SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church announced Thursday that it will no longer participate in the Varsity and Venturing programs offered by the Boy Scouts of America.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will shift its focus from Scouting for boys aged 14-18 to that of its young men program, which is intended to provide spiritual, social and physical activities for teenagers. The change will take effect Jan. 1, 2018.
"We express sincere appreciation and gratitude to all adult leaders who have supported young men in these programs and are grateful for our long-standing and continuing partnership with the Boy Scouts of America and Scouts Canada," the LDS Church's First Presidency wrote in a letter.
Many LDS congregations in the United States and Canada are not being well served in Varsity and Venture, according to the church, and are difficult to implement within the church. The change will provide a simplified program for the boys and their leaders in an effort to provide “personal growth and development.”
The change will impact approximately 180,000 boys, according to figures from the LDS Church.
The change will not impact the Cub Scout or Boy Scout programs for the church, which will operate as normal. The church will continue to develop programs for its boys and girls that fit the needs of its congregations worldwide.
"The BSA values our ongoing partnership with the LDS Church in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts programming and look forward to our continued efforts to extend the benefits of Scouting to as many youth and families as possible," the BSA said in a statement.
The Varsity and Venture programs have always been optional to the church. Boy Scouts national commissioner Charles Dahlquist told KSL the LDS Church has been “very supportive for all of these years” despite it not being fully implemented in the various congregations through the United States and Canada. He added that he expects the decision to be a “positive experience” for all involved.
“This could be a real benefit for these young men as they prepare for missions and for life and for the challenges of life as the LDS Church focuses unitedly with the general authorities, local authorities (and) local youth leaders to be able to help them to have a good developmental experience between 14 and 18,” Dahlquist added.
“Although thousands of youth and leaders who participate in Venturing crews nationwide embrace and support the program, we recognize that not all programs are a perfect fit for all partners," the BSA said.
Boys working toward the rank of Eagle Scout will be able to continue after they turn 14 and will be supported and encouraged in their efforts, the LDS Church said.
“This may actually put a little pressure on families and on these young men to be more engaged and to work to get their Eagle award before they’re 14,” Dahlquist said.
The LDS Church has reviewed its affiliation with the Scouting program over the years and continue to “look for ways to better serve its families and young people worldwide.” However, the Cub Scout and Boy Scout program currently meet the “development program needs” for boys 8-13, according to the church.
“The BSA has always allowed the church to operate its programs in ways that are consistent with our standards and beliefs, and they have been very supportive,” the church said. “This change is to address the needs of young men ages 14 to 18 who have not had an effective program. The church is always evaluating what is best for our youth and families, and will continue to do so.”
Although the changes will not go into effect until the new year, the LDS Church encouraged its leaders to continue with their activities as they work to implement the new activity guidelines. Additionally, the LDS Church said it will continue to be involved in Friends of Scouting for the Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs.
To facilitate activity ideas for boys older than 14, the church shared a website available since 2013 dedicated to helping leaders and youth select activities that fulfill the needs of the young men and women programs.
“When followed, these activities can provide better opportunities for spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual growth,” the church added.
The Utah National Parks Council, which is one of three BSA councils in the state of Utah, said in a statement that they remain committed to helping the Scouting program and “we look forward to providing Scout programs to all interested youth, including those age 14 and older who are interested in participating.”
The council said it will continue to offer up its camping programs and facilities to LDS congregations and their young men and young women.
“We will continue to expand our efforts to provide resources and facilities that specifically serve older youth to help local wards and stakes provide high quality programs for their youth classes and quorums.”
In January, the LDS Church said it was studying the Boy Scout’s decision to allow transgender children into the organization but that the Boy Scout’s would allow the church to maintain their religious beliefs regarding gay and transgender children while being affiliated with the Scouting program. The LDS Church said the decision to drop the Varsity and Venture program is not a response to the BSA’s recent policy changes.
Recently, the BSA has considered allowing girls into the Scouting program but has yet to make a decision. The LDS Church said it will continue to maintain its affiliation with the BSA and that Thursday’s decision was made before the church learned about the potential policy change to allow girls.