SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church is ending its relationship with the Boy Scouts of America.
The expiration date for the remarkably robust, 105-year alliance is Dec. 31, 2019, according to a joint statement released Tuesday night by BSA and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The decision by LDS leaders is part of a broader restructuring of the church's programs for all Mormon children ages 8 to 18.
"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," the joint statement said. "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."
A new worldwide initiative for all Mormon boys and girls will debut in January 2020, replacing all existing activity and achievement programs, including the Personal Progress program for Young Women and the Activity Days, Faith in God and Duty to God programs for younger girls and boys, according to an email sent to church members.
The statement called the new program a "new children and youth development initiative" and said more details will be shared in the future on the website childrenandyouth.lds.org.
The moves come during the early months of new church President Russell M. Nelson's administration, but like the announcement at the faith's April general conference that a new ministering initiative would replace home teaching and visiting teaching, this decision was years in the making and was made jointly by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Their decision will have a vast impact on all 30,500 congregations around the globe. Millions of young men and women will see changes to both their Sunday meetings and activities they attend one night a week. The church's Young Men program no longer will focus on supporting boys on a journey to becoming Eagle Scouts. The Young Women program no longer will emphasize personal progress for girls with its eight values — faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works, integrity, virtue — and earning the Young Womanhood medallion.
Though predictable, the breakup of the 105-year partnership between the Mormons and the BSA could be difficult for both organizations.
"It'll be a blow," said Mark Griffin, president of the BSA's Great Salt Lake Council. "We can't say that it was a total surprise. Maybe the timing is a surprise, but we knew the church was working on a program for a worldwide church but that any changes would be based on the need to do the same program in Paris, France, as they have in Paris, Texas."
The church and BSA had enjoyed a mutually advantageous affiliation. As part of the faith's Young Men program, Scouting had provided generations of Mormon boys with leadership skills and self-confidence while reinforcing traditional values central to LDS faith. The relationship also contributed to the mainstreaming of the Mormon image in American society throughout the 20th century.
Meanwhile, Mormon troops were a backbone component for Scouting. A year ago, the church was the BSA's largest faith-based chartering organization and Mormon boys comprised 1 in 6 American Scouts.
"The Scouting program has benefited hundreds of thousands of Latter-day Saints boys and young men, and BSA has also been greatly benefited in the process," the joint statement by the church and BSA said.
But signs of strain began to emerge years ago.
Church leaders wrestled for decades with concerns about inequity within the church caused by Scouting. In 2015, they released a statement that said Scouting didn’t meet the needs of most of the international church's young men because it wasn't available where they lived.
And while many LDS boys will continue in Scouting by joining community troops, they will be engaged in an organization that has undergone major changes in the past five years.
Five years ago this month, when BSA voted to admit openly gay Scouts into troops, LDS leaders noted that the church had always admitted gay Scouts and would continue to do so, but three years ago, when BSA voted to allow openly gay Scout leaders, the church publicly said that it was reconsidering the Scouting program.
After a month's deliberation in 2015, church leaders decided to continue with Scouting for American and Canadian boys and young men after BSA affirmed "the right of all religious chartered organizations to select their Scout leaders in accordance with their religious beliefs."
Then in May 2017, the church announced that it would drop Scouting from its Young Men’s programs for boys 14 through 17. The First Presidency said then that Scouting's Varsity and Venturing programs did not well serve LDS young men of those ages and that the change would allow youths and leaders to implement simplified programs that balanced "spiritual, social, physical and intellectual development goals for young men."
The move slashed the number of Mormon boys in Scouting from about 470,000 to an estimated 280,000 at the start of this year. To dull the impact of such a major loss of revenue, the church agreed to make the same annual lump sum payment to the BSA for the participation of its boys this year that it did in 2017.
Last year's decision provided a clear signal that more changes were coming.
Tuesday's announcement came six days after BSA announced it will drop the “boy” from its name for Scout programs for 11- to 17-year-olds. The name will be Scouts BSA in February 2019. The parent organization will still be the Boy Scouts of America, and the Cub Scout program for 7- to 10-year-olds retains its name. About 3,500 girls have joined Cub Scouts so far. Scouts BSA will begin accepting girls in February.
The LDS Church introduced a program for Young Women in 1915, two years after it made Scouting the backbone of its Young Men program. The Personal Progress program was introduced in 1985.
Church leaders said in materials released Tuesday night that they had conducted a yearslong, extensive review of the faith's children and youth development activities and personal development programs.
"As a global church with millions of children and youth, we need to address diverse needs and fortify all children and youth with gospel-centered growth and learning experiences now more than ever," they said.
The new approach will focus on strengthening faith, the church statements said.
"This approach is intended to help children and youth discover their eternal identity, build character and resilience, develop life skills, participate in outdoor activities and service opportunities and strengthen their ability to fulfill their divine roles as daughters and sons of God."
The initiative will encourage children and youths to set and achieve goals "to develop spiritually, socially, physically and intellectually as they seek to follow Jesus Christ," leaders said. "This approach is intended to reduce burdens on families, with greater flexibility to adapt to the needs of individuals and families around the world in many different circumstances."
"The children and youth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worldwide are precious to us," the leaders added. "They represent our future, and ministering to their needs is a significant focus for the church."
They also encouraged church members to remain fully engaged in all of the current programs through 2019, including continued financial support of Scouting.
"We honor Scouting organizations for their continued goal to develop character and instill values in youth," they said. "The lives of hundreds of thousands of young men, along with their families and communities, have been blessed by Scouting organizations worldwide."
National and local Scout leaders said they will work to smooth the impact of what promises to be a dramatic decline in the number of LDS Scouts after 2020.
Griffin said Scouting has enjoyed a 50 percent market share in the Great Salt Lake Council, meaning that about 50 percent of eligible boys are Scouts in Salt Lake, Tooele, Summit and Davis counties.
"Most councils have 10-to-15 percent market share," Griffin said. "We expect our membership will drop down to those levels. We've been able to rely on the church for 105 years to be that delivery arm. Now we'll develop other ways like other areas."
Griffin admitted concern about finances and leadership manpower but said the council is sustainable. The National Council will dedicate resources and support to help transition the 10 percent of BSA councils that will be significantly affected by the LDS decision.
Griffin said church officials have assured him that LDS congregations will continue to support Friends of Scouting, the annual Scout fundraiser, for the rest of 2018 and 2019. This is a major source of funding. In 2016, for example, 56,000 LDS families contributed to the church's Friends of Scouting drive for the Utah National Parks Council.
"We need the support," Griffin said. "Church leaders have always said they don't want to hurt us."
"We are confident that many LDS Scouting families will go on to enjoy Scouting for years to come," BSA said in a statement, "continuing the legacy of LDS youth who have become Eagle Scouts and community leaders. For LDS families who want to continue the tradition of Scouting beyond 2019, the BSA will ensure a smooth transition to community-sponsored units that will welcome youth previously served by LDS-sponsored units."