Mormons to sever ties with Boy Scouts
SALT LAKE CITY
For more than a century, the Boy Scouts of America and the Mormon church formed an ideal pair as they helped each other expand their organizations and build their brands while molding countless young men through bow knots, pinewood derby races and campouts.
But as the calendar flipped to the 21st century, the longtime partners originally drawn to each other by shared values began drifting apart. The Mormon church continued expanding into far-off countries where Boy Scouts wasn’t offered and began eyeing its own program. Amid declining membership, Boy Scouts of America recently opened its arms to openly gay youth members and adult volunteers, transgender boys, and girls while the Mormon religion clung to its opposition of homosexuality and stuck to its traditional gender roles.
On Tuesday, the two sides announced what had become inevitable: They will split permanently starting in 2020.
The memories will live on in Norman Rockwell paintings, the Boy Scouts training complex named after a former Mormon church president and in the pictures from the church’s 2013 extravagant theatrical production commemorating their 100th anniversary together.
But their futures are now headed in divergent directions.
The Boy Scouts will try to make up for the loss of its largest sponsor through the addition of girls and a welcoming message that all are invited. Last week, the organization said it will change the name of its flagship program next year to Scouts BSA to account for the inclusion of girls.
The organization says its current youth participation is about 2.3 million, down from 2.6 million in 2013 and more than 4 million in peak years of the past. So far, nearly 4,000 girls have joined roughly 170 Cub Scout packs participating in the first phase of the new policy, and the pace is expected to intensify this summer under a nationwide multimedia recruitment campaign.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will bank on nurturing its youths in a still-to-be developed program set to launch in 2020 that likely will include outdoor activities and character building similar to Boy Scouts but be tailored for the church’s doctrine and designed to roll out around the globe.
Unhitching from Boy Scouts will trigger nostalgia for American Mormons who grew up aiming for the important life milestone of Eagle Scout, said Mormon scholar Patrick Mason, professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University in California. Mason, who is Mormon, said his mother told him and his three brothers they couldn’t get their driver’s license until they earned their Eagle Scout award.
Joining the Boy Scouts is practically automatic among Mormon boys, and the religion has long been the biggest sponsor of Boy Scout troops in the United States. The 425,000 Mormon boys who will be leaving represent about 18.5 percent of youths in the Boy Scouts.
Mason said the time had clearly come for a split – with the Boy Scouts following shifting American culture that no longer matched the church’s core principles.