The number of older Boy Scouts in Southwest Idaho could shrink by nearly a quarter early next year if 3,300 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leave to join a new church-based group for teens 14 to 18.
But not all LDS teens will rush out the Scouting door, and a couple of parents the Statesman spoke with Thursday said they’d give their children the choice to remain in a troop.
“I think it’s important to support your child in their own ventures,” said Nampa resident Shaneen Powell.
On Thursday, the Utah-based church announced that it will end its association next January with the Varsity and Venturing programs offered by the Boy Scouts of America. Instead, Mormon boys will focus on activities that promote the church’s spiritual, social, physical and intellectual goals.
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“These activities are designed to be fun and meaningful and provide opportunities for personal growth and development,” the church said in a statement.
The Varsity and Venturing programs, which stress outdoor pursuits or challenging sports activities, were not meeting the needs of LDS boys and were difficult to implement, the church said.
“This change will allow youth and leaders to implement a simplified program that meets local needs,” the church said.
The change could affect more than 130,000 Mormon boys in the United States and another 55,000 in Canada.
David Kemper, Scout executive for the organization’s Boise-based Ore-Ida Council, said it will certainly have an impact on membership in Southwest Idaho and eastern Oregon – the council counts 14,500 members among that age group. But he predicts that the youth organization will continue to be strong here and will also maintain its good relationship with the LDS church.
“Their decision was to find what works best for their older youth,” Kemper said. “They’re doing what they feel is in the best interests of their young men.”
The decision will have a much larger impact in Utah, where at least 96 percent of Boy Scouts belong to troops sponsored by the LDS church, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
The church said it will continue to use Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs for boys ages 8-13 – more than 280,000 Mormon boys in the U.S. and Canada. And officials said the church will continue to register and support teens working to become Eagle Scouts.
Powell said her 10-year-old son, Hayden, will continue in the Cub Scout program sponsored by their LDS church.
“When he turns 14, I’ll leave it up to him to decide whether he wants to continue with Scouting or join the church program – or, if they’re on separate days, he can do both,” she said.
She said she knew there would be a break between the two organizations when the Boy Scouts began allowing gay troop leaders in 2015.
“It doesn’t bother me one way or the other of the sexual orientation of my child’s Boy Scout leaders as long as they continue to be accepting of my child and encourage him to do his best,” Powell said.
Although the LDS church previously expressed concerns about the Boy Scouts’ changing openness to gay and transgender Scouts and leaders, church leaders claimed that didn’t factor into Thursday’s announcement. But outside observers pointed to diverging paths between the two organizations’ values and the need for the Mormon church to develop a program for members in other parts of the world.
The church said it has always been allowed to “operate its programs in ways that are consistent with our standards and beliefs.”
Boise resident Brandon Lyon said he began volunteering with the Boy Scouts when his oldest son, now a high school sophomore, joined the Cub Scouts in second grade. His son is working on his Eagle Scout rank with Troop 118 in Nampa, sponsored by First Christian Church. He also has twin 10-year-olds who are Cub Scouts in Boise.
“I think Boy Scouts will continue on here with a lot of participation from non-LDS troops, but ... the numbers will be smaller,” Lyon said.
Guy Aydelotte, who grew up in Boise, said that as a Mormon teen, there was already less emphasis on Boy Scouts after he turned 14. The older groups would periodically go on campouts, and leaders were open to helping him and other Scouts achieve their goals. But their weekly meetings were less focused on Scout activities, he said.
“Sometimes it would have more of a church or religious focus. Other times it would just be getting together for an hour or two and doing something fun together,” Aydelotte said.
Sandy Ferrenburg said the Scouting program has been valuable for her son, Kamaha‘o Salas, 16. It “helped build amazing values and gave him something fun to do,” said Ferrenburg, who lives in Twin Falls.
She said her son, who is an Eagle Scout, doesn’t like going to church or morning seminary classes. If the LDS program turns out to be more like a church gathering that pushes missionary work, she said, it might drive him further away from the church.
“Scouting was the one thing Wednesday night still had going for it,” she said.