The Mormon-American Boy Scout, 1913-2019. RIP.

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Today, the Mormon church officially ends its formal involvement with Boy Scouts of America. This change was announced more than a year and a half ago, but when you’re looking at a form of social organization that has shaped the lives of millions of people, involved the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars, and has more than 100 years of history and tradition and norm-building behind, change can be hard. While I have no direct knowledge of this–though perhaps someone reading this blog does–I am confident that in some ward or branch (maybe many wards and branches) in the United States there is, right at this moment, some teen-age boy or weary Scoutmaster or desperate mother scrambling to get forms filled out for the last merit badge the boy in question will ever earn, or setting up the flags and rushing to get the tablecloths for that last Eagle Court ever to be held in the local chapel or stake center, all with the aim of squeezing everything under the wire at the last possible second. I’d like to pay tribute to such folks, if I may. All of us Mormon believers and members who, one way or another, will get caught up in the church’s new youth program owe them our respect. They’re holding on, until the bitter end, to something that the church as a whole may very well be better off without–but which I am positive we’re going to miss in a more than a few ways, all the same.

First of all, let me make it clear that I’m not kidding around with that “better off” line. Thanks to technology, thanks to globalization, thanks the evolution and diversification of social expectations and assumptions in America over the past century, and thanks most of all to how the Mormon Church itself is changing, the Boy Scouts of America and Mormonism–and at least 20% of all BSA members were there primarily because the latter tied its youth programs for boys to the former; check out this thread for a consideration of some of the demographic and financial implications of all this–aren’t the fit they once were. Ending that tie will probably be a good thing for many thousands of young people (and not just males) throughout the Mormon church in America, all of whom were, for any number of physical, psychological, and spiritual reasons, never going to get kind of acceptance, support, and engagement their adolescent and teen-age bodies and minds desperately need from a tradition-bound organization like BSA, no matter how it evolved. So yes, let’s create something new. But every change entails costs, and building a new thing without a long backward glance all the equally (if different) good things you’re leaving behind is unwise, to say the least.

As with so much else, my grasp of all those good things which the folks I speculated about in the first paragraph are themselves grasping for goes back to my father, Jim Fox. If he were still alive, I wouldn’t doubt for a minute that would be one of those faithful Mormons getting every last drop out of the Scouting program he officially could, right up until the end. It was with him throughout his entire life, after all. The Mormon-American Scouting experience was probably at its strongest exactly when Scouting as a whole was at its strongest in America: namely, the 1950s through the 1970s, when suburbanization, the Cold War, rising middle-class wealth, fears about television, and a hundred other things combined to make Scouting a near-requirement for the healthy white male adolescent members of the Baby Boom. Layer on top of that the correlated organizational mentality of the post-WWII Mormon church in America, and a near-requirement becomes a total one. Mormon President David O. McKay organized an official Church-Scouts Relationship Committee in 1951; in 1963, the Mormon church started holding annual conferences for their general leadership at Philmont Scout Ranch. Dad, born in 1943, caught all of that and more. That he grew up surrounded by horses and fields and nature and camping and all sorts of general husbandry makes Scouting seem like a natural choice for him; that he was a dedicated member of the church, absolutely committed to following through on every rule the organization laid out for him, makes it seem not only natural that he would have embraced Scouting, but actually hard to imagine anything otherwise. Jim Fox, the paterfamilias, not a Scout? Impossible! Certain we Fox boys–that is: Daniel, me, Stuart, Abraham, Jesse, Philip, and Baden (you know, the whole gang)–can’t imagine our father otherwise, and I know, when it comes to Mormon boys thinking about their own fathers, we’re not alone.

While dad was never a professional Scouter, I strongly doubt anyone who didn’t actually work for Boy Scouts of America could have organized his family’s life–and, specifically, his sons’ lives–more thoroughly around this program. From our expected beginning as Bobcats to our expected finish as Eagles, from day camps to World Jamborees, from his multiple stints as a Scoutmaster and Young Men’s leader to his central role in two major LDS Boy Scout encampments (we got to go the first one; our children got to go to the second), Jim Fox worked to convey his commitment to his family and his church and his country all through this single church-approved organized program. To this day, as our own families grow and continue to change, as our church itself does, I suspect all of us would say, to one degree or another: his commitment worked. Again, I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that. After all, among the many thousands of American Mormon boys raised by American Mormon Baby Boomers out there, how many would admit that it was Scouting experiences–good or bad, grand or small–which at least partly shaped the way they think about fatherhood responsibilities, or patriotic stories, or environmental history, or military service, or financial sacrifice, or personal goal-setting, or outdoor recreation, or religious authority, or civic duties, or natural spaces, or really the whole warp and woof of how we put ourselves together as American citizens and 20th-century Mormons? A huge percentage, I suspect.

Yes, there were always criticisms of the way in which Scouting shaped the priorities and practices (and budgets!) of how the education of males happened in the American Mormon environment, and rightly so. A lot of those criticisms were absolutely deserved. Completely aside from all the limitations of Scouting as an educational framework I mentioned above, none of us who went through the program can honestly deny just how much sometimes cruel, sometimes offensive, and sometimes just plain stupid stuff was built into all our activities and expectations: the night hikes, the Scout camps, the merit badges, the 50-milers, the Eagle projects, all of them, all too often, attended by hazing, by fakery, or by pointless nonsense. Every one of us can tell our stories. (Being tied to your cot in the middle of the night? Mocking the kid who slips and tumbles down the hiking path–or being that kid yourself? Counterfeiting a signature on a needed form, then lying about it when challenged? Yep, I was, at different times, all of that and more.) But beyond it all, at least from what I can see (and I am certain many hundreds of thousands of other American Mormons saw and still see much the same), there was the camaraderie and the joy in accomplishment, the sense of being incorporated into an ethos that carried with it a sense of place and progress, a whole worldview of struggle (however sometimes inauthentic) and honor (however sometimes patriarchal) and old-fashioned fun (however sometimes exclusive), all of it built into a set of books and rules and traditions which penetrated ordinary suburban families and whitebread Sunday school classrooms. Learning the Law of the Pack! Getting your Totin’ Chip badge! Watching the torchlight Order of the Arrow ceremonies! Wood Badge and Eagle Palms and the Silver Beaver! Or just putting on that uniform, and taking responsibility for your class, coming up with games and plans and assignments so this weekend’s camp-out won’t be a bust. You sweated those responsibilities, but could righteously own their successes (when they came, and they often didn’t) as your own. After all, you had a badge on your shirt that said they belonged to do.

