Yesterday, the Boy Scouts announced a historic change that allows for the inclusion of girls into its Cub Scout and Eagle Scout programs. The decision, which followed a unanimous vote by the BSA board, is set to take effect in 2018. Yet the largest partner group that participates in Boy Scouts programs likely won’t go through any change at all. That group is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which has no interest in having its young female members join the ranks of the Boy Scouts and has begun distancing itself from that program, which it has historically supported.
Mormons aren’t a minor player in scout politics; they make up about 20 percent of the Boy Scouts’ 2.3 million youth members. The Church, which has historically enrolled Mormon boys automatically into Cub Scouts when they turn 8 years old, announced that the BSA’s decision likely won’t affect how it approaches gender-segregated scouting within its local congregations. That may be true, but the changes will like open a growing rift even further. In May, the Church announced that it would cease participation in Varsity and Venturing, teen programs for high-school-age Scouts, instead opting to design its own youth programs for teenage boys. The decision affects more than 180,000 Mormon boys from those groups.
“The Activity Days and Personal Progress programs of the church have long been in place to meet the needs of girls and young women in these age groups, and no change will be made in church programs,” LDS spokesman Eric Hawkins told the Salt Lake Tribune after the news of girls inclusion into the scouts broke. “We recognize that the desire of the BSA is to expand their programs to serve more young people in the United States. The church, too, continues to look at ways to serve the needs of our youth worldwide.”
Hawkins didn’t elaborate on whether Scouting groups hosted by local congregations would allow girls to participate in Boy Scout events. But embracing the change is highly, highly unlikely considering that the Church is already distancing itself from the BSA.
The LDS has frequently denied that their development of internal youth programs is related to the Boy Scouts’ embracing of more liberal policies over the past few years. But following the BSA’s 2015 decision to lift its longstanding ban on gay men leading Scout troops, the Church immediately announced in a statement that it was “deeply troubled” by the change and that “the century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined.” It may have been.
While the Church is neither totally severing ties with the Boy Scouts or outright rejecting its new policies, its commitment to strictly gender-segregated youth programs will exacerbate existing tensions between. Full Church withdrawal from Varsity and Venturing will start at the beginning of 2018, the same time that the BSA’s new gender-integrated policies are set to take effect.