The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced that as of next year, it will no longer participate in the Boy Scouts’ programs for older teenagers. The church, which has at times expressed dissatisfaction with the Scouts’ growing acceptance of LGBT leaders as well as transgender boys, will be withdrawing from formal involvement in programs geared toward youths ages 14 and older.
“We express sincere appreciation and gratitude to all adult leaders who have supported young men in these programs and are grateful for our long-standing and continuing partnership with the Boy Scouts of America and Scouts Canada,” the First Presidency, the church’s highest governing body, told church leaders in an open letter Thursday.
Yet, as the church explains in an accompanying FAQ, “young men ages 14 to 18 are not being served well by the Varsity or Venturing programs, which have historically been difficult to implement within the Church.”
Those programs specifically promise “adventure” and activities designed to appeal to older teens.
Members of the Mormon Church, which has had a formal relationship with the Boy Scouts of America for more than a century, have evinced some displeasure with the organization’s admittance of openly gay leaders and transgender boys in recent years
In its announcement materials, the church addressed these changes but specifically did not attribute its decision to them:
“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. 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.”
In a statement emailed to NPR, the Boy Scouts expressed appreciation for its long-standing relationship with the church, which was “the first partner to sponsor Scouting in the U.S.” and — as NPR’s Howard Berkes notes — remains the country’s single largest sponsor of Boy Scout troops.
“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 Boy Scouts’ statement reads.
“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,” it continues. “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.”
More than 300,000 Mormon boys participate in the Scouts, and many older teenagers may continue to do so. The church’s decision to end its formal involvement is not by any stretch a ban, and the church will continue to charter Scouting programs for younger boys.
Still, the move marks a significant shift for a church that has long been interwoven with the youth institution — so interwoven that The Associated Press reports the decision could mean that between 130,000 and 180,000 teenagers will leave the organization.
“Basically,” Brigham Young University associate professor Quin Monson, a Mormon himself, told NPR’s Rachel Martin in 2015, “if you are a young Mormon male, you join the Boy Scouts.”