In the latest separation of church and Scouts, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will begin cutting its support of programs for high school-age Boy Scouts, the church announced Thursday.
In undoing a longstanding bond between Mormons and Scout programs for the church’s older males, LDS officials said the decision stemmed from a desire to provide more Mormon-specific options for teens worldwide — and not from the Scouts’ increasingly liberal stance on social issues, including gender identity.
“This change will allow youth and leaders to implement a simplified program that meets local needs while providing activities that balance spiritual, social, physical and intellectual development goals for young men,” according to a statement from the Utah-based church.
The announcement comes on the heels of a decision by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas to begin severing ties with Girl Scouts. The Catholic archdiocese said it was switching its support to a Christian-based scouting program, American Heritage Girls.
American Heritage Girls, founded in 1995, has become an option for those who say the Girl Scouts have become too liberal and have relationships with organizations that support abortion rights and do not share traditional family values — allegations the Girl Scouts deny.
About 180,000 Mormon church members ages 14 to 18 are currently enrolled in a Boy Scout program called Varsity and Venturing. The church said it will phase out its participation in that program but will continue to enroll 8- to 13-year-old boys in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.
LDS congregations automatically enroll boys of all ages as Scouts, accounting for about 17 percent of Boy Scouts of America membership.
But the Varsity and Venturing program has been “historically difficult to implement within the church” and inaccessible to many LDS congregations globally, Mormon officials said in a written statement.
The Latter-day Saints said it would create its own scouting initiatives for teen boys, providing those in countries outside the United States and Canada better access to scout programs.
In the Kansas City area, 251 high school youths from the LDS church are registered in the Varsity and Venturing program. Officials at the Boy Scouts’ Heart of America Council said they expected those teens to have a place in the Scouts and finish their work to attain Eagle rank.
The local Scouts council “deeply appreciates our relationship with the LDS Church,” said executive Kenn Miller. “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 of America began admitting gay Scouts in 2013 and transgender youths this year.
The Mormon church has not publicly objected to either decision. However, it did object to the Boy Scouts lifting a ban on gay men leading troops, saying in a 2015 statement that the church’s “century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined.”
Regarding the church pulling out of the Varsity and Venturing program, Scouts spokeswoman Effie Delimarkos told The Washington Post, “We’re sad ... but we understand.” She attributed the move not to sexuality issues but to the church’s interest in preparing boys worldwide to go on Mormon missions.
From its Independence headquarters, the Community of Christ — formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — said it would soon sign a “memorandum of understanding” with the Boy Scouts stipulating that membership “may not be denied to youth, volunteer adult leaders, or employees based solely on sexual preference.”
Though sharing an early heritage with the Salt Lake City-based Mormon church, the Community of Christ and LDS are separate denominations with differing beliefs and practices.