Sure, it’s all terribly easy to make fun of (this blog has done so many times). In our better moments, we all laughed at it ourselves–and then, hopefully, sometimes, also forgave both ourselves and others for all the ways the program might have caused some hurt. But I, at least, can’t just snigger at all those neckerchiefs and beads and ranks. There was more to it than that; the very fact that Scouting was inextricably built into how Mormonism was realized in our very-male family made that very clear. Our father was utterly committed to defending the truth and value of every silly accoutrement of this worldview, of every symbol of everything it taught us and everything it allowed us to be. It was for him, like so many other American Mormon men of his generation, a component of America’s civil religion, a religion of trustworthiness, loyalty, helpfulness, friendliness, courtesy, etc. (you all know the rest), and a religion which he saw as perfectly aligned with both Mormon Christianity and the American nation. And whatever the faults of that worldview, it also allowed, however rarely, life-changing (or, given the ages of those involved, maybe it’s better to say life-beginning) experiences that were more than the sum of its parts.

As it happens, my wife and I have had only daughters–a fact of our family that not only led me to have 10 wonderful years at our church’s Girls Camp, but has also been central to shifting my thinking about some of the most controversial issues of my adult life, in ways have tended to reinforce my already-existing tendencies towards intellectualism, criticism, and doubts in general. Those three descriptors aren’t usually associated with Scouting, so for all the above reasons and more, I should say good riddance to Scouting in my church, right? Well, no. Again, I’m not sad to see it go–really, it should have been made optional decades ago. But maybe the uniformity of it, the forced discipline of it all (however wrongly it left some behind), was part of the appeal? To a boy in their elementary and middle-school years, that can’t be ignored. I’m not that boy any longer, thank goodness–none of us are, and none of us should be. But there will always be more of us coming along, and the value of having something whose history and legends–and often you couldn’t tell them apart–can allow, even empower, those Mormon boys to see themselves as having a place in a social order and a moral scheme that isn’t just Mormonism can’t be ignored either.

At the first of those two aforementioned LDS Scout encampments that my father helped to organize, I was touched by Boy Scout royalty–William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt, the author of The Boy Scout Handbook, or at least that version of it which I and most of my brothers carried to every church and Scout meeting every week between the ages of 10 and 14, through the 1980s and beyond. So maybe my affection for the program is wholly a product of a kind of defiant geekiness, of nerdy me being able to sit beside an 84-year-old man wearing green shorts who told us stories about Lord Baden-Powell, the Chief Scout of the World, himself? Could be. But think about that geekiness, that nerdiness, and about how many young suburban teen-age boys experience it, and how they experience it, both today and 30+ years ago. They’ve got the wrong shoes for the long-distance run, they’re embarrassed at carrying their violin case around the halls of their school, they’re stupidly terrified they’ll get their hand caught in the lathe at wood shop. To the extent that school and social realities have so changed in America today that none of the above would likely weigh down any typical American boy, the country has become a better place. But no doubt other embarrassments, other humiliations, other confusions have taken their place. Thank goodness for any organization, any program, any arrangement, that can get grown, competent, responsible adults close to such kids, to run alongside them as they stumble along the race track, to praise them (but also instruct them) as they struggle with their bows, to show them the rules for operating machines to give them confidence and keep them safe. Parents do this, of course, and school teachers and church leaders as well. But so did Scoutmasters. And if, in doing those things, they did it while dressed in a particular way, and did it during a particular meeting, and rewarded you upon concluding your task or challenge with a particular emblem, all of it adding up to make you think that you were, in running that race or playing that song or building that rocket ship, also being enlisted in a particular national–nay, a “civilizational”!–project, with a language and a style and set of moral expectations all its own? I can see a lot of power in that.

I have no idea if any of my brothers think, or ever thought, the same. But even if they don’t, and never did, think like that, I nonetheless bet that they, at one time, felt the same, felt that the whole goofy, yet solemn, yet infectious aesthetic of Scouting added something deep to our late-20th-century white middle-class American Mormon lives. Dad certainly felt that, all his adult life. It would be ridiculous to pretend that such a fully lived feeling left no mark on all us boys, standing there in our rumbled uniforms, wearing our Scout badges, adjusting our neckerchief slides. And the same goes, I suspect, for many, many thousands of other formerly (or perhaps still) nerdy Mormon-American boys. Which is why, for all my awareness of the limitations inherent to Scouting, I come to its defense–and why, when the president of the United States treated one of its admittedly overblown and faintly ridiculous rituals as an occasion to show off his sleazy self, it really pissed me off.

I reach up onto my clothes closet shelf, dig past years of Girls Camp mementos, and pull down some old awards and books–either my own that I’ve packed up and taken with me through all the moves and changes over the decades, or gifts from my Dad. Ever read the original Scouting for Boys, written in 1908? It’s a hoot. Lots of practical advice on building rope bridges, lots of games and songs, lots of half-baked history about legendary figures from England’s past, lots of vaguely creepy invocations of “manliness,” lots of prescient recommendations about physical health, lots of helpful fire-building diagrams, and lots of wacky stuff that, frankly, would have made for some brilliantly weird troop meetings (instructions on how to spot and capture escaped convicts, for example). Read this book, and you know you’re in the presence of a powerfully smart, powerfully moralistic, and powerfully strange visionary.

