Almost precisely five years after Boy Scouts of America (BSA) changed its membership policy to allow openly gay youth members, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), which ultimately endorsed the policy change, announced it will end its century-old relationship with the scouting organization at the end of next year. LDS was the first charter organization of BSA in 1913 and represents about 425,000 of the 2.3 million youth members today, or about 18 percent.
Most of the 266 local councils have some LDS membership but the decision affects about 28 councils that have LDS membership of 35 percent or more.
“We have jointly determined that, effective on December 31, 2019, the Church will conclude its relationship as a chartered organization with all Scouting programs around the world,” according to a joint statement issued yesterday by the two organizations. “Until that date, to allow for an orderly transition, the intention of the Church is to remain a fully engaged partner in Scouting for boys and young men ages 8-13 and encourages all youth, families, and leaders to continue their active participation and financial support.”
Boys still would be able to join Boy Scout troops that are independent of churches. Almost three-quarters of Boy Scout councils are sponsored by churches or faith-based organizations.
The Mormon church has grown from “a U.S. centered institution to a worldwide organization, with a majority of its membership living outside the United States. That trend is accelerating. The Church has increasingly felt the need to create and implement a uniform youth leadership and development program that serves its members globally. In doing so, it will be necessary for the Church to discontinue its role as a chartered partner with BSA,” the statement continued.
According to LDS, church leaders have been preparing a new initiative to teach and provide leadership and development opportunities to children and youth, to support families and strengthen youth everywhere as they develop faith in 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.”
The announcement comes a week after Irving, Texas-based BSA announced a change to the name of its largest program, from Boy Scouts to Scouts BSA, effective February 2019, when it will formerly permit girls to join the program. LDS will break off from the organization at the end of that year before launching its own programs in January 2020.
Last fall, the Boy Scouts Board of Directors unanimously approved welcoming girls into the Cub Scout program, a move that did not sit well with Girl Scouts of America.
BSA has about 2.3 million youth members between the ages of 7 and 21, and approximately 960,000 volunteers in local councils throughout the United States and its territories. That’s about 1 million fewer members than in 2000.
A national survey of membership ahead of the policy change in 2013 estimated membership losses of 100,000 to 350,000 if the policy were to include both youth members and adult volunteers. That estimate did not include LDS, BSA’s largest organization, which ultimately endorsed the proposed resolution. Financial losses if chartered organizations left BSA could run in the tens of millions of dollars, the report estimated, with pockets of regions reporting potential gains.
The report estimated that membership would be halved if LDS were to leave Boy Scouts, representing all of the current church membership. Two years later, LDS was troubled when BSA lifted a ban on openly gay adult leaders — leaving it up to local councils and troops to choose their leadership – and began scaling back participation in teen programs last year.
Last year, Boy Scouts of America and its local councils ranked No. 21 in the 2017 NPT 100, a study of the largest nonprofits in the nation, with total revenue of approximately $902 million. The Irving, Texas-based national office has reported operating deficits in three of the past four years, including $45 million in 2016 (the most recent year available) when total revenue was $229 million, including $69 million in membership dues.