Boy Scouts VS Duty to God

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has used the Boy Scout program as its young mens program and activity source for a very long time. I remember President Benson calling it an inspired and inspiring program. Other prophets and church leaders have given tremendous support for the Boy Scouting program. But as the church grows to be more international is it getting to be time for the church to move away from Boy Scouts of America and develop its own program for young men? Is the current Duty to God program phase one in just such a change?

I grew up in the church and participated it the cub scout and boy scout programs of my ward. I was never really a gung-ho scouter, but I had a reasonably good attitude most of the time and was will to participate at least passively in these programs. By doing this I got to the point were I was 16 and only lacked my Safety merit badge and an eagle project to complete the all important eagle scout award. About this time I started having other interests and really did have the feeling that boy scouts only met the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood and the gospel of Jesus Christ in at best a very indirect way. I also observed many of my piers who did earn their eagle scout award and were thought of as outstanding young men. But as a pier I knew things that perhaps even parents did not. Some of these young men had all kinds of problems in their lives in terms of Word of Wisdom, chastity, and other issues. So because of these things I basically quit on the scouting program.

Now I have four boys of my own, and my oldest is 12. I have a couple of decades of the parental side of scouting staring me right in the face. There will be a lot of time and effort in my family to help our sons be successful in this program. I am very concerned that much of this effort will be inefficient because it will only meet gospel and Priesthood goals very indirectly. I would love to see the church more fully develop the Duty to God program as its primary program for young men and move away from boy scouts. Is there any chance of this?

I would like to review the stated purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood and see how the Boy Scout program meets these purposes. The purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood are:

Become converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and live its teachings.
Give meaningful service.
Prepare to live worthily to receive the Melchizadek Priesthood and temple ordinances.
Prepare to serve an honorable full-time mission.
Obtain as much education as possible.
Prepare to become a worthy husband and father.
Give proper respect to women, girls, and children.

For the purposes of having a shorter post, I will say in general that the Boy Scout program only meets many of these purposes in a very indirect way, with little or no doctrinal foundation. The Duty to God program, while perhaps not yet fully developed, already does a better job of meeting these purposes in a direct and meaningful way. I hope for a time in the near future when the church will move away from the Boy Scout program and fully develop and implement the Duty to God program in its place. In a way I wonder if this is already happening. Do you feel like this might happen? Is this already going on in other parts of the world outside the United States?


At 12/25/2005, Blogger Ian said...

I too have a mediocre experience with the Boy Scouts. I too was only a few things short of getting my Eagle. I got bored and drifted away as well. There was a troup of all Eagle scouts that raided our tents almost every night. They would all pee in a bucket and pour it onto our beds. Needless to say, I lost respect the scouting program.

I agree that it's time for the church to more fully develop a program for young men, the way they have for the young women already. I think that perhaps if they use some of the scouting program as a template and make it fulfill the Duty to God stuff. I think it's a good idea.

At 12/25/2005, Blogger Eric Nielson said...

Thank you for your comment. Maybe I'm not alone in this.

At 12/26/2005, Blogger Bradley said...

Eric, I've had similar thoughts. But let me play devil's advocate. Let's look again at those 7 points.
(1) Be Converted: Scouting doesn't do much toward this end.
(2) Service: Scouting should lend itself to giving a lot of service. It doesn't do so uniquely, but it does include many opportunities for service. That is supposed to be the purpose of the eagle project, after all.
(3) Live Worthy: The principles of the scout law are all about this. Scouting can add a second witness to these principles.
(4) Mission: Scout camp is certainly a way to get used to being away from home. Other skills learned in camping also become useful when dealing with the physical elements of missionary service. Admitedly, scouting probably won't do much for the spiritual part of mission preparedness, but see (1) above.
(5) Education: Scouting is all about learning. Boys should be working on merit badges in a variety of areas. This is exactly the jumping off point that some kids need to select the area of higher education they'd like to pursue.
(6) Worthy husband/father: Presumably the traits required here are the same in and out of the church. Learning to respect authority and country can be a bridge to learning to respect family relationships. Scouting, in its ideal practice, should prepare a boy to become a good man. That includes being a good dad and husband.
(7) Respect females/childen: As Ian points out, many scouts don't learn the respect they are supposed to learn. But again, the principles of scouting are very clear on what should be happening here.

All in all, it doesn't sound like Scouting, as a program, is very different from what any ideal program would be. Add to that the infrastructure of scouting (i.e. camps and other real estate, administrative personnel for such places, award structure, national recognition) and you'd be hard pressed to make a Mormon equivalent without a lot of time and expense. It isn't clear that we'll be doing that very soon. But perhaps we're on the path in that direction.

At 12/27/2005, Blogger Eric Nielson said...