Scouting was, back then, pretty obviously an almost cultic offering, as determinedly off-center a challenge to bourgeois society as any other 19th-century call for radical reform. Which, of course, is what Mormonism partly was also. So the unity they found in each other, back in 1913, was perhaps a match made in heaven–and heaven knows that’s something my father, to say nothing of multiple presidents of the Mormon church (eight of whom were awarded the Silver Buffalo, the highest honor Boy Scouts of America offered), would have insisted was the gospel truth. I don’t believe that myself–not quite, anyway. But the entwining of Scouting and Mormonism did mean that a perfectly ordinary American boy like me, just like millions of other perfectly ordinary, nerdy, middle-class American boys, could excel in, and even earn honors for being part of, something downright counter-cultural and weird. Just about nobody, least of all my Dad, would likely have ever recognized that claim. How would they, with us Scouts going about our flag ceremonies and essentially baptizing a handed-down series of colonialist, sometimes borderline racist, phrases and practices for our daily use? Still, the undercurrent remains. The “citizenship” Scouting originally–and still, hidden deep down, to this very day–calls for is one that is fundamentally sustainable, communal, participatory, and rural, all of which runs against our daily disposable, individualistic, remote and virtual, suburban and urban worlds. Mormonism, at its best, calls beyond all that. Scouting, even Mormon-American Scouting, at its best, sometimes did too.

The church will survive its separation from Scouting, of course. (And, just to be clear, that separation is institutional only; there is no prohibition whatsoever against us Mormons individually involving ourselves in Scouting, as a couple of families I know locally have already decided to do, enlisting their children in local Scouting units.) For all I know, the goal-oriented, family-centered youth program of the next century of Mormonism will be able to effectively recreate, in a more appropriate context, all of the leadership and traditions and aspirations and nerdiness which Scouting did. I hope so. But, as this century-long stage of my church’s life comes to an end, I express gratitude to my Dad, and to thousands of other Mormon leaders like him, who put on the cook-outs (where everything was fried in bacon grease) and the camp-outs (where the tent caught fire in the middle of the snowstorm) and the Courts of Honor (where the little brother knocked over the painstakingly constructed Pinewood Derby race track). They did so with a humor befitting the inherent goofiness of it all, yet also respecting–sometimes because they believed it (as Dad did), and sometimes just because it was woven into the program itself–a vision that connected and challenged and situated innumerable Mormon-American boys in ways that sometimes actually taught them and inspired them and planted seeds inside their heads that made them, just maybe, a little bit different, a little bit geekier but also a little bit smarter and a little bit more capable than they would have been otherwise. Any and every parent and teacher and church leader ought to do the same, of course, and will no doubt continue to try to do so. Best of luck to us all! It does no harm to the truth, however, to admit that having a program with a hundred years of history, and the hard work and crazy ideas of many hundreds of thousands of others, to draw upon was, all things considered, a real asset. Losing that, if only formally, is not without its costs.

Comments

  1. nobody, really says:

    I’m not the least bit sorry to see it go. Scouting devolved into little more than an organized bullying structure when I grew up in the program – even when I worked at the council summer camp after graduating from high school. It was criminal to require young fathers to spend their precious vacation time away from their families. It was wrong for my last scoutmaster to use the troop as unpaid labor. It was wrong for members of the Bishopric to have us sell fireworks in his stand for three weeks in return for a donation to the troop of less than $50. It was wrong to have 55% of the ward budget dumped into a program that still required the families to put up the money for every assigned food item, every tank of gas, and every award.

    When I worked at the scout camp, we staffers were told to gather up every scrap of official uniform we could find and collect them in a “Lost and Found”. At the end of six weeks, there were hundreds of shirts, neckerchiefs, belts, and every other item you could possibly imagine. Staffers were informed that these would be taken back to the council office and used for “kids who couldn’t afford uniforms”. Three weeks later, we had a migrant worker family in our ward with three teenage boys interested in the program. I called the council office and talked to the guy who had been the camp director – told him about the situation and asked if I could come get some of the uniform pieces for these boys. I was told in loud, harsh terms that there were no used uniforms, and that those three teenage boys needed to go pick up beer cans off the side of the road to earn the money for new uniforms from the council office, because they would feel much better about themselves that way. I then found out the council mucky-mucks would hit Deseret Industries, the Salvation Army, and every other thrift store in town three times a week to buy Scout clothing before the proles could get a hold of it.

    It may have been a great program with lofty ideals at some point, but it devolved into little more than a network marketing scam.

  2. I know that many celebrate the end of the Church in Scouting. I am not one of them. No, I certainly do not approve of hazing or abuse. No, I do not think girls are worth less time or money, (which is not the fault of BSA but in the way the church and parents spent their moneys). Yes, I realize that Scouting may not be for EVERYONE. But as I was explaining/chatting/lecturing with boys and their fathers in this last couple of months, Scouting had many, many advantages and one of them is/was that young men were encouraged to do activities and earn merit badges outside their comfort or interest zones (Family Life, all three Citizenships, Swimming, etc.) While I certainly hope the new Church program is effective, I believe it requires great bravery and even interest to set goals that are a reach.

  3. Reluctant eagle scout says:

    Well written. Well-balanced. Thank you.

    But being one baby boomer for whom his father’s absolute, church-based insistence upon scouting and achieving eagle rank contrary to both interests and talents was a significant factor in the destruction of anything perceived as good in that father-son relationship, and having observed other such boys driven out of the church in part by social identification of enthusiastic scouting with righteousness, I can attest that making the BSA program a part of church expectations (rather than an option) from the 1950s was also “not without its costs.”

    And, of course, the church effectively abandoned scouting years ago (long after my baby boomer experience) when it insisted on independent scout troops in wards with so few boys of scouting age that it was impossible to implement the BSA leadership training program effectively. For many, what is now formally gone, was merely an adulteration of the BSA program.

