The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America issued a joint statement this week announcing an end to a century-old partnership between the two entities.
Go ahead and read the entire statement. See if you notice any hint of the clashes over values that brought the relationship to the breaking point:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America have been partners for more than 100 years. The Scouting program has benefited hundreds of thousands of Latter-day Saint boys and young men, and BSA has also been greatly benefited in the process. We jointly express our gratitude to the thousands of Scout leaders and volunteers who have selflessly served over the years in Church-sponsored Scouting units, including local BSA districts and councils.
In this century of shared experience, the 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 so doing, it will be necessary for the Church to discontinue its role as a chartered partner with BSA.
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. 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.
While the Church will no longer be a chartered partner of BSA or sponsor Scouting units after December 31, 2019, it continues to support the goals and values reflected in the Scout Oath and Scout Law and expresses its profound desire for Scouting’s continuing and growing success in the years ahead.
Nope, I didn't catch any sign of strain either. I suppose that's a real nice statement, from a public relations standpoint.
Meanwhile, back in the real world ...
Major news organizations, to their credit, quoted the statement. But they also, again to their credit, provided important context to help readers understand the circumstances of the severed ties. In this case, as always, it's obviously important for journalists to give readers the full picture.
For example, here is the relevant section from The Associated Press' initial report:
The Mormon church said in a statement that the move is about creating its own youth program that it can use for its increasingly global membership, but the two organizations’ values clearly have been diverging in recent years.
The Boy Scouts decided in 2015 to allow gay troop leaders and announced last year it would allow girls in its ranks. Last week, the organization said it will change the name of its flagship program next year to Scouts BSA to account for the inclusion of girls.
Like other conservative faiths, the Mormon church opposes gay marriage and teaches that being in a homosexual relationship is a sin. The church initially said it was “deeply troubled” by the Boy Scouts’ policy change on gays but stayed with the organization after receiving assurances it could appoint troop leaders according to its own religious and moral values.
The religion has also traditionally used separate youth programs for boys and girls.
The announcement comes a week after the Boy Scouts announced it's dropping the word "boy" from its main program as girls prepare to join. The new name will be Scouts BSA, and only applies to the Boy Scouts program, which is available for teens ages 11-17. The Cub Scouts program, for children ages 5-10, will not undergo a name change.
Last October, the Boy Scouts opened the scouting program to girls, both a reflection of growing progressive attitudes as well as a business decision.
The Boy Scouts of America has seen declining numbers for years. The organization says it has nearly 2.3 million youth members, a decrease from the 2.8 million members in 2012.
Meanwhile, close to the church's headquarters, the Salt Lake Tribune noted:
In 2015, the LDS Church raised concerns about the Scouts allowing openly gay men to be Scout leaders, The Tribune reported.
Mormon doctrine dictates that gay men can hold leadership roles within the church and in church-sponsored activities as long as the leaders don’t act on their attraction to the same sex and are celibate.
After the Scouts allowed openly gay men to be leaders in the organization in 2015, the LDS-affiliated troops were allowed to continue operating in accordance with their faith standards. That meant that though no BSA-wide ban exists for gay leaders who are sexually active or are in same-sex relationships, one is practically imposed in Mormon-run troops.
Why is this week's decision big news?
The New York Times (in a story co-written by veteran religion writer Laurie Goodstein) emphasized the reason in its opening paragraphs:
The Mormon Church and the Boy Scouts of America formed a partnership 105 years ago based on shared beliefs in God, country and the necessity of teaching morals and responsibility to boys. The groups became so intertwined that one of every five Boy Scouts in the United States is Mormon, and all Mormon boys were expected to participate in scouting.
Now that arrangement is coming to an end. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Tuesday that it was severing ties with the Boy Scouts and would design its own youth programs that could be implemented in its congregations around the world. The decision, which was made jointly with the Boy Scouts, will take effect at the end of next year.
All of those reports were, at least in my quick reading, just fine in terms of getting the news out quickly.
But as a bit more time has passed, I've been pleased to see some more analytical news reports, which do a nice job of explaining what this change means.
For example, the Salt Lake Tribune's veteran religion writer, Peggy Fletcher Stack, explores that angle in a story out just today.
As the headline points out, "No Scouting? Mormon youth culture is about to change — big time."
Similarly, a later version of the AP's story offers this spot-on analysis:
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — For more than a century, the Boy Scouts of America and the Mormon church formed an ideal pair as they helped each other expand their organizations and build their brands while molding countless young men through bow knots, pinewood derby races and campouts.
But as the calendar flipped to the 21st Century, the longtime partners originally drawn to each other by shared values began drifting apart. The Mormon church continued expanding into far off countries where Boy Scouts wasn’t offered and began eyeing its own program. Amid declining membership, Boy Scouts of America recently opened its arms to openly gay youth members and adult volunteers, transgender boys, and girls while the Mormon religion clung to its opposition of homosexuality and stuck to its traditional gender roles.
On Tuesday, the two sides announced what had become inevitable: They will split permanently starting in 2020.
The memories will live on in Norman Rockwell paintings, the Boy Scouts training complex named after a former Mormon church president and in the pictures from the church’s 2013 extravagant theatrical production commemorating their 100th anniversary together.
But, their futures are now headed in divergent directions.
A big question going forward: Will other religious group leave the Boy Scouts?