The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has ended its involvement with the Varsity and Venture programs of the Boy Scouts of America. This affects boys ages 14-18 in the church, which makes up about 130,000 of the 2.3 million registered boy scouts in the country.
Church leaders said in a statement that these programs “have historically been difficult to implement within the church.” And that the separation will take effect on January 1, 2018. Although the church will continue to pay registration fees for older boys through 2018 in order to ease the financial transition.
“What it means is that the church will have its own program beginning in January and I am actually excited for that," says Charles Dahlquist, the National Commissioner for the BSA.
Dahlquist previously served as the LDS Church’s Young Men General President, presiding over all young men age 12-18 in the church worldwide.
Dahlquist says it’s always been a concern for the church that BSA didn’t have a global reach.
“I think we all agonize as we go across the world and see young men who don’t have something like scouting," says Dahlquist. "And parents have come to me in all different nations and said can’t we have something like this?”
The LDS Church plans to implement a program that will reach all young men, but the rollout will first begin in the states next year.
The statement from church leaders said this decision is not in response to changes in Scout policy to include gay and transgender Scouts and leaders. Nor the recent news that BSA is considering including girls into their programs.
“With regard to Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts I see the church as being all in," Dahlquist says. "Now, does that mean there won’t be a change in the future? I really don’t know the answer to that.”
If the church were to completely sever ties with BSA in the future that would have a serious impact on the organization. The LDS Church has been the top sponsor of scouting units since it began its relationship with scouting in 1913, just three years after BSA formed.
Around 330,000 youth in the LDS Church will continue to be served by the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts program.
Boy Scouts of America officials say in a statement that they recognize “not all programs are a perfect fit for all partners.” And that they anticipate Mormon youth pursuing their Eagle Scout rank will continue to have support beyond age 14.