    “In our better moments, we all laughed at it ourselves–and then, hopefully, sometimes, also forgave both ourselves and others for all the ways the program might have caused some hurt.”
    No, not “all”. For some it was never possible to laugh over it, but it has been possible, with time, to forgive the identification of scouting with what was religiously expected of us and which, as implemented, caused in fact (not “might have caused”) more than a little hurt. Scouting could have been a good thing for many (like AYSO and a number of other organizations) without making it part of the definition of a good Mormon boy. It can continue to be a good thing for many Mormon boys if they and their parents choose to participate in a functioning troop, rather than merely to respond to the demands of its being a church program — sometimes even formally identified with Aaronic priesthood quorums. Most American Mormon boys need not lose the opportunity to draw on “hundred years of history, and the hard work and crazy ideas of many hundreds of thousands of others”. Instead, those for whom the BSA version of that is of positive value, merely need to be anxiously engaged in a functioning troop without being commanded in all things. The cost of that freedom to choose is well worth formally giving up BSA as the church program for boys.

  4. Thank you very much, Russell! Very well said…..and I do indeed see and feel most all what you have shared so elequently.
    Happy Birthday yesterday, and Happy New Year tomorrow!!

  5. I have no doubt that Scouting, by and large, made my brothers into better men. And yet, this knowledge stings all the more. I am the daughter unadorned in family portraits. I am the girl sitting alone at Camp Tracy making a boondoggle bracelet while my Den Mother mom was with my brothers. I am the sister watching her brothers and father build Pinewood Derby cards. I am the girl sitting through four Courts of Honor, watching the music-backed slideshows, the adulation, the pomp, feeling a combination of pride, resignation, and rage.

    Like the Scouts, I expect there are many girls working hard to earn the soon-defunct Young Womanhood Recognition. My daughter is among them. She is finishing a quilt, creating a scrapbook, providing service, and listening to the Book of Mormon at 1.7x speed. She’s going to finish, and it is something—especially given this was accomplished almost independently. It is a fitting parallel to observe that her award, encompassing over 200 hours, was earned without the infrastructure that propels the scouting program. What requires a village for boys is not there for girls: Progress for girls is by necessity Personal.

    So, I will likewise honor the good in scouting, while sitting with the pain and loss of what could have been.

  6. Trying to appreciate this and I like your perspective. Personally, I can’t muster much appreciation for years of unequal resources (money and time) between boys and girls and the implied message (perhaps unintentional) that girls are not as important as boys. Very, very happy to see that go.

  7. Larry the Cable-Guy says:

    Thank you for this.

    It is deserving of not only A Big Hand, and a Round of Applause, but probably the watermelon cheer as well.

  8. J the Latter Gay Saint says:

    I think it’s a really good thing that the church is making its own program for young men and women. I just hate how the switch was only really prompted by the BSA choosing to be more inclusive of queer scouts and leaders, and then female scouts.

  9. Interesting to read your thoughts, as I come from the opposite side. I have stepsons, both Eagles, our whole immediate family is in Mic O Say, and I have been a troop treasurer and camp scoutmaster despite not staying in scouts as a kid. Our church, the UCC renewed its relationship with BSA after they started admitting gay scouts and leaders. The UU church did as well.
    I like the Robert Bly men’s movement stuff (not the abusive right wing stuff with which it should not be confused) and I have mixed feelings about BSA going co ed. I have a hard time setting how Mic O Say is going to adjust to it, and I think MOS is important.
    That said, I also think that a major factor in the choice to go co ed was the disappointment that so many girls and their families felt, not in Girl Scouts as an organization, but in individual troops. GSA was founded about 100 years ago so that girls could have the same high-adventure experiences as boys, but too many troops had few high adventure experiences or just the “lite” versions. Venture Crew was an option, but only if you had a sponsoring trooo in your area (many rural areas didn’t) and only for teens, not younger kids. Disappointment in many local Girl Scout troops was a major impetus driving this decision.

  10. I did not have a positive experience with scouting. In every ward I attended, youth leaders used it to force round pegs into a square hole. So, I won’t be sorry to see it go.

    However, I do think that in the coming months as leaders try to implement our new do-it-yourself youth program, we will miss the organization and structure that scouting provided.

  11. As an Eagle Scout and member of Troop 1 (Wood Badge) part of me will miss scouting. My dad is a Silver Beaver and one of my sons is an Eagle. The other son is 12 and showed no interest in sprinting to the finish.

    I also had the opportunity to attend about 8 girls camps also and in some ways they were far superior to scout camps and in some ways inferior. My hope is that with financial and time equality in the LDS church that the young women won’t get shortchanged.

    It was time to leave scouting but I wish that circumstances would have allowed both the BSA and the LDS to make the relationship work for young men and young women alike. I’ve heard many mean spirited and homophobic comments made about the BSA from local LDS leaders and it saddens me.

  12. Left Field says:

    I’m in my final hours as a scoutmaster (actually, the ward released me a week ago when I was out of town, but I’m still a registered scouter until our charter expires at midnight).

    A lot of the difficulty with scouting in the church was in the way it was implemented. It was completely unworkable to insist on segregating the 11-year-old scouts, and to charter a separate unit (troop, team, and crew) for each quorum group in each ward. People claimed that somewhere in Utah or the land of Freedonia there was a ward with enough boys to do that effectively, but I doubt it. Some flexibility in combining scouting units across ward boundaries would have helped. And there was never any good reason for not integrating the 11-year-olds.

    Coed scouting and BSA’s admission of gay scouts and leaders was never given as “the reason” for dropping scouting. Certainly, it may have played some role, but if the program was working better in other ways, those changes need not have been a problem. For several decades, it was possible in principle, to call a gay Young Men president and a gay teacher’s quorum president, and even have both of them participate in proxy baptisms at the temple. Meanwhile, due to BSA (not church) rules, the temple-worthy Young Men president was disallowed from serving as a scoutmaster, and the temple-worthy teacher’s quorum president was theoretically prohibited by BSA from registering as a scout, although church policy was that (all) young men should register in scouting. I doubt that very many gay LDS boys were actually kept out of scouting if they wanted to participate. The BSA policy changes just brought BSA closer to the prior church practice. We could have continued with the gay scouts and scoutmasters, as easily as we have with the possibility of gay quorum and YM presidents.

