387: LDS Church Changes to Its Scouting Program

On May 11, 2017, the LDS Church announced it is dropping Varsity and Venturer Scouts as the primary program for its U.S. and Canadian young men ages 14–18 effective at the end of the 2017 calendar year. In its place, the Church is asking leaders of these groups to now enact the guidelines and suggestions for youth this age that are already in place in the rest of the world. At the moment, the church has made no change to the Cub and Boy Scout programs for these North American youth ages 8 to 14. Reactions to the news ranged from surprise and confusion to disappointment among some and celebration among many others. What is the church saying about this change? What led to it? What other factors besides those in the press releases might also be at play here?

In this episode, we turn for perspectives and processing of this news to four experienced church members who, from various roles and vantage points, all have a great deal of experience with the scouting program, including at these older ages. Chris Tucker, Cynthia Winward, Matt Jones, and Walt Wood join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a far-ranging discussion of scouting within the church and possible reasons church leaders felt the program wasn’t meeting the needs of those boys ages 14 to 18. They discuss everything from the rule changes the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) made with regard to gay leaders and the inclusion of girls in the Venturing program, to the unwieldy nature of BSA rules and regulations and intense trainings and time commitments required of leaders, who, for the most part, consider scouting just another “calling” and don’t truly embrace the whole BSA program, to the changing interests and demands on youth, especially as they enter their mid-teens. They discuss possible financial factors such as lawsuits and financial settlements from injuries the occur during high adventure and other activities to the inequality between the monies spent on and emphases on Young Men’s vs Young Women’s programs and awards. They ask and speculate on possible factors for the change, such as the decline in the number of young men choosing to serve missions, and perhaps a desire to focus the boys’ gaze even more directly upon just the church and its social networks. They discuss the “achievement” culture within the church and world, with its pros and cons. Though the discussion here was prompted by the news of the change in the program, it goes beyond its scope to many interesting and important deeper cultural and societal issues. It is a great conversation!
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Links to News Stories:

Mormon Church Takes Steps Away from Scouting; Does Total Exit Loom?,” Salt Lake Tribune, 11 May 2017

Mormons Drop Scout Program for Older Teens,” Deseret News, 11 May 2017

First Presidency letter announcing the Changes

Questions and Answers about Changes to Young Men Program,” LDS Newsroom, 11 May 2017

What You Need to Know about Today’s Announcement,” Deseret News, 11 May 2017

Top BSA Leader, Who is LDS, Hopes Scouting-Mormon Marriage Lasts, But He Is Not Sure It Will,” Salt Lake Tribune, 11 May 2017

Here’s How the Internet Reacted to LDS Church’s Announcement to Drop Scouts for Older Teens,” Deseret News, 11 May 2017

2015 LDS Newsroom response to news of the BSA vote to allow Gay scout leaders

New Program for 14–18 Young Men:

Aaronic Priesthood 14–18 Activities,” LDS.org (This link contains the program already in place outside the U.S. and Canada.)

Comments

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8 comments for “387: LDS Church Changes to Its Scouting Program

  1. Gail
    May 16, 2017 at 4:33 am

    You failed to have anyone from the international community on this panel and you should have done so. People outside of the U.S. have been peeved about BSA and Y,M. for decades.

    The fact is that check list programs are a staple of Mormonism and this could affect the kids in a good way. As a world wide community we need to become growth centered.

  2. Lance Stalnaker
    May 16, 2017 at 5:32 am

    Good podcast. A couple areas that have crossed my mind as I have pondered the new direction/program are:

    1. Why is there so much excitement for the “new” program when the same brethren that failed in their priesthood responsibilities will be running it? It reminds me of the Israelites that could not handle the higher law.
    2. Another area I would have like to heard addressed is quorum unity. I am in a unit in central Ohio where we only operate a Troop. We have 8 active boys in the troop and 11 that do not participate, so they have separate activities. It’s been going on that way since we had a growth spurt due to former Amish converting to the Gospel. Our SPL is Priest Quorum 2nd assistant, while the first assistant does not due Scouting. I can see this becoming an issue of competing activities church wide, it has been very difficult for us. There is not animosity with the young men, but the unity is just not there.

    I am a Scouter that will follow the brethren, and I too see the benefits of the Church not being in Scouting fully. Although I can not see anything really changing with activity, young men serving missions, etc. As a high school teacher I can tell you the world and youth are changing. My feeling is that the church needs to look at the missionary program extensively, as I am sure they do, I don’t think you can run it like it’s 1980, electronics are this generations way, good luck taking it away cold turkey. I know our stake has record numbers of youth returning, I think in my Ward about half are returning early. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for our youth in the church as far as programming goes. I will be on the LDS staff at the National Jamboree in a couple months and look forward to getting more perspective from some of the brethren. Best Regards-Lance

  3. A Happy Hubby
    May 16, 2017 at 10:40 am

    Great set of panelists and great discussion. I agree with most everything said.