Outstanding comment bradley. I was going to do a similar point by point review but wanted to keep the post short. You did a good job there. I do believe points 1 and 4 are a bit of a stretch, but I also feel that point 1 is the most imortant by far.

I also think you are going to get teenage boys who just don't 'get it' no matter what program is used.

At 12/27/2005, Blogger Ian said...

Let me clarify my earlier post. This particular scout camp we were at was primarily an LDS one due to the fact that one of the quarum of the 12 was to attend. Our tents got raided every night and at least once, one of our beds was covered with pee.

We decided to wait up all night on the last night. We all huddled in one tent and waited. At around 1am, we caught them. We were just as suprised as any to find out that all of them were Eagle Scouts, in a troop that consisted of all Eagle Scouts. And they were most likely LDS.

I guess you live and you learn.

At 12/27/2005, Blogger Eric Nielson said...

Well, at least the apostle wasn't with them (I assume).

I am not sure that any program will completely iliminate that kind of behavior in teenage boys. But you would hope that the ones earning the top honors of the program would be the very best examples available. It does not always seem to be the case.

At 12/28/2005, Blogger Eric Nielson said...

The more I think about it, that is perhaps the big problem for me with scouting. Advancement is just advancement. Yes, the scout law and oath are great and all, but they are just words. The principles are not really re-inforced throughout the advancement process. So a achievement motivated boy or family can get an eagle scout without really addressing the priciples of the scout law after memorizing it initially.

With the young womens program and Duty to God the principles get addressed over and over again. It is the principles that drive the activities/achievments. I would think it would be far less likely for someone who made the highest achievments in Duty to God to do some of the things mentioned that were attributed to eagle scouts.

At 12/28/2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The church needs to sever its relation to the Boy Scouts; the Boy Scouts will only allow boys in their troops. The Girl Scouts won't let individual wards have a charter. Perhaps the Explorer Scouts would meet our needs.

I think it's a disgrace to the church that our young men are drawn together in fellowship from the time they're cub scouts but our girls are ignored until they're 12. Even then, the Young Women's Program does what the Aaronic Priesthood is supposed to do: focus on personal and spiritual development. So while my Sunday School friends were laughing about their last camp-out, I was doing a journal activity. On their own, each of these things are good. But they would be much, MUCH better if all of us could have both.


At 12/28/2005, Blogger Eric Nielson said...


I believe that the Young Womens program is superior to Boy Scouts.

Are you suggesting a program that includes boys and girls in the same group?

At 12/28/2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scouting has existed for years. The Church officially adopted Scouting as part of the activity program for Aaronic Priesthood quorums in 1913. Put in age requirements here. Since that time, Church leaders have consistently and unwaveringly supported Scouting.

While addressing Regional Representatives, President Benson stated: “[Scouting] is not an optional program. Make certain priesthood leaders . . . understand this. Scouting is no longer on trial. It is an economically, socially, and spiritually sound program. It builds men of character and spirituality and trains them for citizenship and leadership responsibility.” President Monson also reiterated President Kimball’s comments that the Church endorses Scouting “and will seek to provide leadership which will help boys keep close to their families and close to the Church as they develop the qualities of citizenship and character and fitness which Scouting represents. . . . We’ve remained strong and firm in our support of this great movement for boys and the Oath and the Law which are at its center.”

President Monson reaffirmed this position when he stated: “Let me affirm that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not diminished in any way its support of the Scouting movement.”

Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone once said, “I do not believe that Varsity Scouting is on trial in the Church, nor is Boy Scouting, Cub Scouting, or [Venturing]. But rather it is my firm belief that bishops, and the ward leaders, the advisers, Scoutmasters, coaches, and [Venturing] advisers are on trial. The program will work if they will work and become trained and put into effect the things they have been trained to do.”

An 8 year-old boy may join
Cub Scouts. A boy who has completed the fifth grade or is 11 years old, or has earned the Arrow of Light Award but is under 18 years old may join the Boy Scouts.

Occasionally, Priest-aged young men lose interest in Scouting. Superficially, this is usually attributed to the fact that many may have earned the Eagle award, or that Priest-aged young men simply have “too many other things” competing for their attention. However, I believe the Scouting program for Priest-aged boys (also known as “Venturing”) is the best Scouting has to offer. If a Venture program is not active in your unit, the Young Men leaders would be well-advised to investigate and implement this wonderful program.

Just as the scouting is
not optional program, Venturing is also crucial to the Priest-aged boys. Elder Robert J. Backman, former Young Men General President, has said, “If I were a bishop, I would no more consider not having a [Venturing Crew] than I would think of not having a Priest’s Quorum. We must realize that Scouting is an activity arm of the Aaronic Priesthood, and that Priesthood leaders are also Scouting leaders. . . Our present policy is that Stake Presidencies may approve a program other than [Venturing] if it is a fully developed, better program, but we have yet to see anything better on a consistent basis. Each time I look into such ‘better’ programs, I see a [Venturing] program with a different name attached to it, or even more often, I see unsupervised basketball.”

