Matthew Bowman, a Mormon scholar and history professor at Henderson State University, said the schism reflects the two organizations’ diverging values, with gays and transgender boys just two such issues on which they are moving apart.
“The church is wedded very much to traditional gender roles and they see the Boy Scouts of America increasingly move away from that,” Bowman said. “That means that they have come to see it as less of a hospitable place.”
Despite worries that the policy change on gays would cause Boy Scouts membership to dip even further, the organization reported a strong 2016, with the number of Scouts close to stabilizing after a prolonged decline. The vast majority of troops affiliated with conservative religious denominations have remained in the fold, still free to exclude gay adults.
Thursday’s announcement represents a first step toward something that has been in the works for years: a Mormon-run scouting-type program that could be used in congregations around the world. The church has 15.8 million members, nearly 6 in 10 of them outside the U.S. and Canada. Scouting is available only in the U.S. and Canada.
“The long game here is the church looking forward to a time when Americans are even more of a minority in the church than they are now,” Bowman said.
In a statement, the church said the new program will be tailored to foster Mormon teenagers’ “spiritual, social, physical and intellectual” development.
Mormon teenagers who want to continue working toward the Eagle Scout rank will be able to do that on their own while also participating in the new program, said church spokesman Eric Hawkins.
The Boy Scout movement has been entrenched in Mormon culture for as long as anyone can remember.
In 2013, the church put on an extravagant theatrical production inside its 21,000-seat auditorium in Salt Lake City to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the faith’s alliance with the Boy Scouts.
A Boy Scout training complex in West Virginia is named after Mormon church President Thomas S. Monson, a longtime member of the Boy Scouts’ executive board and a major supporter. Charles Dahlquist II, a Mormon, holds the top volunteer position with the Boy Scouts.
Becoming an Eagle Scout is an especially proud badge of honor within Mormon culture. Many Utah lawmakers list it on their resumes. Social media was buzzing with jokes Thursday about Mormon women adjusting their hopes of finding a husband who was an Eagle Scout.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated to reflect a statement by a spokesperson for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Dawn Ennis contributed to this report.
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