Landing a final blow in the steadily decaying 105-year relationship with Scouting, today The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that it would cease all Scouting programs effective December 31, 2019. The announcement comes almost exactly a year after the Church moved to stop supporting Scouting after age 13. And not to be outdone, the Young Women program will also see significant changes as programs for children youth of both genders receives a major revamp.
The Church and Scouting released a joint statement today explaining what will soon be the new normal:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America have been partners for more than 100 years. The Scouting program has benefited hundreds of thousands of Latter-day Saint boys and young men, and BSA has also been greatly benefited in the process. We jointly express our gratitude to the thousands of Scout leaders and volunteers who have selflessly served over the years in Church-sponsored Scouting units, including local BSA districts and councils.
In this century of shared experience, the Church has grown from a U.S.-centered institution to a worldwide organization, with a majority of its membership living outside the United States. That trend is accelerating. The Church has increasingly felt the need to create and implement a uniform youth leadership and development program that serves its members globally. In so doing, it will be necessary for the Church to discontinue its role as a chartered partner with BSA.
We have jointly determined that, effective on December 31, 2019, the Church will conclude its relationship as a chartered organization with all Scouting programs around the world. Until that date, to allow for an orderly transition, the intention of the Church is to remain a fully engaged partner in Scouting for boys and young men ages 8–13 and encourages all youth, families, and leaders to continue their active participation and financial support.
While the Church will no longer be a chartered partner of BSA or sponsor Scouting units after December 31, 2019, it continues to support the goals and values reflected in the Scout Oath and Scout Law and expresses its profound desire for Scouting’s continuing and growing success in the years ahead.
While “jointly determined” is a nice euphemism, do not be mistaken: this is a blow to Scouting, even after it has opened its ranks to girls in an effort to maintain its numbers and relevance. The Deseret News stated that as of last year, Mormons made up one in six of Scouting participants, especially impressive considering we Mormons were kinda bad at the Explorer and Varsity stuff.
But the move will not be immediate, and until that fateful day at the end of 2019, the Church has encouraged us to remain “fully engaged” in Scouting, including financially, which one can only assume means the Friends of Scouting drive many of your wards just had will not be in vain (even if Friends of Scouting is, in essence, in vain).
Although Scouting’s relationship with the LGBT community once appeared to threaten the Church’s involvement with it, the proverbial straw breaking backs appears to be the internationalization of the Church. To be sure, having different programs for North American boys and all the rest never really made much sense and flew in the face of the classic cliche of “the Church is the same everywhere.”
Not to be outdone, a slew of other extant programs are also getting the axe as we prepare to embrace the new global programs for youth and children (the details of which can be found and the creatively named childrenandyouth.lds.org – members should also have received an email from Church HQ). Faith in God? Gone. Activity Days? Over. Duty to God? No more. Personal Progress? Sayonara. Unfortunately, as with the United States’ multilateral relations around the world, details of what is to replace the initiatives from which we are withdrawing are scarce. However, the First Presidency stated the following:
This new approach is intended to help all girls and boys, young women and young men discover their eternal identity, build character and resilience, develop life skills, and fulfill their divine roles as daughters and sons of God. The initiative is designed to allow local leaders, families, and even the young people themselves to customize their efforts, while providing service opportunities and activities, fostering healthy relationships, and supporting communities.
It will be fascinating to see what transpires. Will boys and girls engage in the same programs? Will we see some terrific mixing of genders as we work toward common goals? President Nelson has shown he is no stranger to dramatic moves, but we won’t know more until closer to the fact. Either way, making youth programs more about strengthening the spirituality of these great kids as opposed to hounding away at the least popular merit badge (bugling) or other pursuits is a positive step.
Still, as such an enormous part of Mormonism for North American saints, transitioning away from Scouting might be more drastic, at least in practice, than the recent sunsetting of Home and Visiting Teaching. The organization has played a significant role for many Latter-day Saint men and women, even if long-suffering moms are now breathing a sigh of relief that they don’t have to be the de facto finisher of their sons’ Eagle Scout projects.