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 that has lasted over 100 years. This represents a major cultural shift for Mormons across the country and the world.
If you’re 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 leader of the troop — is a guy from your congregation.
A guy like Andrew Greaves. He’s a 36 year old scoutmaster who lives in Salt Lake City, and when we chat he takes out his phone to show me photos of some recent adventures. Almost like a grandparent showing off pictures of the grandkids.
The first one is a bunch of tents set up on the Salt Lake Bees baseball field.
“We were right in the middle of center field,” said Greaves. “And we got to play wiffle ball all night while they cleaned the stadium.”
The next photo is a campout near Bear Lake in northern Utah. Greaves said they were doing a relay race and the baton was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“I had one instruction,” said Greaves. “Don’t drop the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That was the first thing that happened. It got dropped in the dirt.”
He still picked it up and ate it like any good scoutmaster would.
Greaves loves his time with the scouts and he said he was sad to hear that the LDS Church was cutting ties with Boy Scouts of America. He said it’s hard to replicate what the scouts do.
“Creating those chances to get out in nature and kind of get away from the screens,” said Greaves.
But when I asked Michelle Quist how she felt felt, she had a different take.
“My knee jerk reaction is ‘Hallelujah,’” Quist said.
Quist is an editorial writer for The Salt Lake Tribune and the mother of 5 young boys. She said that because scouts is basically required of Mormon boys, it can feel like an annoying chore. There are weekly meetings, ceremonies, workbooks and uniforms.
“I don’t sew,” said Quist. “I don’t sew badges on. I’ve got this drawer full of badges and my boy goes to scouts with with an empty shirt that was his brothers and it’s the wrong color.”
It’s obvious Quist won’t miss the badges. It’s also bothered her that the scouts has always been a boys-only activity for Mormons.
To be clear, the Boy Scouts did just open their ranks to girls, but the LDS Church has something different in mind.
As they part ways with the scouts they’ve also announced a new co-ed youth program that will be open to Mormons worldwide.
Charles Dahlquist, the national commissioner of the Boy Scouts and a former top leader in the LDS Church, explains the LDS Church’s reasoning way:
“You can go to Caracas, you can go to Vladivostok, you can go to any place in the world and [the LDS Church] is basically the same.”
But what those Mormons haven’t had is scouting and Dahlquist brought up the fact that the LDS Church has had more members outside the U.S. than in it for some time.
“The church has felt a great need, appropriately so, to have something that is consistent across the world for all of its youth,” Dahlquist said.
That’s one reason, but there’s also been some profound disagreements between the LDS Church and the 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 said the split has been talked about for a long time. And now, by the end of 2019, the split 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 number one 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 divorce they’ll have to make do without any alimony.