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Mormon Church to Pull 130,000 Boys Out of Boy Scouts

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a longstanding partner of Boy Scouts of America (BSA) but which has grown uneasy with BSA's increasingly liberal stances on gay and transgender issues, took a step away from the organization Thursday. The church insisted that the decision had nothing to do with LGBT issues, but with the needs of older boys.

"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," the church's office of the First Presidency declared in a letter Thursday.

"We express sincere appreciation and gratitude to all adult leaders who have supported young men in these programs and are grateful for our long-standing and continuing partnership with the Boy Scouts of America and Scouts Canada," the letter added. "Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs will continue to be chartered through local wards and branches."

BSA's Varsity and Venturing programs are designed to allow older boys in scouting to grow beyond the Eagle Scout level. The Mormon Church announced "new program guidelines for young men ages 14-18" in the letter — guidelines which are also available at ymactivities.lds.org.

In a news release addressing questions about the change, the church explained the reasons behind it: "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."

The proposed change "will allow youth and leaders to implement a simplified program that meets local needs while providing activities that balance spiritual, social, physical and intellectual development goals for young men."

The church directly addressed the gay and transgender issues in the statement. "The BSA has always allowed the Church to operate its programs in ways that are consistent with our standards and beliefs, and they have been very supportive," so the LGBT issues are not the primary driver in this decision.

Even so, this marks a huge organizational change. The Mormon Church automatically enrolls every boy who attends a Mormon congregation in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts programs, so the process of unraveling this full involvement would have to be slow. If the church were to separate from the BSA, this would be the first step.

BSA spokeswoman Effie Delimarkos said that 130,000 boys ages 14—18 participate in Varsity and Venturing through Mormon troops, making up more than 5 percent of the Boy Scouts' 2.3 million youth members. A full 20 percent of Boy Scouts are Mormon.