Thursday, May 11, 2017

Reaction to LDS Church Announcement about Scouting

This morning The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made this announcement:

"As part of the Church's ongoing effort to evaluate and improve its service to families and young people worldwide, the Church will no longer charter Varsity or Venturing units with the Boy Scouts of America and Scouts Canada effective January 1, 2018."
If you haven't already, you can read everything the Church has said about it, here.

I always have and always will support the Church. The last time a serious question was raised about whether or not the Church would continue with Scouting, I made up my mind to follow the prophet and support whatever it was he decided. I will do the same this time.

My first reaction to the story was genuine surprise. I didn't see this coming. It's going to take me a while to fully come to terms with this. I'm going to outline my initial reactions here.

What follows are my own personal thoughts and feelings about the matter. In no way do I represent an official Church position.

In many ways I am saddened by this announcement, because I believe in the Varsity and Venturing programs. And I'm in good company. The Deseret News published an article today describing Charles W. Dahlquist's reaction:
"I really believe in the Varsity and the Venturing programs - they are very good programs, knowing what I know about them and knowing about the struggle in some places getting things going," he said.
In reading further on the Church's Young Men Activities page, I found a sheet with some principles and guidelines on what the new activities should look like. I just had to shake my head as I read through those guidelines because, when used correctly, I believe the Varsity and Venturing programs already accomplish all of those things.

So, why the change? The Church statement says that "In most congregations in the United States and Canada, young men ages 14-18 are not being served well by the Varsity or Venturing programs, which have historically been difficult to implement within the Church."

I can accept that. I have been a Venturing leader in an LDS crew. I've been a Bishop. I've seen what happens. Boys of that age are busy with all kinds of things and, in my area, few of them make Scouting a priority.

However, from my experience, the biggest obstacle to effectively implementing these programs in the Church is leaders who refuse to try.

My personal feeling is that the biggest reason for this change is that we have had too many leaders who were uncommitted to implementing these programs. While I think the information given about the new activity program is good, I think it is really not much different from what Varsity and Venturing leaders should have been doing all along.

I had similar thoughts when the Church introduced Preach My Gospel for missionaries. I heard lots of people talking about this big "new" emphasis to teach by the Spirit. Well, I think that's what missionaries should have been doing under the old program anyway.

When the Church introduced the Come, Follow Me curriculum for youth and Teaching in the Savior's Way for all Church teachers, I had similar thoughts. This isn't really much different from how we should have been doing it all along.

I think it is the same for Scouting. I suspect this change is not so much about the Scouting programs as it is about trying to get adults to lead boys the right way. If they aren't going to use Varsity and Venturing the way they were intended, then of course the programs won't help the boys. Hopefully, the new guidelines will be more effective in getting leaders to do it right.

One of my concerns with this announcement is that there will be members of the Church who look at this as an indication that Scouting isn't really as great as it has been made out to be. I fear that many in the Church will now look on Scouting more negatively. After all, if we're not using it anymore, it must be because it isn't good, right? Wrong!

In early Church history, there are several examples of commandments given by the Lord that were later revoked, always because the individuals involved were not obedient. (See D&C 56:3-6D&C 58:30-33D&C 75:6-8D&C 9:3, 10-11D&C 105)

It is my feeling that we are seeing this same scenario with Scouting. We were commanded to implement the Varsity and Venturing programs (the Church even had a major role in creating them). We didn't keep that commandment very well, and so the command has been revoked. Not because the programs weren't good, but because we failed.

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