Faith in the News

Mormon church pulls older teens out of Boy Scouts

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Mormon church, the largest sponsor of Boy Scouts troops in the United States, announced Thursday it is pulling older teenagers from the organization as the religion takes a step toward developing its own global scouting-like program.

The Utah-based religion’s announcement means an estimated 130,000-180,000 teenagers ages 14-18 will no longer participate in Boy Scouts starting next year, a significant loss for the Boy Scouts of America. Younger Mormon boys will remain in Boy Scouts.

The faith said the decision wasn’t triggered by Boy Scouts policy change in 2015 to allow gay troop leaders since Mormon troops were allowed to run their groups to adhere to church teachings.

The loss is only a fraction of the 2.3 million youth in Boy Scouts, but the organization has been grappling with declining membership for years and has enjoyed a close bond with the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for more than a century.

Boy Scouts is a rite of passage for Mormon boys, with the church covering the cost of troops for congregations, known as wards, and strongly encouraging participation.

Boy Scouts of American spokeswoman Effie Delimarkos said the organization is saddened about the decision but understands the need for the religion to customize its programming.

She said the organization’s membership figures show the decision will impact 130,000 Mormon teens in this age group.

Figures provided by the Mormon church say the change will impact 180,000 boys.

Mormon officials said in a news release that it will keep some 280,000 younger boys ages 8-13 in Scouts while it continues to develop a global scouting-type program.

Boy Scouts is only available in the U.S. and Canada and more than half of the religion’s nearly 16 million members live in other countries.

Like other conservative religions, the Mormon church still opposes gay marriage and teaches its members that being in a homosexual relationship is a sin.

The church initially said it was “deeply troubled” by the Boy Scouts policy change but later committed to sticking with the Boy Scouts after getting assurances that it could appoint troop leaders according to its own religious and moral values.

Russian blogger convicted for playing ‘Pokemon Go’ in church

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian blogger was convicted on Thursday of inciting religious hatred for playing “Pokemon Go” in a church, and given a suspended sentence.

Ruslan Sokolovsky posted a video on his blog last year showing him playing the smartphone game in a church built on the supposed spot where the last Russian czar and his family were killed in the city of Yekaterinburg. He has been in detention since October.

Judge Yekaterina Shoponyak on Thursday found Sokolovsky guilty of inciting religious hatred and gave him a 3 ½-year suspended sentence. It is the same offense that sent two women from the Pussy Riot punk collective to prison for two years in 2012.

Sokolovsky’s behavior and his anti-religious videos manifested his “disrespect for society,” Shoponyak said in televised remarks, adding that Sokolovsky “intended to offend religious sentiments.”

The judge pointed out that the 22-year-old video blogger was on trial not only for playing the game in the church but also for posting several videos that offended believers. She listed “mockery of the immaculate conception,” ”denial of the existence of Jesus and Prophet Muhammad” and “giving an offensive description of Patriarch Kirill,” the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Speaking to reporters after the verdict Sokolovsky thanked the media for raising the alarm about the trial, which has been widely described as a witch hunt: “I would probably have been sent to prison if it wasn’t for the journalists’ support.”

Once an officially atheist state, Russia has made a stunning turnaround since the fall of the Soviet Union, with the majority of Russians now identifying themselves as Orthodox Christians. Although most Russians are not observant, the Kremlin has been eager to harness faith to promote its own agenda. The guilty verdict for the Pussy Riot members emboldened radical religious activists who have been successful in their public campaigns to get theater performances banned and exhibitions closed. Last year, activists launched a drive to collect signatures to end state funding for abortion.