reactions to the BSA accepting gay and transgender scouts leaders, even though the 2015 decision to accept openly gay leaders prompted a statement by leadership that they would re-examine their century-long relationship with scouting.
Leaders also denied the decision had anything to do with the current debate over allowing more female involvement in the organization. The press release notes, “Church leaders learned just recently about the BSA’s intent to consider including girls and young women in Scouting. Our decision to end our participation in the Varsity and Venturing programs was made independent of this possibility and before that time.” Girls have been allowed in some BSA programs for many years, including the Venturing program.
Back in 2015, a Dan Jones poll revealed almost two-thirds of “very active” Mormons felt the church should pull out of the scouting program. A later poll asking why revealed several reasons. Many felt the church could devise a better program for the young men (the church maintains it is still exploring the creation of a “worldwide youth program”). Some objected to the then-recent decision to accept openly gay leaders, with the BSA no longer reflecting church values. Another reason I’ve seen elsewhere is the funding disparity between the YM and YW programs, a concern that leaders have apparently been aware of for some time according to the press release. Ward councils are now to “consider equally the needs of Young Women and Young Men and their families when planning activities and determining budgets.”
Changes will be effective January 1, 2018. According to the First Presidency letter, boys who have not gained the rank of Eagle Scout (United States) or Queen Scout (Canada) by the age of 14 “should be encouraged and supported in their efforts and should be properly registered as Scouts.”
Teachers and Priests in the United States and Canada will now follow activity guidelines used in other countries. The church has created a new website, ymactivities.lds.org, to assist those affected quorums transitioning to the new program. The website explains the overall goal: “Building young men with strong testimonies in the Lord Jesus Christ, helping them magnify their priesthood duties, and preparing them to fulfill their divine roles as righteous husbands and fathers.” The Duty to God program still stands. Young men will still hold activities weekly where appropriate for quorum members, and are encouraged to have more combined activities with young women as they are “particularly beneficial.” Young men will participate yearly in a youth camp or high adventure, and should hold 2-3 overnight activities each year as well.
Stephen R. Marsh, a blogger here at Wheat & Tares, provided some valuable insight on the matter:
In the late 1970s and early 1980s the Church did a lot of statistical analysis on what led to successful members. One of the interesting results was that they discovered that participation in boy scouts did nothing to improve outcomes for young men. That led to an assignment to develop an alternative program. Unfortunately, those assigned could think of nothing but cloning boy scouts and the initiative did not go very far.
Problems that developed over time were as follows:
- From about 13-14 years of age and on, boy scouts costs a lot, generates lop-sided budgets, and delivers very little.
- Most programs dissolve into activities that do not teach any skills applicable to modern life (so called “theme park camping” where scouts camp on platforms, use Colman stoves and learn neither how to camp in the wild or anything that relates to modern urban life).
- The program for young men supports those who are at the top of the social structure or who enjoy the quasi-athletic structure of scouting.
- The program leads to inactivity for young women (who feel devalued by its implementation), and to a loss of young men who are not at the top of the structure.
The result is that the Church spends a good deal of time, effort and money on a program that benefits less than 30% of the young men and that is eroding the future of the Church – and one that is only in use in some countries, but not church wide – and that while it may offer positive benefits to some, does not lead to successful later membership in the church.
The biggest surprise about the church withdrawing further from scouting is not that it did, but that it took so long.
What do you think about this decision?