Peace out, Boy Scouts: Families react to church’s split

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Matthew Wade (in the green shirt) watches his brother Carson (standing at the head of the track) participate in a Pinewood Derby in Bountiful. The LDS Church will end their relationship with the Boy Scouts of America effective December 2019. (Lucinda Wade)

Lucinda Wade’s sons were disappointed upon being told they soon won’t participate in Boy Scouts anymore. The youngest, age 5, had watched his older brothers, ages 8, 9 and 12, advance through the various ranks, and the 12-year-old had gone on camping trips with his dad, a scoutmaster.

One of her sons, however, had an optimistic response: “Well, at least we get to do one more Pinewood Derby.”

“We reassured (our kids) that that the church is going to provide them something different but new … and because of the changes, they’ll be some of the first kids as far as youth that will go through those programs,” Wade, a mother from Bountiful, said.

The Wades are one of countless families affected by the LDS Church’s recent decision to end their over 100-year long relationship with the Boy Scouts of America program, announced in a joint statement from the church and the Boy Scouts.

The statement reads that the church has grown from a U.S.-centered institution to a worldwide organization, with the trend only accelerating. This decision comes from the church’s increasing need “to create and implement a uniform youth leadership and development program that serves it members globally,” according to the statement.

The decision is effective Dec. 31, 2019, which allows time for boys ages 14 and older to continue their rank advancements, according to a frequently asked questions page on lds.org. Until then, “the intention of the church is to remain a fully engaged partner in scouting for boys and young men ages 8-13 and encourages all youth, families and leaders to continue their active participation and financial support,” according to the statement. This includes camps, regular activities and Friends of Scouting, according to the frequently asked questions page.

Then, on Jan. 1, 2020, a new children and youth development initiative will “replace all existing activity programs for girls and boys, young women and young men,” according to a statement on lds.org. This change is intended to help youth strengthen faith, build character and resilience, develop life skills, and participate in outdoor activities and service opportunities, according to the FAQ page. It is also intended to allow greater flexibility in adapting to the needs of individuals and families.

This change may affect Faith in God for Girls and Boys, Activity Days for Girls and Boys, Personal Progress and Duty to God, according to the FAQ page, but until Jan. 1, 2020, “we (the church) encourage children and youth, parents and leaders to remain fully engaged in these programs.”

Lucinda Wade and her husband, Brad, anticipate helping their 12-year-old son earn his Eagle Scout rank, even though “that will mean that we will have to work a lot harder, a lot faster, to get it than we had planned,” Lucinda said, particularly because their 12-year-old son is on the autism spectrum.

They’ll also support their other boys should they pursue an Eagle Scout rank, but they’ll first consider the new church program.

“I am excited,” Brad Wade said. “Whatever the church decides to do will be a good replacement of the Boy Scouts.”

Reasons for the change

Brad Wade said he likes the Boy Scout program, but he’s been disappointed by some of its decisions. “I think they got away from some of their core values.” 

Pleasant Grove resident Christy Giblon, whose brothers and grandparents were involved in scouting, said she thinks particular decisions by the Boy Scouts factored into why the church is cutting ties, such as the Boy Scout’s Oct. 2017 decision allowing girls into scout troops, the July 2015 decision lifting the ban on openly gay troop leaders and the May 2013 decision ending the ban on openly gay youth.

“I think (the church’s separation from Boy Scouts) will be good for scouting as more boys will be encouraged to participate in multi-faith neighborhood groups,” she said.

Lynn Matthews Anderson, who participated in Girls Scouts while two of her three brothers are Eagle Scouts, said she thinks the church was “clearly unhappy” with policies allowing gay and transgender scouts to participate and that the inclusion of girls was the last straw.

Software engineer and Eagle Scout Michael Thomas Steed, however, said the idea that the separation is over gay rights and combined boy/girl troops “is more of a flame or a click-bait approach.”

“I believe the church is doing this so that it can have a unified international youth program as well as to better control the youth program to be focused on modern life,” he said. “Boy Scouts was too restrictive, too expensive and it has a high administrative cost as far as callings and volunteers in local wards and stakes.”

Possible stigmas, pressures

Another issue is a possible stigma associated with not earning the Eagle Scout rank, “the highest advancement rank in scouting” according to the Circle Ten Council website. The Circle Ten Council is a chartered Boy Scout group serving counties in Texas and Oklahoma.

However, the website also states that only about 5 percent of all Boy Scouts earn this rank, representing over 1.7 million Boy Scouts who have earned the rank since 1912. Requirements include earning 21 merit badges, serving in at least one scouting leadership position for six or more months and leading a service project that benefits an organization other than the Boy Scouts.

