Yesterday the Mormon Newsroom announced long-promised changes to the youth programs of the Church, and older Primary-age children will be affected as well. The new “Worldwide Initiative for Children and Youth” will debut in January 2020. For young men, this will end Duty to God and deacon-age participation in Scouting (the Church pulled out of Scouting for boys ages 14-18 last year). For young women, Personal Progress will be replaced. For older Primary kids, the changes will apparently affect the Faith in God Program, Activity Days (for girls), and Cub Scouting (for boys). As a result of this new initiative, the Church is ending their 105-year-old partnership with the Boy Scouts of America in December 2019.
When the Church pulled out of the Varsity and Venturing Scouting programs for teachers and priests last year, they explained that changes to the global youth programs were still forthcoming. In the Q&A released at that time, they expressed awareness of concern about funding disparities between the Young Men and Young Women organizations.
Church leaders have long been aware of this concern. 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.
At the time, there was no mention that new programs for older Primary-age kids were also being developed, though it makes sense with the complete withdrawal from BSA programs.
Last year, the Church said their decision to to leave the older youth BSA programs was made prior to becoming aware of plans to increase participation for girls (female participation had long been allowed in the Venturing program). Many people are aware that the BSA has since then announced that girls will be allowed in the full range of Scouting programs, beginning with Cub Scouts this year. Last week, the BSA announced the name of the Boy Scouts program would become more inclusive in 2019 as Scouts BSA.
It is hard to believe the BSA’s July 2015 move to allow openly gay leaders was not a factor in the movement away from Scouting, though. In a Mormon Newsroom statement shortly following that decision, the Church made clear “the century-long association with Scouting [would] need to be examined.”
However, as I noted in my post last year, W&T blogger Stephen Marsh reported that the Church has been considering a split from the BSA for decades:
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.
The focus of this new approach for children and youth is to help young people strengthen faith in Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. This approach is intended to help children and youth discover their eternal identity, build character and resilience, develop life skills, participate in outdoor activities and service opportunities, and strengthen their ability to fulfill their divine roles as daughters and sons of God.
Those sound a lot like the goals of the old programs as well but clearly things will be a little tweaked. I suspect the current trend of less rigidity and more dependence on individual discernment and participation will continue. It’s certainly been the case with the youth Come Follow Me curriculum, new Priesthood/Relief Society lesson structures, and the movement from home & visiting teaching to ministering.
What do you think of the planned changes to the youth and children’s programs?