    I was a scout leader of one sort or another and move from the “we don’t need the stinking BSA’s rules” mindset to “I need to follow all the BSA rules for the kids safety and MINE.” I heard one comment that said essentially the BSA is a training organization. The DOING is almost all by (hopefully trained) volunteers. I am not sure if moving outside of the BSA rules will improve the safety on high adventure activities. If people didn’t follow the BSA’s rules and didn’t get the BSA training they could (including tons on first aid, weather related safety, swimming safety, travel safety) then is it going to be any better within the church? The church YM leaders were already saying, “follow BSA rules”. On this item I fear we are going to loose some ground. And yes I have heard from the General YM president at a “little Philmont” event that the LDS troops had a significantly higher proportion of deaths and serious injuries.

    One area not fully covered is that the church never implemented scouting the way scouting suggested. I was able to participate for a while in a non-LDS BSA troop. It had immature 11 year olds lead by quasi-mature 15, 16, and 17 year olds. The younger scouts by and large worshiped the older boys that were their leaders (much more than the adult leaders). They wanted to impress their “cool” older teenage leaders. And it was positive for the older teenager leaders to feel like they had some real responsibilities to make sure they were a good example to the younger scouts. The church took the 11 year old scouts that are eager beavers to do it all and separated them completely from any of the older boys. Same with the 12-13 year olds and even with the 14-15 year olds. As hard as I would try (and I really tried), the boy-led troop has never really worked with a 13 year old boy over 12 and 13 year old peers they have known for years. I take that back, I have seen probably 2 boys that were mature enough and they took the ball and ran with it, but that was out of a dozen plus years.

    I really want to stress that with the 14+ boys that if they go to seminary (remember it is early release for a ton of people) their first class (seminary) is at 5:45 AM and most kids do a sport or band – which keeps them at school until 6 or so each day. We are making the kids have a 12 hour work day and homework when they come home. All of my kids were sleep deprived during all of high school. I really like the idea of meeting less during the week for the older boys.

    And towards the end it was asked if this was “retrenchment” on the part of the church. To me it really feels this way. It feels a bit desperate and I have to give it to the leaders to try something else to curb the 65% loss as teens go into their 20’s. My son already took a look at the program a bit and saw the, “Clean the church” as an activity and rolled his eyes and said, “great!” as he walked away.

    I am probably most frustrated that the top church leaders say they were aware for some time about the funding differences between YM and YM. If they have known about it “for some time” why has it taken so dang long to even state that? I have never heard anything from above asking to “make sure you are funding the YM and YW equitably.” They have known, but just don’t care because the girls don’t go as inactive as the boys? It just rubs me.

    And don’t get me started on funding of the boy scout troop within the church. Compared to the non-LDS troops, we had our shoelaces all tied together and really limited the ability to have enough money for a good troop.

    There was talk about having more joint YM YW high adventure activities. Other than trek I have seen any attempt to do mixed gender camping even as being shot down very quickly.

    Thanks for the conversation. I did enjoy it.

    @Gail – you have a point, but I will note that there was a admittance that US Mormon YM have had the BSA programs and the rest of world has not. It was glad to see someone in the US that could see that.

    • Lance
      May 16, 2017 at 11:07 am

      Happy Hubby,

      I agree with your assessment and frustration over the brethren knowing for sometime and not acting or acknowledging. I am also frustrated that the Q&A looked like it was crafted by a politician or lawyer with little yes or no answers leaving the door open for folks to assume that Scouting will be phased out totally in the near future. This will certainly lead to local leaders feeling much more “justified” to make the decision to get out of Scouting all together, just not care, or talk down about the program.

      I also agree that we need to just have less activities weekly for older youth, my kids get up at 5:15 and get home at 6:00 from sports, band, etc. It is just too much, and programming is not helping with retention. Handbook 2 teaches us that the husbands and wives are primarily responsible for the welfare of their children. Let’s go with that for a while and lessen the burden of activities, and as I previously mentioned, who is going to run the activities anyway? The same brethren that did not get trained and just showed up to play basketball? I’d much rather have the time with my kids.

      I am a dedicated Scouter, and my wife and I will look to put our 8 year old in a local pack starting next school year, here in Ohio, the local units thrive while our church units struggle, mostly because the local units have leaders and youth that want to be there, it’s their “thing” like sports for other kids. My two life Scouts will finish up their Scouting, and I am with you, I doubt they will be showing up for poorly planned activities like cleaning the building, which they already do. Todays youth are way too sharp to not spot a poorly planned activity, especially in the 14-18 range.

      • A Happy Hubby
        May 16, 2017 at 12:59 pm

        All of my boys except my last went to a school sponsored pack and it was 10x the program for them than the church ones I have worked with. They made their own camp chairs, had GREAT pinewood derby’s (with the neighborhood firetruck as part of the celebrations), Hayride caroling at Christmas, etc. They did family campouts and had leaders that (generally) wanted to be there. It was depressing to send my last boy to the newly-formed ward pack.

