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!
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
“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
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.)