LDS Church to end participation in Varsity, Venturing Boy Scout programs

Posted at 7:31 AM, May 11, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will end its participation in programs for young men ages 14 to 18, the faith announced Thursday.

The LDS Church said it would no longer participate in the Venturing and Varsity programs effective 2018. The faith said it would continue to support Cub and Boy Scout programs until age 13.

"Instead, Young Men activities will focus on spiritual, social, physical and intellectual goals outlined by the Church. These activities are designed to be fun and meaningful and provide opportunities for personal growth and development," the church said in a statement.

Boy Scout merit badges inside the Utah National Park Council's store in Orem. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

The decision by the church will have a significant impact. Approximately 470,000 boys in the Mormon faith participate in scouting from 8-18 in the United States and Canada. Of those, 185,000 are in the Varsity and Venturing programs.

Read a Q&A from the LDS Church on the scouting decision here

The LDS Church's decision will also have an impact on scouting and the cultural traditions of the faith. Eagle Scouts, the top rank in scouting for a young Mormon man, are widely regarded in Utah culture as a badge of honor.

"Young men who desire to continue toward the rank of Eagle will be registered, supported and encouraged. It is important to remember that only those young men who are properly registered are eligible to be awarded merit badges and rank advancements," the church's statement said.

The Orem-based Utah National Parks Council, which is the nation's largest scouting organization, said it was informed of the LDS Church's decision on Wednesday night. The council said 93 percent of its troops are tied to the church. Of the 85,114 scouts -- 14,571 are Varsity and 16,260 are Venturing scouts.

"The Church has expressed their concern that youth and Cub Scout and Boy Scout age are very active. They get lots of leadership experiences and opportunities, learning opportunities, and then when they hit the Varsity and Venturing program, they get less opportunities," John Gailey, the director of support services for the Utah National Parks Council, told FOX 13.

Gailey said that in response to the LDS Church's decision, it anticipates older scouts to be absorbed into the younger troops. They also offered their camps and other services to those older scouts as they work toward merit badges.

Read the letter from the LDS Church's First Presidency on scouting here:

Michael South, who leads Venturing and Varsity scouts in his local LDS ward, said he was not surprised by the decision.

"The programs are not utilized well in the LDS Church," he said. "The Varsity program isn't even really supported much by the BSA in LDS units."

The LDS Church did not exactly say if it plans to end its relationship with the Boy Scouts of America entirely in the future. In a statement issued early Thursday morning, the LDS Church reiterated previous lines meeting spiritual needs of children but also indicated it was working on a "global program" for young men and young women in the church.

"The Church continues to look for ways to meet the spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual needs of young men around the world. The current decision is consistent with those efforts. The Church will continue to use the Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs for boys and young men ages 8 through 13," it said.

The LDS Church said it would continue to support "Friends of Scouting," a fundraiser for scout troops. It also suggested changes would be made on funding for young men's and young women's programs in the 14-18 age range.

In a Q&A on its website, the LDS Church addressed if this was in response to stances the Boy Scouts of America have taken recently, such as including gay children or leaders in their ranks.

"The BSA has always allowed the Church to operate its programs in ways that are consistent with our standards and beliefs, and they have been very supportive," the church said. "This change is to address the needs of young men ages 14 to 18. The Church is always evaluating what is best for our youth and families, and will continue to do so."

Cub scout uniforms on display at the Utah National Parks Council in Orem, Utah. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

In a statement, the Boy Scouts of America said it appreciated its longstanding relationship with the LDS Church, which was the first partner to sponsor scouting in the U.S.

"Although thousands of youth and leaders who participate in Venturing crews nationwide embrace and support the program, we recognize that not all programs are a perfect fit for all partners," the BSA said.

"We anticipate that many youth from the LDS Church will continue to participate in Scouting beyond the age of 14 as young men work to earn the Eagle Scout rank. The BSA values our ongoing partnership with the LDS Church in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts programming and look forward to our continued efforts to extend the benefits of Scouting to as many youth and families as possible."