LDS Church to end affiliation with Varsity and Venturing Boy Scouts of America

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Valley Central: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced it will no longer affiliate with Varsity and Venturing Boy Scouts of America.

Will still continue to use Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs for ages 8-13

By Jon Johnson

SALT LAKE CITY – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Thursday that, beginning in 2018, it would no longer participate in Boy Scouts of America Varsity and Venturing programs. Those programs are for young men ages 14-18.

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Valley Central: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced its split with the Varsity and Venture Boy Scouts of America.

The change only affects congregations in the United States and Canada because the church only participates in the Varsity and Venturing programs in those two countries.

The Venturing program began in 1998 and focuses on a variety activities for boys older than 14, from cliff rappelling building a robot. The Varsity program focuses more on sports-oriented activities.    

Roughly one in six American Scouts identify as being Mormon and the church is the largest charter organization. According to the LDS Church, the change will involve roughly 185,000 boys who are registered in the programs in the U.S. and Canada. However, according to a news release from the church, scouts who are registered and are eligible to be awarded merit badges and rank advancements and have a desire to continue toward the rank of Eagle Scout will be supported and encouraged.

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Valley Central: The LDS Church said it would still support and encourage scouts who are registered to continue on to receive their Eagle Scout recognition.

Most of the troops in the Gila Valley are associated with the LDS Church, but there are those that aren’t, including a troop that is associated with the Methodist Church. The ruling doesn’t stop LDS boys from joining other troops, it just means the LDS Church won’t be involved with or call leaders to those positions. In the church, various jobs (callings) are requested of members to perform as voluntary service. Several of the callings involve leadership of Boy Scout troops, and the LDS Church has participated hand-in-hand with the Boy Scouts for more than a century since it became the first chartered BSA organization in 1913.

Local church and Boy Scout leadership politely declined to comment on the news, and the scout leaders said all questions would have to be addressed by Grand Canyon Council BSA Scout Executive Larry Abbott, who was said to not be available until Monday. 

Reason for split

While many have speculated that the reason for the split had to do with the BSA allowing homosexual scouts and leaders to participate, the official LDS Church stance is that did not factor in its decision. While the church teaches engaging in a homosexual relationship is in opposition to its tenets and has been openly opposed to gay marriage, it said the Boy Scouts allowed it to not compromise its positions. The Boy Scouts began allowing openly gay members join in 2012, followed by the inclusion of gay adult troop leaders in 2015. This year, it began accepting transgender members as well.

When the BSA began allowing gay scouts in 2012, the LDS Church released a statement noting that it had always included all scouts regardless of their sexual orientation. However, when the BSA opened the door to openly gay scout leaders in 2015, the LDS Church issued its first public acknowledgment that it was re-considering the scouting program because the admission of gay leaders was “inconsistent with the doctrines of the church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America.” 

Mormon officials stated the real reason for disassociating from the Varsity and Venture Scouts had to do with youth engagement and not sexual identity.

“In most congregations in the United States and Canada, young men ages 14-18 are not being served well by the Varsity of Venturing programs, which have historically been difficult to implement within the church,” a statement in the news release read. “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.”

The church stated it would continue its affiliation with Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs for youth ages 8-13 because those programs “currently meet the development program needs” for that age group. The LDS Church reports it has more than 280,000 members between the ages of 8-13 registered in scouting.

The LDS Church also cited its desire to create a global program for all its members ages 14-18 to be able to join to be more equitable since only members in the U.S. and Canada were able to join the BSA. 

Jim Brinkerhoff Triathlon

The annual Jim Brinkerhoff Varsity Scout Triathlon has been held in the Gila Valley for 27 years and will have its 28th year at its home in Pima as it currently stands.

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Valley Central: A participant in the Jim Brinkerhoff Varsity Scout Triathlon receives his timing chip.

Race Director Mons Larson, who is also a Coronado District committee leader, said the event is scheduled for April 21, 2018, and is paid for by the Boy Scouts, so it will stay with the Boy Scouts.

The event brings roughly 2,000 people into the area for a two-day weekend and had 1,761 registered participants in this year’s event. A large number of those who participated, including most of the out-of-town participants, come to the event as part of a faction of the LDS Church. However, while the event is the largest Varsity Scout Triathlon in the nation, participants do not need to be Varsity Scouts, and the number of non scouts and female participants have risen in the last couple of years.

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Valley Central:
Matalyah Bretz, center, shown with sisters Charissa, left, and Kaeleah Bretz after the race in 2016, took home first-place overall female finisher for the third year in a row at the Jim Brinkerhoff Varsity Scout Triathlon.

Jon Johnson is an assistant 11-year-old Boy Scout leader for an LDS-affiliated pack in Pima.