The Scout-led Troop Blog #13: The First Presidency’s Statements regarding Eagle Scouts

Bill Chapman

On May 11, 2017, the First Presidency announced that effective January 1, 2018, the Church will discontinue its Varsity and Venturing Scouting programs for young men ages 14–18. However, the First Presidency letter also states that “young men over the age of 14 who desire to continue to work toward the rank of Eagle Scout . . . should be encouraged and supported in their efforts . . ..”

Because young men in the Church are encouraged to pursue the rank of Eagle Scout even after their 14th birthday if they have a desire to do so, it might be well to compare this statement with a 2001 letter from the First Presidency about the rank of Eagle Scout. In this letter, the First Presidency declared, “[w]e desire all young men to strive to earn the Eagle Scout and Duty to God Awards.” September 28, 2001, letter from First Presidency quoted by Robert D. Hales,  Ensign, Nov. 2001.

In light of the First Presidency’s 2001 letter, it is easy to understand why there has been heavy emphasis in the Church on helping young men achieve the rank of Eagle Scout. Bryan on Scouting even addressed this issue in his March 23, 2015 blog post entitled,The truth about LDS Scouting.” Will this emphasis change with the discontinuance of the Varsity and Venture programs? Whether that emphasis changes or not, there is an important principle taught in both of these letters that is worthy of our understanding.

In the past, some LDS parents used achievement of the rank of Eagle Scout as a precondition to the right to apply for a driver’s license. In support of these incentives, some cited to statistics showing a high correlation between young men who become Eagle Scouts and those who go on missions, get married in the temple, etc. (SeeRevitalizing Aaronic Priesthood Quorums,” Elder Robert L. Backman, Ensign, Nov. 1982, 39–40.) However, we need to be careful not to read too much into these statistics. Correlation is not the same thing as causation.Correlation does not imply causation,” Wikipedia, accessed 12 December 2017.

In our exuberance to follow the counsel of living prophets, some of us strive to get every young man to the rank of Eagle Scout. In doing so, we may be overlooking what the First Presidency actually said in 2001. The First Presidency did not say they desire every young man to become an Eagle Scout. They said they “desire all young men to strive to earn the Eagle Scout and Duty to God Awards.” The difference is subtle but profound.

The Lord has declared that “[n]o power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge;…” Doctrine & Covenants 121:41-42. This is a hard doctrine but it is the Lord’s way.

Both the 2001 and 2017 First Presidency letters focus on the heart of the young man At that time, the Brethren had a desire that every young man strive to attain the rank of Eagle Scout. Now, if a young man desires to achieve that rank, he should be encouraged. There is no hint of coercion or force. It is a desire to help young men change their hearts. It is a pure application of Doctrine & Covenants 121:41-42. If we read either letter casually or too quickly, we might miss the mark.

When the Lord gave Samuel the assignment to choose a new king for Israel, He instructed Samuel how to go about this task. Samuel was taught not to look on the “outward appearance” of man but to look on the heart. Specifically, the Lord counseled, “[l]ook not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7.

When we focus on the rank, are we looking on the “outward appearance?” President Uchtdorf shared one example of an overemphasis on the outward appearance: the Potemkin village. (On Being Genuine,” by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Ensign, May 2015.) A Potemkin village creates a beautiful outward appearance but is not an accurate depiction of what is actually happening on the inside. If a Scout is only seeking the rank of Eagle Scout because of pressure by parents or other adults, have we achieved our true goal? There is a risk that we put so much pressure on a young man to become an Eagle Scout that he privately loses any desire to achieve that rank and even comes to despise the subject.

If our goal is to help young men develop a desire to become an Eagle Scout, how will that affect our interaction with our Scouts? What experience will help a young man develop a desire to become an Eagle Scout? A troop where the Scouts are trained how to run their own troop, have real authority to make decisions, and learn from their mistakes and successes is a great motivator for advancement.

Ironically, Scouts who are given real authority and allowed to run their own troop are much more inclined to listen to adults who empower them. Advancement occurs naturally as a part of a balanced program. Scouts seek advancement because they associate it with the fun they are having in their troop.

Which young man is more prepared to serve a full-time mission, one who has grown up on a steady diet of classroom-type lectures, homework, and tests, or one who is experienced at self-governance, problem-solving and leading his peers? Who is more susceptible to the internal process of conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ, one who is always told what to do or one who has learned to exercise his moral agency in his youth? When we focus our attention on the heart of the Scout, we are doing things the Lord’s way.

