Mormon Church Announces End To 100-Year Relationship With Boy Scouts

May 9, 2018
Originally published on May 9, 2018 6:52 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon church, announced Tuesday it is ending a partnership with the Boy Scouts of America, a partnership that has lasted more than a hundred years. As Lee Hale from member station KUER reports, this represents a major cultural shift for Mormons across the country and around the world.

LEE HALE, BYLINE: If you are a Mormon teenage boy in America, you do Scouts. You just do. The LDS Church pays the fees. You meet at the church building with your group or troop, as it's called. And your scoutmaster, the guy who leads the troop - he's a guy from your congregation.

ANDREW GREAVES: I keep a file on my phone separate for my troop.

HALE: This is Andrew Greaves. He's a 36-year-old scoutmaster, and he took some time out of his workday to talk with me in downtown Salt Lake City. And you should know; a scoutmaster talking about his scouts - it's kind of like a grandparent talking about their grandkids. Greaves takes out his phone to show me scouting pictures. The first one is a bunch of tents set up on a Minor League Baseball field.

GREAVES: It's right in the middle of centerfield. And we got to play all night underneath the lights while they cleaned the stadium.

HALE: The next photo is a campout near a lake in northern Utah. Greaves said they were doing a relay race, and the baton was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

GREAVES: I had one instruction, which was don't drop the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And that was the first thing that happened. It got dropped in the dirt.

HALE: Greaves has been scoutmaster for three years, and he loves it. He says he was pretty sad to hear the LDS Church was cutting ties with Boy Scouts of America. He says it's hard to replicate what the scouts do.

GREAVES: Creating those chances to get out in nature and kind of get away from the screens.

HALE: But when I ask Michelle Quist, she has a different take.

What's your knee-jerk reaction as a mother of five boys?

MICHELLE QUIST: Knee-jerk reaction is hallelujah.

HALE: Quist says that because Scouts is basically required of Mormon teens, it can feel like an annoying chore. There are weekly meetings, ceremonies, workbooks and uniforms.

QUIST: I don't sew. I don't sew badges on. I've got this drawer full of badges that my boy goes to Scouts with an empty shirt.

HALE: It's also bothered her that Scouts has always been a boys-only activity. Now, the Boy Scouts did just open their ranks to girls, but the LDS Church has something different in mind. As they part ways with Scouts, they've announced a new co-ed youth program that will be open to Mormons worldwide. Charles Dahlquist is the national commissioner of the Boy Scouts and a former top leader in the LDS Church. He explains the church's reasoning this way, saying more Mormons live outside the U.S. than live in it these days.

CHARLES DAHLQUIST: You can go to Caracas. You can go to Vladivostok. You can go to any place in the world, and they're all basically the same.

HALE: But what those Mormons haven't had is scouting.

DAHLQUIST: The church has filled a great need, appropriately so, to have something that is consistent across the world for all of its youth.

HALE: Now, that's one reason. But there have also been some profound disagreements between the LDS Church and Boy Scouts. Back in 2015, the Scouts openly welcomed gay leaders into the program for the first time. The church disapproved but continued with the provision that they had full control of who led Mormon troops. And now with the shift toward co-ed, it seems like the changes are piling up.

DAHLQUIST: This has been looked at for a long time. And that is, is it time? And then it was tabled. And then it was, is it time?

HALE: Well, now is the time. And by the end of 2019, it will be official. For Mormons who want to continue with scouting, they'll have to look outside their faith community. But for the Boy Scouts, they'll be losing their No. 1 financial sponsor, a group that has accounted for more than 15 percent of their Scouts and therefore supplied 15 percent of the yearly dues. And with this breakup, they'll have to make do without any alimony. For NPR News, I'm Lee Hale in Salt Lake City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.