Sunday, March 9, 2014

Scouting and the Church: My Perspective

I will not try to recite the long history the Church has had with scouting. It is has been a 100 year relationship.

To be fair, scouting advocates many positive things – faith, loyalty, honesty, service, and so on. So it made sense that a Church, trying to find a vehicle to engage its young men that was positive and exciting, turned to scouting.

Scouting had its heyday in the church up until about the 1960s. But from the 1960s to the 1980s, the nation’s attention towards scouting as well as that of the young men of the Church began to wane. Life changed and scouting fell behind. That is not to say the values of scouting were any less important. These are still great values.

But the need for uniforms and para-military order gave way to a more technologically advanced and media dependent culture. The youth had entertainment and media options that didn’t exist the golden years of scouting.

The competitive nature of our society also trumped scouting. Sports, academics, performing skills, among other activities were added to the youth’s schedules. These things pushed out the need for scouting. Merit badges gave way to soccer camps. Camping gave way to high ACT or SAT scores. There was just no room for the pastoral views of scouting.

The Church tried to balance their support of scouting by changing the Young Men’s program to keep pace. Prior to these changes, a scout troop could consist of boys from age 12 to 18. In an idyllic situation, these different age groups worked together to create a strong community that transcended scouting and helped boys bond together.

But the pull of society was peeling away the 14-18 year olds and diluting the scouting experience. So, the church decided to dissect the program. Scouts were reserved for the Deacon’s quorum (ages 12-14). When a boy entered the Teacher’s quorum (ages 14-16), they became Varsity Scouts. When they turned 16 and entered the Priest quorum they became Venture Scouts.

Now, on paper this looked good. Boys can continue their scouting experience up until they turn 18. But in reality, Varsity Scouring and Venture Scouting failed miserably. Once a boy turned 14 his scouting days were over. If he wanted to advance in scouting, he had to go it alone.

This meant the need for achieving Eagle (scouting’s highest award) had to be done before the boy was 14. If he was not Eagle or really close to being Eagle by 14, he was not going to achieve that rank. This accelerated the need for rapid advancement and diminished the more lasting impact of scout – community.

What further destroyed the community of scouting was dividing it into the three groups. Now the Scouts only associated with 12-14 year olds. They had no connection with boys in the other two groups. This created a caste system that made scouting, for older boys, all the more unattractive. No one would be caught dead in a scout uniform once they turned 14. That was for Deacons.

As my dad says, scout troops became merit badge factories. The need to achieve meant that little real learning was going on as boys earned merit badges. Scout Masters felt that success in scouting was determined only by the number of Eagles they could manufacture. But why the need for being an Eagle?

Well, that get’s back to my previous post on scouting. There is the foolish tradition that a boy who achieves Eagle will be more likely to advance in the Priesthood, serve a mission, and marry in the temple. I am sure those advocating this correlation can show statistical proof. However, it would be just as simple to show that scouting has no statistical influence in such important makers in a boy’s life.

This fallacy of tying advancement in scouting to personal worthiness is even less persuasive when attending a handful of poorly taught classes in a cultural hall of a local church makes Eagles. Indeed, the Eagle became a commodity and not an award that challenges the youth.

I am convinced the Church saw that scouting had a short shelf life and that too few boys were being helped and too many resources were being wasted. Also, the Church became largely international. Scouting, though in many countries in the world, became excess baggage on an international stage. As a result of the waning power of scouting and the heightened need of the young men to have something to help them survive their teen years, the church developed the Duty to God program.

Now the Duty opt God award has been a part of LDS scouting forever. But now the Church developed that award into a six-year program that deemphasizes merit badges and more closely aligned the program with the Church’s values. With this award independent of the Boy Scouts, the Church had greater leeway to really use its influence to bless the lives of their Aaronic Priesthood youth.

But, change in the Church can be slow at times. The huge fortress of scouting was not going to release is grips on the Church. So the Brethren admonish wards to run both programs simultaneously.

Well, that failed, for the most part. Trying to hang on to dying scout program diluted the efforts to truly develop the Duty to God program. Likewise, a heavy and serious investment in the Duty to God program would weaken scouting.

This is where we are now. There is still pressure to run both programs but there is no value in scouting investment. I feel that scouting program is obsolete and should have no place in the Church. My hope is that the Brethren will see the problem with this dichotomy and abandon scouting. But only time will tell.

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