Stephanie Daniels’ family is Mormon and part of the Boy Scouts of America program.
She plans to maintain both relationships even as her church recently announced that at the end of 2019, it would sever its longstanding relationship with the Scouting program she loves.
Like other metro Atlanta Mormon parents, Daniels has to decide to support one or both organizations.
“We have been the beneficiaries of this relationship for years and feel blessed for it,” said the Marietta woman, whose two 17-year-old sons are both Eagle Scouts and Denali Award recipients. “The church’s statement on ending our chartering relationships with BSA in December of 2019 is just that, it is ending the chartering relationships, but it did not state that as members we can no longer affiliate or serve with BSA. Our boys play baseball, I’m a PTA leader, and as a family, we are involved in many other worthy causes that we find worthy of our time and efforts that are not sponsored by the LDS Church.”
The alliance between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Boy Scouts goes back more than a century and was based on shared values. It was expected that Mormon boys would at some point join the Scouts.
Now, the church, one of the biggest sponsors of Boy Scout troops in the United States, said it plans to start its own youth-based program that will appeal to children and youths all over the world. Mormons make up nearly 20 percent of the Boy Scouts’ youth members in the U.S., according to The Washington Post.
Tracy Techau, CEO for the Atlanta Area Council, Boy Scouts of America, said Mormon church-affiliated troops represent less than 3 percent of youth membership in Georgia.
There are 92,000 youths in Georgia and 31,000 in Atlanta.
In the Atlanta Area Council, the membership has increased year over year for decades.
“We are confident that many LDS Scouting families will continue to enjoy Scouting for years to come through our programs,” he said in a statement. “We understand the LDS Church wants new programming to help meet the needs of their global membership. The Atlanta Area Council has been growing for years, and we are excited about giving families more options for their children to benefit from the incredible character-building experiences we provide.”
The move was not totally unexpected, although church officials have said it was unrelated to recent decisions to allow openly gay Boy Scouts troop leaders and, last year, to let girls into the organization. The Boy Scouts recently announced it was removing the word “boy” from its name to reflect that change.
The decision on gay leaders riled many in the faith-based community, particularly more conservative elements such as the Southern Baptists.
At an annual meeting at the time, SBC delegates ratified a resolution calling for the ouster of certain unnamed Boy Scouts officials, who they said were behind the decision to accept openly gay Scouts.
Two Georgia churches decided not to renew their charters.
Ryan T. Cragun, an expert on Mormonism and an associate professor of sociology at the University of Tampa, believes the two are linked.
“My sense is that the LDS Church has felt in recent years that the Boy Scouts were assimilating to broader shifts in values more quickly than the LDS Church has,” said Cragun, who was out of the country and answered emailed questions. “As a result, there is a misalignment between LDS Church values and those of the Boy Scouts. This, of course, was a major issue when the Scouts allowed gay and lesbian leaders and gay and lesbian Scouts. The church dropped some involvement with Scouting shortly after that (which was very much a harbinger of things to come). With the latest change, which puts males and females on equal footing, that’s a ‘bridge too far’ so to speak.”
The Mormon church has grown internationally, with a majority of its 16 million membership living outside the United States. More than 85,000 Mormons live in Georgia.
“The church has increasingly felt the need to create and implement a uniform youth leadership and development program that serves its members globally,” according to a joint statement by both organizations. “In so doing, it will be necessary for the church to discontinue its role as a chartered partner with BSA.”
The Mormon church said for years it has been preparing a new initiative to “teach and provide leadership and development opportunities to all children and youth, to support families and to strengthen youth everywhere as they develop faith in the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This new approach is intended to help all girls and boys, young women and young men discover their eternal identity, build character and resilience, develop life skills and fulfill their divine roles as daughters and sons of God. “
It encouraged families and youths to continue their active participation and financial support of Scouting, whose membership has been declining over the years, until that date.
Stone Mountain resident Steve Cline, a Mormon who is a Scouting unit commissioner and volunteer, said he had “mixed” feelings about the separation of the church and Scouts.
“My sons have enjoyed Scouting, but that’s not true for all boys,” he said. “I know many boys, even in my own congregation, who prefer something like band or soccer.”
Scouting and activities such as camping may be big in the U.S. but not in other countries.
“The church is hoping to create something less U.S.-centric that would be a better fit for a worldwide church,” Cline said.