“The goals of scouting — citizenship training, character development and personal fitness — remain important for all scouts, whether or not they attain the Eagle Scout rank,” according to the Circle Ten website.

Lucinda Wade said while there’s some stigma associated with young men who don’t earn their Eagle Scout ranking, she never asked young men she dated if they were Eagle Scouts. She doesn’t know if the stigma will go away, but feels it is more present in Utah than anywhere else.

Eagle Scout Christopher Moynihan, who has been either a scoutmaster, assistant scoutmaster or Young Men’s president for the last five years, said he anticipates the stigma going away now that the church is cutting ties with the Boy Scouts. He also said there’s an overemphasis on the Eagle Scout rank, which undermines the purpose of scouting.

“The goal of the scouting program is to get boys to First Class (rank), where they should have learned all the skills and started to learn how to teach others,” he said.

The problem, however, is many LDS troops put so much emphasis on earning the Eagle Scout rank that they forget “scouting isn’t school,” according to Moynihan.

“It’s a shame when scouts show up to an adult leader taking control of their meeting and instructing them on a merit badge topic for an hour, instead of a boy-led meeting divided into multiple sections to keep things interesting and exciting,” Moynihan said.

Brad Wade also said that in light of the Dec. 31, 2019 cut-off date, there may be some increased pressure to earn the Eagle Scout rank, though perhaps not as much as people think. He said he feels more pressure will go on parents, particularly mothers since leaders generally cover only the camping and cooking merit badges.

Lucinda Wade, however, said she doesn’t feel any pressure to complete her son’s Eagle Scout rank for him simply “because that’s not right.”

“If he wants his Eagle, he’ll get it,” she said. “I think it’s not so much the award. I think it’s the process that they do to get it and the things they learn along the road.”

Looking ahead

Brad Wade said he’s grateful to the Boy Scouts.

“It was a great experience, and I think that scouting teaches you a new set of skills that you need for your life and to become an adult,” he said.

Lucinda Wade said the Boy Scouts gave her 12-year-old son socializing opportunities and commonality with other kids; however, she’s not sure her family will continue with scouting outside of the church, particularly because she wouldn’t be comfortable with combined boy/girl camping trips.

In addition, Moynihan said the church is losing “a great potential missionary tool” in the Boy Scouts program; though there may be missionary opportunities for children who join multi-faith scouting troops, he’s concerned that one poorly behaved LDS child could shape the other children’s perceptions of Mormons.

“By creating our own program, I fear that many of those opportunities to foster friendship with others is lost,” he said.

Giblon, however, spoke about one of her brothers joining a Catholic scouting troop because the kids in the local LDS ward “were horrible to him and the leaders made zero effort to stop the bullying.”

“If I had kids, I would prefer for them to be in a neighborhood troop that was not exclusive and restricted to members of only one church,” she said.

Anderson said she thinks the break will be positive, as it will allow both boys and girls with genuine interest to join non-LDS troops, but she wonders if there will be church or parental pressure to participate in the new LDS program at the expense of scouts.

“If a boy or girl doesn’t achieve whatever the top award is in the new LDS program — ‘equivalent to Eagle’ — particularly if it’s because they were busy with non-LDS scout activities, will they be penalized in some way if they apply to a church university?” she said.

Moynihan said while the church’s movement towards a more global outlook is positive, implementing a single program on a worldwide level will be difficult because of cultural differences. In addition, no matter what the church implements, Moynihan said it will not carry the same prestige or recognition of the Eagle Scout rank.

Brad Wade agreed an advantage of Boy Scouts is its national recognition, with most employers knowing what a Eagle Scout rank is; however, he said he feels the church will replace scouting with something “that’s equivalent or better.” He hopes the church’s program will continue allowing young men to camp, learn skills and learn how to be good men.

Steed said he thinks the vast majority of members will no longer participate in scouting and younger boys will not pursue an Eagle Scout rank. He hopes the church’s replacement program brings more equality to boys and girls because having two young daughters has “opened (his) eyes” to the discrepancy between the church’s boys and girls youth programs.

He also hopes the new program will focus more on modern life, with “no time wasted” on camping merit badges or activities like basket weaving or forest studies.

“Instead, focus on fun, wholesome recreational activities as well as other activities to prepare the youth for good emotional and mental health in the future, as well as modern education and eventual careers,” he said.

Overall, though, he’s “very happy” about these changes.

“I think it’ll help the youth of the church by providing better-focused programs that are relevant to the modern day,” he said.

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