On Thursday the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints announced that it was eliminating the Boy Scouts of America’s Varsity and Venturing programs for all young men ages 14-17 in the United States and Canada. Many observers of Scouting anticipate that this is a prelude to a complete disassociation from the BSA in the coming years. Some believe that this announcement is a non-issue because the Varsity and Venturing programs were already in shambles, so this was just a formal acknowledgement of this reality.
Regardless of the reasons, this announcement (suspiciously given just days before Mother’s Day) has major implications for the women of the church.
Sarah Fielding McConkie
“I awoke in a panic this morning to my phone’s Facebook alerts going crazy.” 49 year old Sarah Fielding McConkie, Ogden mother of five boys said. “I thought for sure someone had died, but my heart sunk when I saw the source of the notifications.”
Sara said that the several dozen alerts were actually coming from the “Mama Eagles of the Trapper Trails Council” Facebook group, breaking the news of the announcement.
“I may come from pioneer stock but more importantly I come from Mormon Scouting stock where my mother and her mother before her were such great examples of courage and fortitude as they earned the rank of Eagle Scout for their sons before their boys turned 18,” Sarah explained as she held her Mother’s Sash displaying four Eagle mother’s pins.
“I have four Eagles under my belt, but my youngest who is 13 is struggling just a bit. Our ward had just been reorganized when my youngest entered Scouts and they called two young fathers to be my son’s 11 year old scout leaders. They were valiant and strong priesthood holders but just so green to Scouting. I don’t think a one of them even owned a tent. As founder of the Mama Eagles, I finally intervened when we discovered our poor leaders didn’t even know a proper knot. By then six months had passed and it was obvious that it would be a struggle to get the boys to First Class before they became Deacons.”
“I will get that last Eagle,” Sarah said, “but I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under my feet. I am terrified now that my son will enter Teacher’s quorum without his Eagle.”
As Sarah stood in front of her rank advancement wall chart that navigates waiting periods between the higher ranks of Boy Scouts she lamented, “Unless you can get your son to the rank of First class by the time he turns twelve, due to mandatory waiting periods it will be impossible to earn the Eagle award before he turns 14.”
She fears that once boys turn 14, without the support of automatic registration and trained Teacher’s and Priest quorum leaders, the support system that moms like her once enjoyed will evaporate.
“I am Wood Badge trained (Is there a Beaver in the house?) and frankly I see that being intimidating to any future non-trained Teacher’s and Priest Quorum advisors. They just won’t see the need to support merit badge clinics and service hours. I have completed four Eagle projects. I am not worried about my last one, but projects are very intimidating for our first time Mama Eagles. They are gonna need support.”
All day Sarah has been fielding messages and calls trying to quell the anxiety of the newest Mama Eagles upset that they will not get that Eagle rank earned before Scouting in the church slips away into obscurity.
“These Moms are scrambling to get that Eagle badge before the Scouting culture in the church disappears. Mama Eagles is prepared to step in and form a shadow organization for any of these moms in any ward to facilitate obtaining the rank of Eagle.” Sarah states. “Mutual on Tuesday and Scouts on Wednesday is our new motto. We have been quietly behind the scenes for all these years and now that you will see the men melt away from their Scouting duties, you will see the real muscle behind getting Scouting done in the church!”
28 year old Mandi Jacobson of the Queen Creek Arizona 145th ward and mother of three boys under the age of eight has a different take on today’s announcement. For her, obtaining the rank of Eagle Scout is the least of her concerns. Coming from a family of all girls and currently having no Scout aged children in her own family, she has little to no personal investment in Scouting. Yet still she is highly impacted by Scouting none the less.
“No one tells you this little fact when you get married. It’s such a dark secret in the church, but for the first decade and more of your marriage if you have boys you are the prime age to be called into Cub Scouts. It’s like jury duty and every few years the Bishopric is gonna come over to your house and call you to be a den leader or something.”
Every Sunday these Millennial Moms gather in the foyer and nervously discuss how long it has been since they have had a Cub Scout call and the odds of their next one.
Mandi laments that “Queen Creek primaries are so insanely huge that we have multiple dens with multiple leaders so you know that when the Second Counselor in the Bishopric calls you, just don’t answer the phone. He’s gonna call you to Cub Scouts.”
When asked how this new announcement will affect her generation Mandi keenly observed, “This announcement that they are keeping Cub Scouts is so depressing. Our husbands are free of all those scout meetings and uniforms and rules now. But not us. It doesn’t seem fair. They get a break! Being a den leader is like putting on a birthday party EVERY week for a bunch of wiggly eight year old boys. Every week! Except Pack meeting where you have to keep them focused and quiet on a school night while their ADHD medication is starting to wear off. It’s hard! No one told me it would be like this in my Young Women’s lessons when I was a Laurel.”
Meredith Backman Thompson
Meredith Backman Thompson is a 56 year old member of the Berkley Equality Hills ward in California and former Primary President. She sees this announcement as a tone deaf move by the patriarchy of the church.
“This move will affect the Mormon corridor of the church—Idaho, Utah, and Arizona, much more than the more liberal East and West coast wards and stakes,” Meredith explains. “For example, many wards in the Scouting corridor spend at least 300 dollars a pack meeting on purchasing awards from the BSA Scout stores. Primary age boys in the corridor can alone consume well over 1200 budget dollars a year in just badges, pins, belt loops, and other Scouting paraphernalia. It is not uncommon for Scouting in a corridor ward to go over budget and the Bishop has to rob from the High Priest budget to keep Scouting in the black. I was constantly in the Bishops office asking why my Activity day girls were not so handsomely compensated.”
While Meredith sees the inequality between the boys and girls in Primary, she has hope that the recent announcement will bring the young women and young men of the church to a more level playing field.
“As with most things, the West Coast has been leading the way for quite some time in the area of equality. My greatest achievement was rallying the sympathetic voices in ward council to have a combined common young women/young men budget where both organizations see each other’s spending in a transparent manner because both pull from the same allotted monies. Last year our ward spent the same amount of money on a young women’s retreat as they did for Scout camp.”
As far as the elimination of the Varsity and Venturing Scouting programs Meredith had some pointed words. “The men of the church have just been handed a respite from local training, Wood Badge training, monthly round table meetings and uniforms as well as the weekly grind of motivating boys to earn unknown, and quite frankly, unimportant Varsity and Venture awards. The dissolution of the Varsity and Venturing Scouts absolves the men of the church from institutional guilt for falling short of providing a top notch Scouting experience for our 14-17 year old boys. With this announcement, the women of the church get no such thing.”
“You can always find one man to be a Scoutmaster in any ward. Add an assistant Scoutmaster and you have two men who have to be fully immersed and drinking the Kool-Aid of Scouting. That’s it! That’s all you need! Two men! No one else is doing Scouting in Young Men’s. This announcement shifts the burden of Scouting to the women of the church. Have you seen the amount of work, training, staff, and organization it takes for the Primary to keep Cub Scouts and the 11 year old Scouts from crashing and burning? God bless our dear Primary Presidents!”