    BSA’s Exploring and Venturing programs have been coed for the past half century, and that didn’t stop the church from chartering Explorer Posts and Venturing Crews. There should be no reason why the church could not have continued using the scouting (now Scouts BSA) program on the same basis.

  13. For too long the church has taken a “one-size-fits-all” approach to its various organizations. I sense an effort to change this, but the Procrustean Bed of LDS Scouting became the most problematic (every boy must participate in every activity without regard to interest or ability). I can’t speak to the Young Women’s program.

    I worked with a Troop out of Boise that was loosely associated with the Methodist Church. It had a few hundred boys and multiple crews that focused on car camping, canoeing, backpacking, scuba diving, etc. It would take trips to the sailing camp in Florida and the BSA camp in the Swiss Alps. This Troop functioned as Scouting should in that every boy was there because they wanted to be and every boy went on an activity because they were interested and able. They also allowed girls after a certain age that certainly helped to keep the boys interested as they got older.

    I went a number of backpacking trips with this Troop, and they required almost no adult involvement because the boys loved backpacking and had the skills and physical ability to do it. In contrast, I would also backpack with our LDS Troop. There were always boys that hated being there, had no interest in a wilderness experience, and as result, they didn’t have a clue how to prepare, pack, cook, and sleep in the outdoors. And I didn’t fault them for this lack of interest, but it made the 6-day trips miserable for these boys and others. And I don’t fault these boys — backpacking trips are not for everyone.

    Anyway. I loved Scouting as a kid, but the the LDS version could never function the way Scouting is intended that makes it such a compelling and satisfying experience for so many boys.

  14. To me scouting was being hungry, with my nose pressed against the glass window of a bakery I couldn’t enter for an arbitrary reason I couldn’t control or change. Your post was lovely, but I’m glad scouting is gone.

  15. I’m aware of the negative experiences people have had with scouting, as well as the nationalism, patriarchy, American exceptionalism, etc., but count me in as one who wholeheartedly supports scouting. My experiences were positive overall, and I look forward to encouraging my kids, boys and girls both, to join the movement. If they decide to quit scouting, I will support them as well.

  16. It doesn’t seem to matter how well organized and lofty the goals of a program are, there will always be misguided adult leaders who screw it up for the young people it was meant for. I will miss scouting. I was a den leader years ago and loved the boys and the activities for the Cubs. Our two sons weren’t interested in pursuing an Eagle award, and there was no way I was going to badger them into it or allow anyone else to do so.

    I was also a Brownie and Girl Scout leader when our daughters were that age. I liked that program as well. What made my blood boil was being pressured into donating to the BSA every year, whether I had boys in the program or not. There was never that kind of emphasis for funding the YW programs or, heaven forbid!!!, the GSA.

    I’ve been an Activity Days leader for the past two years. In our ward at least there’s very little organization or structure, both of which I thrive on. We’re handed a list of the girls eligible to participate, a Faith in God pamphlet, and told we meet on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. That’s it. We’re then left to design activities that are appealing to eleven girls, ages 7-11, all of which should have the purpose of bringing them closer to Christ. Right.

    As for the new program, I had high hopes that the face to face on November 17th would offer concrete guidance as to how the new program will operate. Misplaced that was. I got so sick of the self-congratulatory remarks about this wonderful new program, I couldn’t sit through the entire broadcast. Nor has there been any more useful information since.

    We have our first meeting in two weeks. The other leader and I are at a loss as to what we’re expected to do. We thought the purpose was to help the girls achieve their goals in the four areas of the new program. I was told last night by a Primary counselor that we can’t ask the girls what their goals are. They’re private. If they want to tell us and ask for help, then we can fashion activities to accomplish that. Good luck there! Happy New Year.

  17. Coffinberry says:

    I was someone who thought as a young woman growing up that the only useful part of the young women’s program was girls camp. (The rest was beauty fashion fluff and licked cupcake nonsense – was utterly relieved to be called to serve in Primary the weekend of my 18th birthday!)

    When I had three sons, I was so excited to finally get to be a scouter myself. (God has yet to call me to serve in young women’s… He knows I’d be a bad fit). But as a long time scouter and Bobwhite, it truly has been mixed feelings in my heart to see this go. It is both too soon and absolutely desperately overdue. All my children, including my daughter, were enrolled in BSA Scouting and earned (believe me, not mom-earned) the highest rank in their respective divisions. The experiences they received, especially in Venturing, were and are foundational in their lives. But by and large, LDS units weren’t using the programs, weren’t following safety or training guidelines, and were over paying for what they did get. And dont get me started on the idiocy of parents who would make stupid rules like “no driver’s license until you get your Eagle”. Talk about missing the point!!!

    I am excited, though, for the new Children and Youth program, and hope that adults embrace it better, wiser, and more equitably than the former offerings.

    As a side point, if a latter-day saint kid (either male or female, praise be) wanted to continue or join Scouting they certainly can and I hope they will. And their goals for rank advancement will be perfectly suited as goals in the new program. There is no need whatsoever for last minute panic. Just join a local troop.

  18. Feeling pretty vindicated here, about not getting my eagle despite all the pressure from my scout/young men’s leaders back in the day, and all of the testimony meetings and talks in which youth leaders testified of the importance of being an eagle scout or marrying an eagle scout.

    Good riddance.

  19. Scouting is gone, YM’s gone, EQ and HPG combined, SS only twice a month, so men’s callings has diminished significantly. Time for a little high adventure for the men! Adios!

  20. Jack Hughes says:

    Pres. Ballard recently said “we didn’t really leave [the BSA]; they kind of left us”. I think he has it backwards.

    Like many of you, I’m in the “good riddance” camp. I’m particularly excited to be rid of those awful Friends of Scouting fundraising drives.

  21. Sidebottom says:

    I was sort of indifferent to scouting both as a youth and a parent, but I’ll miss having an excuse to drag a bunch of people into the wilderness without any sort of programmed religious agenda. As a YM adviser I felt increasing pressure to turn my high adventure trips into an “Enos experience” or some such garbage, instead of just giving folks some unstructured time in nature. I realize that sort of thing isn’t appealing to everyone, but neither is the evangelical-tinged FSY camps that will be taking their place.

