LDS/BSA split could affect youth leadership skills, organization size

BYU professor Rex Facer is the troop leader for a community co-ed Venturing Scout troop based in Spanish Fork. (Rex Facer)

The Boy Scouts of America’s biggest influence isn’t scout camps or merit badges, according to BYU professor and former Utah National Parks Council board member Brad Harris. It’s the leadership training, and young men could be in danger of losing it.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently released a joint statement with the BSA, announcing an end to their more than 100-year relationship. The decision, effective December 31, 2019, will end the church’s involvement in scouting. While most East Coast-based scouting troops will likely see little change in membership, areas with many LDS-led troops (like Utah) could see a huge reduction in scale and participation, according to Harris.

Harris said Boy Scout troops in Arizona, Idaho and Nevada could be drastically reduced due to LDS troops’ majority in the areas. The Grand Canyon Council in Arizona in particular could see a 65 percent decrease in troops, according to Harris. On an administrative level, Harris said scouting organizations could face layoffs and organization reduction.

“It’ll have a big effect on the professional staff and the scouts on the Wasatch front,” Harris said.

On the bright side, the withdrawal of the LDS Church won’t cause BSA to face a financial crisis because they traditionally pay for only individual scouts’ registration fees, according to Harris. The BSA instead raises funds through Friends of Scouting and chartering programs, which bring in money from the community through fundraising.

However, the BSA will likely not have enough of a demand to keep a large number of designated campsites open. According to the Utah National Parks Council, the BSA owns and operates 13 camps in Utah alone. Harris said the organization has already begun renting out camps to communities and LDS stakes for activities and will see fewer Boy Scouts attending scout camps.

“They’ve already created camps that are used in the off-season by Young Women and Aaronic Priesthood groups or stake presidents,” Harris said. “We’ll still have scout camp, but there will be fewer scouts attending in Utah.”

However, the biggest casualty of the split will be leadership training for young men and adult leaders, Harris said. While working at the MTC, Harris would often be responsible for picking zone and district leaders after briefly getting to know each prospective missionary. He said they often selected young men who had already received leadership training through scouting programs like the National Youth Leadership Training.

BYU professor Brad Harris has served on the Utah National Parks Council board and sees scouting as an opportunity to teach young men leadership skills. (Sam Bigelow)

“They had a level of maturity and seasoning that the other young men didn’t have,” Harris said. “My biggest worry is that we won’t have that anymore.”

National Youth Leadership Training, commonly referred to as Timberline, is a leadership training camp for Boy Scouts. According to the BSA, NYLT’s goal is to teach advanced leadership skills, as well as teaching methods for each skill. Young men who become part of a Timberline troop are encouraged to teach these skills to other members of their home troops.

The BSA also offers Wood Badge leadership training for adults, which teaches conflict management, project planning and team development skills. Since LDS youth and leaders would no longer be involved in scouting, it’s possible young men could find themselves disadvantaged, according to Harris.

Harris said a common misconception following the church’s announcement is that LDS youth will no longer be able to participate in scouting or earn an Eagle Scout award, the highest honor in Boy Scouts. Harris recommends that parents or youth interested in continuing scouting reach out to a community troop.

“In one day, they (the Boy Scouts) are going to lose a whole bunch of units, so they’re working to set up community units,” he said.

Harris said that young men will be required to raise their own money to pay for registration fees, giving them “skin in the game.” By working to pay for their scouting ventures, young men will value the experience more, he said.

“They go out and work to go to scout camp, so they appreciate camp,” Harris said. “Too often in the LDS Church, boys do nothing, and they vandalize the camp. There needs to be some skin in the game.”

BYU professor Rex Facer, who leads a co-ed Venturing scout crew in Spanish Fork, says his program focuses specifically on teaching youth leadership skills.

“Each week we’d be focusing on developing leadership skills while we’re out in the wilderness. Whether it’s rock climbing, canoeing or hiking in the Uintas, it’s all about helping (the youth) develop while they’re out there,” Facer said.

Facer said the scouting program has given young men opportunities that align with the LDS Church’s goal to connect young men to heaven and teach strong leadership. Facer also said he sees the church’s recent announcement as a way to refocus on a larger, more international group.

“The church’s youth programs are being revamped to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of the church globally, rather than just here in the U.S.,” Facer said. “I would find anyone hard-pressed to argue that being trustworthy and loyal are not values the LDS Church will continue to embrace.”


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