 

-Bill Chapman lives in San Clemente, California, loves to surf, trail run, backpack, camp, do anything in the outdoors, and watch young men achieve the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood through the Scouting program. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.

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  1. Rod Mosher says:

    Thank you for your insights into our current scouting environment. It seems to me that the standards are slipping. I can’t help but wonder if the local leader’s lack of commitment to these programs had anything to do with the recent decisions. I agree that we can not use the Eagle Scout rank as the only metric when determining a young man readiness to serve a full-time mission. I often think of Paul’s statement to the Corinthians, 1Cor 14:8. Are we as leaders sending the right message? Are we committed to a proven program that will, if well organized and well supported strengthen our young men and enhance their lives forever? Are we adjusting the programs to the current commitment level of leaders? If the commitment was not present for the Varsity and Venturing program, what makes us believe we will do any better with the new program?

    1. Bill Chapman says:

      Rod, great reference for us to keep in mind: “8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” In this time of uncertainty on so many fronts, you are exactly right, we need to be certain of our direction and sound are trumpet loud and clear. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. Would love to hear where you live and any success stories you may have to share.

  2. Excellent post. Over my years in Scouting I have frequently had people complain that the process of getting to Eagle Scout wasn’t streamlined enough. Hint: it’s not supposed to be. We do the boys (and their future selves) a disservice when we turn Scouting into an endless series of simple checklists. Boys need to *become* Eagle Scouts, not just get a nifty pin stuck on their uniforms.

    I like how you talk about Scouting advancement as “part of a balanced program.” Advancement is only one if the eight methods of Scouting. It is *not* one of Scouting’s aims.

    A former chairman of my local council (and later area president), Dave Rich, said that when we focus too much on advancement we turn Scouting into another stale classroom, even in spectacular outdoor settings. Then boys fail to learn the Scouting method. They get rank advancements but do not become actual Scouts.

    The boy-led troop is the antidote to this problem.

    1. Bill Chapman says:

      Scott, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule (including writing your own blog on the OA) to read and respond to this post. As you have observed, my experience is that Scouts are much more motivated when we allow it to them to pursue their own rank advancement on their own without much adult involvement than when we try to make things “easier” for them.

      Scouting offers young men a rich experience of developing skills, service, confidence in their own abilities, etc. However, if we treat Scouting just as a way to put another feather on our own or the Scout’s cap, we greatly diminish what Scouting has to offer.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting.

  3. Jeff Dottl says:

    What a great post. I couldn’t agree more.

    1. Bill Chapman says:

      Jeff, thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed it. Would love to hear about any of your experiences in your area.

  4. Brandon B. says:

    Thank you for writing this! I completely agree and you were able to put very succinctly my thoughts on the subject. With the best intentions, my previous stake put together their response to the changes in the Scouting program in the church. This included a three-year plan to get boys to First Class by 12 and Eagle by 14. As the former Scoutmaster in our ward and a part of the committee, I felt obligated to share concerns that echo your post.
    What most inside the church do not realize is that Baden-Powell never intended for all scouts to become Eagles. The program was designed with the goal if getting all boys to First Class, which provides (what he believed were) the essential skills that every young man should gave. The Eagle rank was created later on for those boys who desired more advancement opportunities as a way to recognize them.

  5. Steve Faber says:

    Bill,

    I’m interested in knowing how we should interpret “…supported in their efforts.” Do we leave it up to just the family to support the young man in his desire? Is it he responsibility of the ward or the stake to “support”? How practical is it for a ward to implement a troop (11-13 yr-olds) that can really meet the scouting requirements of a 14-17 year old young man, when the young man should be attending teachers/priests activities on mutual night? Perhaps this should this be the role of the stake? My stake has proposed doing an “Eagle Progress Patrol” for those young men 14-17 who want to become Eagle Scouts. Can a stake register as a “troop” for purposes of advancement? It seems to me that there are too many practical roadblocks for me to interpret “…supported in their efforts” to mean anything other than the 14-17 year-old young man’s family finding a non-LDS community troop to help support him in his journey to Eagle.

    1. Bill Chapman says:

      In my experience, the brethren often speak to very high-level principles (teaching as correct principles) and then they let us govern ourselves.

