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LDS Church announces impending split from BSA

Former LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson looks over merit badges of scout Richard Garff Folkerson. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced plans Tuesdayto sever its remaining ties with the Boy Scouts of America, ending its role as a chartered partner.

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The announcement came in a joint statement with the BSA, noting the conclusion of their relationship will occur on December 31, 2019.

” 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,” the statement said.

The split comes as the faith works to unify its programs for boys and young men across the globe, bringing them under one umbrella.

“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,” the statement said.

The LDS Church and Boy Scouts of America have a long shared history dating back more than a century. The Church is the oldest and largest charter organization of BSA troops. A 2017 story in the Deseret News reported 1 in 6 American scouts was Mormon. However, BSA programs are not available to an increasingly large population of Mormon youth outside of the United States and Canada.

Tuesday’s announcement sets a date for the final divorce of two organizations which have closely collaborated since 1913.

Signs of tension have shown between the two organizations in recent years. In 2015, BSA’s National Executive Council voted to allow openly gay scout leaders. The LDS Church then issued a statement saying it was re-evaluating its relationship with Scouting. A follow-up statement said the Church would “go forward as a chartering organization of BSA, and as in the past, will appoint Scout leaders and volunteers who uphold and exemplify Church doctrine, values, and standards.”

The same statement though reiterated that the LDS Church was evaluating other options to “better meet its global needs.”

In May of 2017, the LDS Church’s First Presidency revealed they would be dropping the BSA’s Varsity and Venture programs, which are offered to boys aged 14 to 17, effective January 1, 2018. Additional materials from the church noted the Varsity and Venture programs were difficult to implement in the church. However, Mormon boys were expected to continue taking part in Cub Scout and BSA activities through age 13 in the U.S. and Canada. At the time, BSA issued a statement expressing deep appreciation for the LDS Church, noting it was the first sponsor organization for Scouting in the United States.

“We knew that at some point this [announcement] was going to happen. We just did not know the exact timing on it,” said Bruce Hough, President of the Great Salt Lake Council.

The separation comes amid what has already been a season of significant change for Boy Scouts of America.

BSA has struggled with declining participation in recent years. Just a week ago, BSA revealed a new brand for its signature program. The name change to “Scouts BSA” comes as the organization prepared to welcome female participants into its ranks.

An exodus of Mormon scouts will likely come as a financial blow to BSA, however. Youth participants and adult volunteers each pay annual membership dues to BSA. The LDS Church’s impending departure from Scouting will pull many regular dues-paying members, perhaps hundreds of thousands of them, out of the organization.

“It goes without saying that when you have a partner that is as large and dominant that there will be an effect on membership,” Hough said. “We partner with what we call local chartered organizations. So a local ward would be a local chartered organizations. They would sponsor scouting and provide adult leadership and a place to meet. Those three things are very important.”

Even though he expects to see a dip in membership, Hough  said the Council has been preparing for the announcement and is confident youth and adults will continue to appreciate what the BSA programs offer.

“It’s a family oriented values driven program that can really help youth make those moral and ethical decisions that can help youth make those moral and ethical decisions throughout their life.”

 

— Contributing: Brianna Bodily