  22. Warner Woodworth says:

    Thanks, Russell, for the balanced analysis that summarizes the issues & brought back a lot of memories. I loved scouting & earned the Eagle, plus more merit badges, along with the Silver Explorer, Order of Arrow, etc. It was in my blood, & I worked 2 summers at scout camps in the mountains of Utah, ran the Colorado River with the first troop to do so, loved hiking mountains peaks everywhere, etc. Baden Powell was my hero, & adhering to the Motto, Law, etc., were all impactful in different ways. But in adulthood, in my global travels & work, I saw scouting unattainable throughout most of Latin America, & later in Africa. While my sons earned Eagle ranks, I sought similar opportunities for our daughters. I did prevail upon the bishopric (or I was in the bishopric to facilitate things) to add Fathers & Daughters camping, as we always did around the priesthood commemoration days of every May. And when we started taking our ward young men river-running, as a feminist advocate, we got approval to do the same with the young women. But neither practice lasted very many years. So I’ve never liked the BSA’s sexism. And as an adult, when I traveled to speak as a management consultant at corporate conferences nationally, I’d occasionally see professional Scouters checking in at the same hotel. I felt guilty the firm paying my air, hotels & fancy meals (in big contrasts to scout tents, cooking over open fires, drinking from a stream, etc. in the Rocky Mountains). So I stopped giving Friends of Scouting the $100 per year we did for decades. Then when top officials manipulated the entire BSA into allowing Trump to pollute the minds & values of young scouts, that was the day I wrote my last complaint to BSA officials & stopped donating. They wrote back & later issued a public apology, but the damage to innocent minds was done.
    So I guess, while a bit conflicted, I feel the LDS shift out of scouting is a good decision. But I don’t have much confidence in the new programs because I’ve seen the efforts, at least with the older boys, not very successful. I’m grateful for all the good scouting did in my life & family, while hoping & praying the next stage is a positive one.

  23. “It is a fitting parallel to observe that her award, encompassing over 200 hours, was earned without the infrastructure that propels the scouting program. What requires a village for boys is not there for girls: Progress for girls is by necessity Personal.”

    That is a profound, withering, and true statement about the Mormon experience with Scouting, Cathy. Thank you for putting it so succinctly and powerfully.

  24. As a young men’s president in a SLC ward nearly 20 years ago, I tried to create a real BSA regulation Venture Crew in our ward, integrating boys and girls with them choosing their own leadership, etc., as is actually the way it’s supposed to work in Venture Scouting. You can guess how that went over. Until that experience, despite having seen Scouting from the inside in Church-sponsored troops my whole life (like Russell) and being an Eagle Scout, I hadn’t really fully realized that what the Church was engaged in was not the actual Scouting program, but only the veneer. It was something unique to the Church but wearing the same uniforms and co-opting the name, history, and reputation of Scouting. Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been resistance to instituting a real Venture crew within the Church’s Scouting program. Very sad.

  25. BSA’s curriculum was excellent, honed over a century and if used properly, simply unparalleled. GSA, Personal Progress, LDS Activity Days for primary girls, 4-H, B&GC, and other youth development programs don’t hold a candle to BSA. They aren’t as diverse, as multi-dimensional, as comprehensive, as impactful, as structured, or as challenging, and aren’t designed as expansively.

    The church’s new program seems to have been written by and for introverts. Rather than addressing the millennial shift away from community, it simply surrenders to it. What is lost? In a family-centric and individual-based program devoid of structure, we loose the ability to support others in the community with less privilege.

    Even the church acknowledges its new program is premature and underdeveloped. This new program is vague and nebulous and doesn’t even come with clearly articulated possibilities. It’s generic enough for everyone, and specific enough for no one. As an educator who knows how difficult it is to create quality curricula, scrapping 100 years of educational progress for this hasty and wishy-washy stop-gap is devastating. (And let’s face it, the “divorce” occurred over the church’s inflexibility toward LGBT.)

    Even in several of the “good riddance” comments above, I detect a clear perception of the value of BSA. Their heart-wrenching experiences simultaneously lament the missed ideal. I can’t help but point out that the most egregious examples of failed scouting (like failed Mormonism) involve evil, ignorant, or corrupt persons, not necessarily a flawed vision or structure. Women and girls were jealous not just of the funds and time spent on their brothers and sons, but of the missed learning experiences. It doesn’t make sense to scrap a quality program because some yearned for the opportunity to participate, or others lamented times when leaders corrupted the possibilities. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to expand boundaries (let LGBT and women in), and replace or better train lacking leaders? I hate to say it, but the problems with isolated poor BSA leaders will persist when those same adults (or their replacements) take up the church’s new program. Swapping the curriculum isn’t going to change things like racism, bullying, classism, etc.

  26. Aussie Mormon says:

    Mortimer, how about the fact that LDS-BSA excluded everyone outside the USA?
    The rest of the world was coping fine without scouting. We still produce church leaders, we still produce great missionaries, we still have the same gospel. We also use the metric system, so we gain a point there.
    If this is what it takes (even if it takes a while to perfect it) to finally get a global church functioning as a global church at the youth level rather than the United States and those that fall into the “outside the United States” footnotes in program and activity guides, I’m in favour of it.
    Unless of course the the church in the USA isn’t capable of running successful youth programs without the assistance of outside organisations of course.

  27. Wondering says:

    Mortimer, At least in some places and everywhere in some ways, the Church left BSA long ago, just not financially. In wards I have observed, the Church’s version of scouting has not been the BSA program for decades. There had also been agitation from among members to drop BSA for decades — long before BSA permitted gay scouts, gay scout leaders, or girls. There have been rumors (though likely false in view of what the new “program” looks like) of the Church working on an alternative program for years. Perhaps the timing of the May 8, 2018 LDS/BSA split announcement was related to President Monson’s incapacity and then his death in January 2018. He had been on the national board of BSA for decades. The video he made on the strengths of scouting “for use as the Boy Scouts of America celebrated the 100th anniversary of Scouting in the U.S. in 2010” is still on the Church website. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/prophets-and-apostles/unto-all-the-world/president-monson-discusses-strengths-of-scouting?lang=eng I expect there were many more factors in the decision than inflexibility toward LBGT, though Elder Ballard’s comment on BSA leaving the Church certainly suggests that BSA’s abandoning such inflexibility was the last straw in his mind.