  4. James T. Kirk
    May 17, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    When I was called as Y.M. president a few years ago, I was initially excited for the opportunity to work with the boys and participate in scouting. I didn’t know what I was getting into however. I was shocked and dismayed to see just how MUCH training is required to do the job. I spent over 100 hours just getting my basic training and figuring out the basics of running a Venture Crew. It was overwhelming due to the sheer work-load that gets placed on YM leaders.

    First, you have the weekly young men activities, which were always difficult to figure out (“are we doing scouts or young men?”).

    Second, there were endless church leadership meetings (ward council, priesthood executive council, bishop’s youth committee, young men presidency meeting, priest’s quorum presidency meeting, stake leadership meetings, week-day scout leadership meetings, wood-badge & other immersive training, leadership interviews, after-church responsibilities overseeing the boys and THEIR responsibilities).

    Third, you have the actual Venture scout meetings to try and set up the crew and get the young men organized and engaged.

    Fourth, you have the personal time that you as a leader spend pondering, praying, studying, and figuring out how to run your organization… and personal time prepping for the actual activities.

    It was insane, for the first six months I was spending 20-30 hours a week easily just trying to get a basic organization running… all while working 80 hour weeks with hard overtime at work. It didn’t take long before I was completely burned out. I consider that first year one of the most difficult and depressing years of my adult life.

    You’d think that with all that meeting & training and effort that positive things would come of it. But not so. It was horrible. We would spend weeks getting the boys to identify their interests, plan activities around those interests, and then of the 12 scouts in our crew, 1 would show up… maybe 2 max. This is after getting a confirmed 8 attending head-count the day before the activity. Common reasons were:

    “Oh, I forgot I had a soccer training that day”
    “Oh, a new video game came out and my friends are getting together for a LAN party”
    “Oh, my parents wanted to go to the temple and needed me to stay home and tend my siblings”
    “Oh, sorry, I’m just really not interested… it sounds boring”
    “Oh, I looked at the weather report and I don’t like sleeping in a tend if it’s colder than 60 degrees”
    “Oh, I asked a girl out and have a date that weekend”
    “Oh, sorry, I just ‘spaced’ it”.

    In short, the level of interest was virtually ZIP from the boys. This happened over and over and over again for 2 years.

    It was very nearly a complete waste of my valuable time. There were some good moments with those who participated, of course, so there was some value there. But as I look back on my life and the mistakes I’ve made, taking that calling was among the top 5 stupidest things I’ve ever done. I would do just about anything to get those thousands of hours back, time I could have spent with my wife and children… camping!

    And THAT is my biggest issue with the church in general. We are supposed to be a family-centric organization, but the church does nothing but break families up. We don’t have ANY activities aside from 1 or 2 annual ward parties that allow families to participate together in things. Our youth do all of their activities without their parents and siblings due to the compartmentalization of our age-based structure, our spouses can’t even SIT with each other in the temple. The church is literally the most NON-Family-Oriented organization on the planet. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

    Family Home Evening is quite literally the only regular church activity the church sponsors that actually permits families to interact with and build positive memories together… and most families are far better off doing their own activities so that the activities don’t feel so forced and stiff. In other words, doing those family activities in a “church meeting” format is unnatural and ineffective.

    When I heard the scouting announcement I literally jumped for joy. I told my wife just a few weeks before the announcement that the church should ditch scouting altogether… when I told about it she said “wow, you’re a prophet!”

    Ugh. Doesn’t take prophecy or divine intervention to see when something isn’t working or isn’t right. Frankly, it’s sad that it took so LONG for common sense to kick in with the church. The church operates literally at the pace of a corporate SLUG.

    There’s one more thing I feel compelled to say about scouting in general. It was and is the epitome of training our boys to be “jacks of all trades and master of none”. The very minute they get a merit badge, they never want to do that particular activity again. “CHECK!” As a person who invests deeply and thoroughly in areas that I’m interested in, it made me sick to see just how superficial our treatment of every subject was. I went out of my way to try to develop areas of interest in levels of degree, start with the basics, then build on that so that the boys developed an actual skill with real proficiency. Hard to do in a culture of instant gratification with youth that have the attention spans of gnats.

    I learned a LOT as a Y.M. president and scout leader over the past two years, so I’ve personally grown in the process, but I don’t think the boys were well served by the program… we gave it our all and the boys did not benefit nearly enough from the activity.

    I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next. It’s a good move, and long overdue.

  5. Jessica Ward
    May 20, 2017 at 11:00 am

    Was there any discussion about the boys who didn’t want to do scouts? I think that would have also factored in. Perhaps the church is looking for a program that can be more inclusive (to their target audience).

    Also, while there was an acknowledgement of the disparity of money spent on boys vs. girls, this really isn’t an answer to that, since they are continuing the program for the younger boys. By 14, the uninterested boys have mostly stopped, so the spending would naturally be more limited at that age.

    • Cynthia Winward
      May 23, 2017 at 10:52 am

      You’re right about the disparity in funding still existing for cub scouts. We did speculate this is the beginning of the end for the entire scouting program. Time will tell. Thankfully it’s at least an acknowledgement the disparity existed between YW/YM.

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