December 17, 2019; Associated Press
This has been a year when a number of relatively large nonprofits face declines that may threaten their very existence.
On New Year’s Day, the Church of Latter-day Saints will pull 400,000 young people from the Boy Scouts of America in favor of a program of its own. This will constitute an 18 percent decline in Boy Scout memberships, leaving the number of scouts at below 2 million for the first time since the second World War. Meanwhile, the organization is struggling with another spate of sexual abuse lawsuits.
The Mormons and the Boy Scouts have a collaboration that reaches back almost a century. But, as readers will remember, the Boy Scouts, after years of resistance, finally admitted openly gay scouts and troop leaders four years ago, as well as transgender scouts, and this does not align with the church’s long-held stance on same-sex relationships.
“The reality there is we didn’t really leave them; they kind of left us,” said 91-year-old M. Russell Ballard, who sits on a top governing panel of the church called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “The direction they were going was not consistent to what we feel our youth need to have…to survive in the world that lies ahead for them.”
But Wayne Perry, another member of the LDS church and a past president of BSA, says he hopes at least 20 percent of the Latter-day Saints Scouts will return as individual scouts, where they previously were members of LDS-sponsored troops.
The church’s new global youth program will be designed with more emphasis on religion and to be appropriate for use overseas. Perry is unsure if this will appeal to all of the departing 400,000 young people and their families.
“One of the advantages we always had with Scouting is that it wasn’t ‘churchy,’” Perry says. “They were getting the Scout oath and the Scout law, which are incredibly compatible with the church’s philosophies and views, but they weren’t reading out of the Book of Mormon.”
“I think there will be a boomerang effect as parents see that there is still a place for Scouting,” he added, saying that they will get busy selling the benefits of Boy Scouts with church members, where they used to be signed up for membership automatically.
“We’re going to have to earn our kids,” Perry said.
The BSA is not commenting about any financial repercussions of the mass exodus, which only adds depth to the recent rapid decline of BSA membership despite the recruitment of 150,000 girls. It has said, however, that in the face of the suits lodged against the organization, it has not ruled out the possibility of filing for bankruptcy. It has already almost doubled the fees for annual membership, and recently announced it had mortgaged the iconic Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, among other properties.
Bankruptcy or no, this kind of “perfect storm” may mean that BSA has seen its best days in terms of its size, budget and brand.—Ruth McCambridge