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LDS Church 'going forward' with alternative to Scouting for older teens

Church to keep ties to Cub, Boy Scouts for youth ages 8-13

GLEN JEAN, West Virginia — “Going forward.”

That two-word phrase summarizes the direction and momentum of the LDS Church in the 10-plus weeks since it announced plans to begin its own activity program for young men ages 14 to 18 and discontinue participation with Scouting’s Varsity and Venturing programs for those ages.

Also announced then: a continued involvement for now in the Boy Scout and Cub Scout programs for boys ages 8 through 13.

That “going forward” phrase was underscored Sunday by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who knows plenty about both organizations. He is a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and he’s had a seat on the Boy Scouts of America’s national executive board for the past two years.

He fulfilled the former role by presiding and speaking at an LDS sacrament meeting attended by some 2,000 Scouts and leaders in the hot and humid late-morning hours Sunday at the 2017 National Scout Jamboree at BSA’s Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia.

In an afternoon interview with the Deseret News, Elder Holland said the LDS Church continues to follow the course charted with its May 11 announcement, including the church’s own activity program for older teenage boys beginning Jan., 1, as well as ongoing Boy Scouts participation.

“This jamboree is part of that participation — and to see that many Latter-day Saints at sacrament meeting today was very rewarding, and we’re just trying to keep a good experience,” he said. “We’re letting the future take care of itself — we’ll see what happens.”

He knows that he’s watched closely by both LDS and BSA sides because of his dual roles, as others look for body language and read between the lines for any clue about changes to the church’s announced direction.

“We’ve been very candid, we’ve been absolutely transparent from the beginning,” he said. “We’ve said that our biggest need and our biggest obligation will always be to address the needs of our own young men, and we’ll use whatever program and whatever services we can to do that.”

He said the church’s youth needs include a global program for an increasingly international church and a balance for what is provided for its young men and young women.

“This is the Boy Scouts of America, but we’ve got a lot of young men who are not American,” said Elder Holland, adding that both the LDS Church and BSA share the same spirit and effort. “We’re trying to do the very best for the young men we serve, for the young women we serve.”

Elder Holland said he has communicated personally the church’s desires and direction with key Scouting leaders such as Randall Stephenson, the chairman and CEO of AT&T who is BSA’s national president; Michael Surbaugh, BSA’s chief Scout executive; and Charles W. Dahlquist II, a former general Young Men’s president for the LDS Church who is national commissioner.

He also acknowledged the power of the Scout law and oath, with words like “trustworthy,” “loyal,” “friendly” and “helpful” and having a duty to God, country and fellow man.

“If you’ll allow me, those are really gospel virtues, gospel ideas, so if they can get it in Scouting, we want them to get it. We certainly expect them to get it in the Aaronic Priesthood and Young Women’s programs,” he said.

“So, we try to cut past whether someone is wearing a uniform or whether somebody has a merit badge. We’re trying to look at the heart and life and soul of the boy — and of the girl — that’s where we just want gospel values implanted.”

Elder Holland saluted the Boy Scouts for having compatible values and virtues that resulted in the church's alignment more than a century and counting.

“We’re really trying to look at the need of the boy and the girl in a gospel context — what would the Lord have them do, what would the Lord have them be,” he said. “We’re just trying to figure out all the ways we can deliver that.”