    As appalling as the new program and its roll-out have been, I think I missed how with the “family-centric and individual-based program devoid of structure, we lose the ability to support others in the community with less privilege.” That view assumes we had it because of our “Personal Progress” and our version of the BSA program. We didn’t. Where it existed at the ward level, it existed because of the way local leaders and participants chose to or were able and willing to support others in the community with less privilege. I’d say instead, as to those LDS boys who could be and wanted to be benefited by scouting, they were the “less privileged” by being forced to be part of non-functioning rather than well-functioning troops. As to those LDS boys whose talents and interests did not align with LDS scouting as implemented, they were the “less privileged” as a result of the identification of LDS scouting as a required part of “activity” in the Church.

    Perhaps you’ve seen it work differently. In any case you are right about the quality of the BSA curriculum, even if it is unworkable on a world-wide church basis and, in practice, inappropriate for some/many American LDS boys.

    I wonder where “Even the church acknowledges its new program is premature and underdeveloped.” But then, I was unable to listen to the full “marketing” program on the new program, since I cannot tolerate that much self-congratulatory marketing devoid of substance.

  28. I’m a mother of four sons. Two Life Scouts and two Eagles. When one of my Life Scouts returned from mission in Guatemala, suitcase reeking of smoke, he said, “It was a 2 year camping trip.” Scouting had prepared him.

    All four sons continue to pursue those great Scout activities of camping, hiking, fishing, canoeing, biking, climbing, skiing, cooking, etc.

    As a leader of Merrie Miss and YW, I tried to incorporate many of the fun activities of Cubs and Scouts—fire building, hiking, boxcar derby, rock climbing, canoeing.

    Scouting has been the only Church organization I am aware of extending callings to marginally “active” members and non-members. These men have been wonderful leaders of boys and the boys have kept these men involved in Church.

    I will miss Scouting and am sorry my grandsons will not participate.

  29. Wondering says:

    ML. Your grandsons can participate. Their lives are not limited to activities sponsored by the Church. Camping, hiking, fishing, canoeing, biking, climbing, caving, skiing, outdoor cooking, are not BSA activities. They can be done quite independently of BSA and they have been by LDS girls and their fathers. Not doing them is their choice, not the Church’s or the BSA’s choice.

  30. I will not miss Scouting, because while the Church has separated from it, my family (4 sons, 1 daughter) and I have not. Earlier this year, we transitioned as a family to a community pack, where our oldest (8 years old) suddenly was able to start working on his Bear 6 months before he would have been allowed to do so in our Ward’s Pack (and had it awarded so he could wear it to his final Pack Meeting for our Ward). My wife has been the Cub Master of our new Pack since August. I started off as the Pack Trainer, and recently became the Committee Chair as we moved into rechartering.

    The real delight for me, though, has been watching our daughter embrace Scouting. She earned her Bobcat the day we joined the Pack, and earned her Tiger only 3 months later. She can’t stop talking about how she is looking forward to being the first girl to make Eagle in our family (and keeps asking me when can she start working on it). Her younger brother earned his Lion badge alongside his older siblings earning Bear and Tiger, and our next oldest has taken to calling himself a “Junior Lion”, because he is so excited to get to be a Cub Scout in 2 years.

    When done right, Scouting is a phenomenal program. It can work for both boys and girls. It instills in youth values that help strengthen their faith and teaches them to love and serve others. But when not done right, it becomes nothing more than an expensive social club, and youth and adults alike lose interest. (This happened with our new Pack, which is why I’m the Committee Chair now. It was their first recharter, and almost none of the leaders knew how to implement Scouting, and the youth weren’t doing more than hanging out with friends. In our recharter, we went from 43 youth down to only 10, but the remaining families are all committed to properly implementing Scouting.)

    Will I miss the Church’s support for Scouting? Yes, to some extent. But I still believe in Scouting, and I will not miss it because of the separation. I will continue to enjoy it with my family for years to come.

  31. Former EQP, YMP, SSP, WML, B1STC, WC says:

    Scouting is awesome but has always been a terrible fit for the church even when properly implemented (I hear someone somewhere did that once…also, unicorns). Glad we finally caught on and can start focusing on reaching all of our youth.

  32. Aussie Mormon,
    I agree while-heartedly that we have long needed to support international youth and girls, not just American boys. (By the way, prayers and great concern for the Australian people and environment at this time.)

    Of course, we don’t know what happened in the final battle of “chicken” between the church and BSA, but I have to think that as BSA was changing it’s name, becoming LGBT friendly and going co-ed, it could have also removed the “A” and expanded to include youths from other countries. Of course, for our purposes and for international expansion, the para-military component would need to be edited out. Evidently we had $100 billion in our piggy bank we weren’t using for charitable, educational, or advocacy purposes. With less than 0.5% of our piggy bank (and for the sake of all youth- boys and girls across the globe) we could have bailed out the BSA (which is operating in the red) or we could have potentially purchased intellectual property rights to the curriculum to create a derivative curriculum for our purposes. Maybe the BSA would have been open to expanding internationally and adapting with us in a “win-win” to solve our respective problems. And with international talent (Aussies to the rescue!) and 50% more adults to choose from when selecting leaders (hooray for going go-Ed!) the leadership element and execution would improve.

    But, we are stuck with the premature roll-out of the new program. (@Wondering, I’m not making that judgement, but simply quoting the church’s own description of the program as being new and needing the saint’s effort to further develop.) If the church has been working on this project for 7+ years, it certainly doesn’t show. It has the look of an undeveloped project that was dusted off when the church ran aground with BSA over LGBT issues. But, we can only suppose because we don’t see what happens in the board rooms of the Church Office Building.