The Venturing program is one of the most underutilized programs in the Church. Indeed, Scouting can influence young men of all ages. If it happens to influence Priest-aged boys for the better, the possibility of long lasting effects is much more likely.
Many, if not most, of the spiritual experiences I experienced as a young man came through the Scouting program. There were innumerable occasions I learned through both the program and capable adult leaders. I was able to experience and gain temporal skills that have helped me throughout my life. My love for the outdoors blossomed. I grew through leadership opportunities. Countless were the times I felt the Spirit as we had testimony meetings during late night campfires. My ability to set and reach lofty goals was enhanced. Wonderful memories of 50 milers, earning merit badges, cold campouts, hot campouts, wet campouts, mosquitoes, big fish, no fish, cooking meals, friendships with other Scouts and adult leaders, service projects, and countless other scouting memories, linger in my mind to this day.
Some may doubt the usefulness or merit of Scouting within the Church. Those who hold this attitude do not understand Scouting.

“Scouting is a vital part of the Aaronic Priesthood activity program and can help greatly to build better-prepared missionaries, better husbands and fathers, help prepare our young men to receive the ordinances of the temple, and help reactivate those who have drifted.”

I know I stayed closer to the Church and developed a stronger testimony of Christ through the Scouting program. Thousands of other boys have done the same. It should be the goal of every unit to develop an effective and appealing Scouting program that the boys love. As mentioned above, “[Scouting] is not an optional program.”

In January 2002, the Church implemented a revised “Duty to God” program. In preparation for implementation of this program, the First Presidency sent a letter to priesthood leaders in the United States and Canada which stated in part:

In January 2000, we introduced an Aaronic Priesthood Achievement program in areas outside the United States and Canada where Scouting was not available. The purpose … is to help young men prepare for the Melchizedek Priesthood, the temple endowment, a full-time mission, marriage, and fatherhood. … [That international program remains in force and] has now been adapted for use in the United States and Canada to include the important role of Scouting in the development of young men … [and will be known as] Aaronic Priesthood: Fulfilling Our Duty to God.

Three guidebooks—Aaronic Priesthood: Fulfilling Our Duty to God for deacons, teachers, and priests—explain the program. Young men who complete the requirements outlined in all of these guidebooks will receive the Duty to God Award.

The requirements for the Duty to God award may be found in the three guidebooks available for deacons, teachers and priests. A separate achievement certificate may be earned as a deacon, teacher and priest. When all three achievement certificates are earned, he becomes eligible to receive the Duty to God award. The requirements to receive each certificate include the completion of goals and activities include the following: (1) priesthood duties and standards, including the living of ideals from For the Strength of Youth; (2) family activities; (3) quorum activities; (4) personal goals; (5) a service project; and (6) keeping a journal.

Completion of the Duty to God program will undoubtedly facilitate a young man’s progression towards becoming a righteous Melchizedek priesthood holder and a worthy and effective missionary. Repeated emphasis by the adult leaders should be given to impress upon the young men the importance of the Duty to God program. Ideally, the guidebooks are brought by the young men to each Sunday meeting and mid-week activity where their progress can be reviewed, both during quorum meetings and activities, and in separate interviews. Quorum (and Scouting) activities should coincide with Duty to God requirements to facilitate completion of the certificates and the award. As explained above, this award is not easy to obtain. It takes six years to acquire. Young men leaders should always keep the Duty to God program as a central theme in their quorum instruction and activities in order to ensure greater success and to take full advantage of this wonderful program.

As wards and branches have put into practice the Duty to God program, some have unfortunately forgotten the importance of the Scouting program. There have even been “rumors” that the Church, upon implementing the revised Duty to God program, was preparing to separate itself from Scouting.

As stated by Elder F. Melvin Hammond, former Young Men General President, any speculation that the Church is planning to part ways with the Scouting program, “is pure rumor.” “The Duty to God program was not meant in any way to diminish Scouting in the Church. It was meant to complement Scouting and they work hand-in-hand beautifully.”

Wards should not choose one program or the other. In my experience, we occasionally find wards that have a tendency to either be a “Scouting ward” or a “Duty to God ward,” with lackluster effort in the other program. If such is the case, it is usually a reflection of the adult leaders’ mind-set.

The “we don’t have enough time to do both” excuse should not be used. As the First Presidency stated: “We desire all young men to strive to earn [both] the Eagle Scout and Duty to God Awards” (emphasis added). Adult leaders need to be creative in how they implement and blend both programs within the unit. One need not choose what program to focus on each particular week as “many of the Scouting requirements can fill necessary expectations for the Duty to God Award.” There is “no conflict at all between Duty to God and Scouting. . . . They are complementary to one another.” There is no reason the two programs should compete for attention.

