The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Tuesday it will sever all ties with the Boy Scouts of America, ending a century-old tradition deeply ingrained in the religious life of Mormon boys.
The Mormon Church, as it is more commonly known, said in its announcement that it has “increasingly felt the need to create and implement a uniform youth leadership and development program that serves its members globally.” The two organizations “jointly determined” that as of December 31, 2019, the Church will no longer be a chartered partner of the Scouts, it said in a joint statement with the Boy Scouts.
The change will affect hundreds of thousands of Mormon boys in 30,500 congregations worldwide.
For 105 years, the relationship between the Boy Scouts and the Mormon Church has been important to both groups. Any boy who is part of a Mormon congregation automatically becomes part of the Boy Scouts. The Mormon Church has been the largest participant of the Boy Scouts in the United States, making up nearly 20 percent of all of the Boy Scouts’ 2.3 million youth members.
Church officials did not cite specific Scouts policy changes that spurred the split, but the two groups have increasingly clashed over values in recent years, particularly following the Boy Scouts’ move to include openly gay troop leaders. The announcement also came less than a week after the Boy Scouts announced it would be changing its flagship name to Scouts BSA, promoting its decision last year to welcome girls into the program for the first time.
While the Mormon Church did not publicly object when the Boy Scouts began admitting gay Scouts in 2013 and transgender Scouts last year, it said it was “deeply troubled” by the Boy Scouts’ decision to lift the ban on openly gay adult leaders in 2015. Mormon Church leaders considered parting ways with the organization. But the Scouts later said that while it would ban discrimination in hiring employees, it would leave it up to individual troops and councils to choose leaders who reflect their own values. Mormon Church officials decided to maintain ties to the group, though the relationship was not long-lived.
The church began scaling back its participation with the Scouts last year, when it announced it would be cutting ties with teen programs for high-school-age Scouts, while continuing to enroll 8 to 13-year-old boys in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. The church said the teen programs had been “historically difficult to implement within the Church,” and instead chose to create its own youth programs for teenage boys.
Effie Delimarkos, a spokeswoman for Boy Scouts of America, told The Washington Post last year that the move was tied to the church’s desire for a youth program that focused more on preparing teenage Mormon boys to go on church missions. “We’re sad to see that decision, but we understand,” Delimarkos said. “We’re just not kind of aligning with what the church needs men to focus on.”
The Mormon Church opposes same-sex marriage, teaches that homosexuality is a sin, and only allows gay men to hold church leadership roles if they do not openly act on their attraction to the same sex.
The Mormon Church’s press office said officials had been conducting an “extensive review” of existing youth programs, and addressing the church’s need to “fortify all children and youth with gospel-centered growth and learning experiences.”
A new youth program, set to be launched January 2020, will be “designed to support families as they seek to develop faith in Jesus Christ and build character and capacity,” the church officials wrote in a statement.
“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,” the church wrote.
Church officials attributed its changing needs to its increasingly global membership – more than half of the church’s 16 million members live outside the U.S. and Canada.
The church plans to remain a partner of the Boy Scouts for boys ages 8 to 13 until the end of next year, when the transition to the new youth program will be finalized.
While about 70 percent of chartered Boy Scout troops are sponsored by faith-based organizations, Mormon boys will still be able to join Boy Scout troops independent of their churches. In a statement Tuesday, the Boy Scouts’ Great Salt Lake Council said it planned to continue working with community partners and organizations to provide options for any youth who still hope to be Scouts after the partnership ends.
“It’ll be a blow,” said Mark Griffin, president of the Great Salt Lake Council, told the Deseret News. “We can’t say that it was a total surprise.” He said he knew the church was working on a global initiative “based on the need to do the same program in Paris, France, as they have in Paris, Texas.”
Reactions to the news were mixed from Mormons who grew up scouting, working their way toward becoming Eagle Scouts. Some expressed disappointment, recounting the positive and challenging experiences the Boy Scouts provided them in their youth. Others welcomed the news, criticizing the bureaucracy and costs of the Scouts and voicing a need to create a new, flexible program to meet the needs of the church.
“While some people are without question shocked, this move does not surprise me the least,” David Moore, a Mormon resident of Salt Lake City, wrote on Facebook. “The cost to individual church units . . . has simply become unsustainable over the past 2 decades.”
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