    @Wondering, when I raised the concern that with this “family-centric and individual-based program devoid of structure, we lose the ability to support others in the community with less privilege”, I really believe it. If the family and the the youth (as individuals) are supposed to be driving their own goals, progress in this abstract program, and personal development, those with stronger families with more disposable time, educational talent, resources, and income to devote to the child, will see better outcomes. Less privileged youth (those from unstable, dysfunctional, less educated, less affluent homes with less disposable time) will see fewer outcomes. Collective support and structure (e.g. public education, community programs) were created to be equalizers. That’s what we lose when we retrench to ourselves and our respective families. So, shall we pour our efforts into ourselves (like personal progress) and our own flesh and blood while letting those with less fend for themselves? That doesn’t feel Christ-like or charitable to me.

    I’ve watched BSA impact my ward and family for two generations and attest that BSA leaders and troupes have been invaluable community for not only mainstream kids, but to those who needed additional support. It takes a village to raise a child and when the village invests in its youth with its best leaders and selfless sacrifice, miracles happen. Yes, I saw the “unicorn”. Our ward’s best scout leader took a troupe of 15 at-risk YM under his wing and made them an authentic band of brothers, all RMs, all persons of integrity and service 30+ years later. This labor of love (like Russel’s father demonstrated) was more than phoning-in a responsibility, it was an identity and higher calling that (as RAF beautifully articulated) through imperfections and awkwardness, accomplished something impactful and greater than the sum of its parts.

    Removing that commitment to the least among us deeply saddens me. I mourn that people have been complaining for years about the burden of time, the weight of this work, all the while the girls have been yearning for something similar. Sure- spend more time with individual technology, with individual workouts, with one’s own career and pursuits. We don’t need each other anyway.

  33. Left Field says:

    The usual meaning of “paramilitary” is an organization armed with lethal weapons, and trained for actual combat. Since that doesn’t describe any BSA troop I know of, I’m wondering what are the aspects you define as “paramilitary” that would need to be removed?

  34. Michael H. says:

    I’m another one very glad to see the official church-BSA relationship go. Wish it could have gone many decades earlier. Even though I grew up in a staunch Republican, “patriotic” household (my dad very proudly took me to shake hands with Spiro Agnew at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas shortly before his you-know-what hit the fan), at a gut level I couldn’t stand the militarism of scouting. Camping—you bet; but not uniforms, badges, ranks, salutes, and all that. By the time I had my own children, I found it all immoral: militarizing kids. And of course watching the gross disparities between spending for scouting and spending for girls drove my wife and me crazy. And the annual weeks of strong-arming in church to raise money for scouting . . . I always kept my mouth shut—cowardly, sure—but man did I hate it. Praise the Lord it’s gone!

  35. Left field: how about quasi-military? Does that help? The tie between boy scouting and the military can’t be denied.

  36. Wondering says:

    Sch, one could as well say quasi-ecclesiastical since our ecclesiastical structure includes ranks, titles, levels of authority, and expectations of obedience. Or do you want to say the tie between LDS ecclesiastical structure and the military can’t be denied? What have I missed?

  37. Wondering says:

    I suppose I could have added the written rules such as sacrament to the presiding authority first, and the unwritten rules such as standing when a general authority enters the room, etc. Maybe I missed what it is about BSA that is deemed by some quasi-military as opposed to any other kind of human organizational structure.

  38. Left Field and Wundering,
    During the Boer War, Baden-Powell wrote “A Guide to Scouting.” It was basically a manual for living off the land and engaging in guerilla combat. But it became popular among English boys. He took the opportunity to develop a program at that time for boys. It included concepts of that time (rank advancements, hierarchically-managed units, nationalism, physical fitness, etc.) to prepare boys for military service in the “British Empire.”. If you look closely at the original Scouting uniform, it is modeled on the British military uniform of the Boer War/WWI era. FYI, the meaning of “paramilitary” is “organized similarly to a military force.” Scouting fits the bill.

  39. Observer, that sounds really great!

  40. Left Field says:

    I don’t think we’re talking about what scouting was a century ago in England. Mortimer was talking about scouting today in the US having “paramilitary” components. Take a look at the Wikipedia list of paramilitary organizations (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_paramilitary_organizations) and see if scouting belongs on the list.

    Yes, BSA has “ranks” and uniforms, but so does academia and Taekwondo. The difference is that military (and paramilitary) ranks establish a hierarchy of command. The sergeant is required to follow the orders of the colonel. That is not the case in BSA or other organizations with “ranks.” Second Class scouts are not expected to take orders from First Class scouts any more than fourth graders are authorized to give orders to third graders. BSA has a salute, but it is only used in saluting the flag. Until about 50 years ago, scouts were instructed to greet each other with a salute, but even then, it was a greeting between equals, not an indicator of rank, as in the military.

    Scouting has a bit of a hierarchy (patrols, troops, councils), but most corporations and workplaces are organized in a similar way, and we don’t call them paramilitary, even though some workplaces have uniforms (as does BSA) and have supervisors that give orders (unlike BSA).

    If paramilitary only means “organized similarly to a military force,” and that similarity means a hierarchical structure and uniforms, then Wal-Mart fits the bill also.

  41. Left Field, you are right- classifying BS as “paramilitary” depends on how you define the word. In researching this issue to respond to you, I found a trail of debates about this very subject going all the way back to the organization’s history and LBP himself. Should it be more or less preparatory? I don’t know. I didn’t mean to insinuate that it’s a radical boy soldier camp, it certainly is not. On the other hand, it’s a pretty darn important component of a military academy application, all Eagle Scouts can enlist as at least an e-2, and all branches of the military support BS in various ways. What I was saying it that hypothetically, if the BS had remained with the church and if it had become an international generic ‘scouting’ organization that we hitched our wagon to, we would have needed to carefully review and edit out militaristic elements. In other words- think twice about the ‘bugeling’ merit badge.

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