      Local stake presidencies and bishoprics will need to receive revelation for those over whom they have a stewardship. Individual unit leaders and committees will also need to apply these principles.

      Of course, one of the major reasons we are on earth is to learn how to receive revelation and follow the inspiration of others to lead us.

      I would love to hear what thoughts and examples others have on this subject. There may even be a bit of trial and error in the process.

      One time when I was Scoutmaster, we had a less active young man come back at age 17 and join the troop because he wanted to finish up the requirements for his Eagle rank and felt he could best do that in the troop. We also had some non-LDS Scouts who were 14 or 15 years old who were very active in the troop.

      At one point, our priesthood leaders asked us to adhere to the 13-year-old age limit but that was before these new changes. Again, local priesthood direction, trial and error in seeking the Spirit.

      Hope to hear from others on this topic.

  6. Darrell says:

    My recent, very disappointing experience in our stake is that almost everyone listened half-heartedly to the letter, never went back to re-read it, and ignored everything that did not fit their preconceived notions. The parents and those with applicable callings were quick to voice their opinions then jockey for influence.
    The First Presidency letter absolutely does not say that the scout troop is for 11-13 year olds. “…the Church will no longer charter Varsity or Venturing units”. That means we will not pay to register a scout troop, a varsity team, and a venture crew; we will pay for one scout troop. We will not automatically enroll every young man in scouts; those who wish to enroll will do so. The practical effect here is that Church will save a lot of wasted money and BSA will lose a lot of money.
    Then we get the above quote which is expanded a bit under ymactivities.lds.org: “Young men who have the personal desire to continue toward the rank of Eagle Scout should be registered with the BSA and should be supported and encouraged by parents and by quorum and Young Men leaders.” …“teacher- and priest-age young men continue to participate in high-adventure activities… High-adventure, overnight, and youth conference activities”.
    So we have three situations. (a) The teachers and/or priests wish to continue to participate in scouts as a group. (b) None of the teachers and/or priests wish to continue to participate in scouts. (c) Some wish to continue, others do not.
    When I started as the scoutmaster 8 years ago, we had 11 year olds and one deacon who liked scouts. The rest wanted to play basketball or would follow whatever was happening at the time. None of the YM leaders understood scouting and they liked the desire to participate. We were donating a noticeable portion of our budget to BSA for two programs that were completely unused. The Church says they should hold high-adventure and overnight outings, but they disregarded that.
    I accepted the calling on the conditions that I remain in the calling for several years and that a (mostly) full committee of leaders be called. They agreed. Instead, after 1.5 years they released me without ever fulfilling their commitments. But thankfully what I started grew into a solid troop with boys who (mostly) understand how to choose their own activities to both have fun and also achieve advancement. I attribute that to the quality of those boys with only modest input from myself. When I was released, the scouting parents demanded that the ward support scouting and things changed. Now we have four active patrols (3 quorums +11YOBS) and almost all of the boys are fully involved in scouts (and the adult leadership has completely changed). The priest patrol dominates at scouting events because they are bigger and more skilled. We have achieved situation (a) in our ward. The priests and teachers still announce what they will be doing for “Scouts” that week. They refer to themselves by patrol names for scouting sctivities and quorum names for more “spiritual” activities. The program will not change for our ward.
    I suspect that most wards will have the hybrid situation, (c). That will be much harder to deal with. Combine those interested in scouts within the ward? With other wards? Dedicate 3 adults per 1 scout? Send them to a non-LDS troop? Co-opt a small non-LDS troop by moving in and accepting key positions of leadership? Flat-out fail to support those interested in Scouts? I expect all of the above will happen, except maybe the co-opt because other LDS folk tend to be skittish about subversion, unlike me. ;)
    I have not yet spoken to other wards about how they will implement the program. I wonder who won the battles. FYI, 75% of the basketball players went inactive. None of the scouters are inactive yet – the oldest is now 20.

  7. Bill Chapman says:

    Darrell, thanks for your post. Sorry, I am just now seeing this four months later. I appreciate your thoughts and questions.

    I agree that there will probably be many different approaches and varying degrees of success. I have had to learn to help where my help is wanted and step back when it is not. I adjust my expectations so that I do not become overbearing and let people grow on their own timetable and at their own pace.

    Thanks again for reading and responding.

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