At 12/28/2005, Blogger Eric Nielson said...


Wow. Which member of the Young Mens General Presidency are you. Or was this a massive cut and paste? I do not dispute that church leaders continue to endorse the scouting program. But I also feel that the very existance of the Duty to God program is evidence of missing parts in the Scouting program. If Boy Scouting had been meeting the needs of the young men all along there would have been no need for an additional program. I dread trying to get my four sons to meet the full expectations of both programs.

At 12/29/2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that the Young Womens program is superior to Boy Scouts.

Having been through the Young Womens' program myself, I have to disagree. The Personal Progress booklet may be better spiriturally than Scouts but that's a direct part of church. The Aaronic Priesthood should function similarly. If it doesn't, that's something for the YM Presidency to deal with and has nothing to do with the Scouts.

As for the Young Womens' Program... I hope they've made some changes but all I can say is YUCK! While the boys were camping, we were having make-up instruction sessions. While the boys were playing basketball, we were baking brownies that we then had to share with the boys who never returned the favor.

I accept that make-up and baking are fun for some girls. They're not fun for all girls though. The one bright spot of the YW program was Girl's Camp. I had the best time and made some of my best friends at church at camp. I truly and deeply wish that it was more than a once-a-year event.

Are you suggesting a program that includes boys and girls in the same group?

YES! Oh yes. Let the YM/YW programs stay the way they are at church but instead of Scouts let's have something that includes all of our youth! I feel this is especially imporant in "the mission field." That's where I grew up. There were about 6 girls total in the YW program. None of the other kids in my ward-- boy or girl-- went to my school. They all lived on other ends of the ward boundaries. The only time I was ever with an LDS peer-group was two hours every Sunday and an hour or two on Wednesday for YW, on the not terribly frequent occasions my mother could force me to go.

I had some great teachers that were very special to me. I appreciate their efforts and their sacrifices but I also resent the activities which I felt were not only a waste of time but contrary to the Gospel at times. In the Bible we read of prophets who pick everything up and move cities because their daughters are starting to wear make-up and pierce their ears. I think then you can understand my confusion when a YW activity is centered around the proper application of make-up!

My favorite Sunday School teacher ever was Sister Johnson. I think she had us in the time just before we were split into the YW and YM programs. She took us camping and held sleepovers at her house. At her house, the boys and girls were on seperate floors and when camping, we were in seperate tents. I adore and honor her forever for those things! Her classes and activities went a long way to making me feel interested and valued. The YW program rarely did. My many requests for more broadening activities always went un-answered. When my friends and I pushed for co-ed camping trips (with seperate tents and chaperones I assure you!) all we ever got was "No. We can't allow that."

I love the church. I know the Gospel is true. I know God and the church value women and encourage us to be the best we can be in all ways. However, I felt (and still feel, as I'm sure you can guess) that the YW program failed me and shunted me into a stunted feminine stereotype.

Make-up and cooking while the boys were learning wilderness survival. If the church believes its own messages of equality and its own scriptures about the end times, then we need to put together a program where the boys and girls learn cooking and fire-making side-by-side.


At 1/09/2006, Blogger Agent Bucky said...

Obviously, girls are more spiritual than boys and should learn to develop their spirituality so they can become a wise helpmeet to their future husbands. They don't need any time in the wilderness to appreciate nature because they'll be too busy holding down the house while their future husbands are off using the more worldly skills learned in scouts.

Boys, however, will be boys, and they have a lesser capacity for spirituality, so its good to send them off to the wilderness to distract them from the bad things that all boys do, and to prepare them for the military, with its similar advancement and obedience system.

No really, I don't know why there's such a difference in YW/YM activities, and I agree with harpingheather that a more rounded-out church education for both genders would improve both YM and YW, though I really doubt parents would be overjoyed with them going on outings together. I don't know if separate but equal would work, but it might have more of a chance to be attempted.

At 6/18/2013, Blogger Burn said...

I know these comments were 6 years ago but I must say something. I think many of you are missing the point. Scouting can meet the goals we have for our boys if implemented correctly. Like Pres. Benson said many years ago, in Scouting we do not have a boy problem, but a man problem. Very rarely do I ever see the Scouting program used to it's fullest in the church. Usually it's very weak. I spent a lot of time playing basketball. I say shame on leaders and shame on parents. This program is in place not just because the Brethren thought they could fill a slot and give the YM an activity program. The program is still in the church because the Lord wants it there. If we'd stop fighting it and take care of our stewardships this program and our boys would flourish. I'm not sure the Brethren need our "counsel".


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