Boy Scouts Christian alternative launches with 500 troops

My top ten faith stories of 2013 came out today and No. 6 concerns the Boy Scouts:

This photo shows a close up detail of a Boy Scout uniform worn by Brad Hankins, a campaign director for Scouts for Equality, as he responds questions during a news conference in front of the Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Irving, Texas.(Photo: Tony Gutierrez, AP)

This photo shows a close up detail of a Boy Scout uniform worn by Brad Hankins, a campaign director for Scouts for Equality, as he responds questions during a news conference in front of the Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Irving, Texas.(Photo: Tony Gutierrez, AP)

6. The Boy Scouts of America allows gay Scouts

In May, the Boy Scouts of America announced that the 1,400 voting members of its national council reached the decision to remove the restriction on gay Scouts after “the most comprehensive listening exercise” in the organization’s history.

That decision left many York County church leaders with decisions of their own to make. The Boy Scouts have long been affiliated with faith groups, with many churches, synagogues and other religious organizations sponsoring Scouts as part of their youth ministries.

The BSA policy change, which goes into effect Jan. 1, permits openly gay Scouts but retains a ban on gay adult Scout leaders.

Ronald M. Gardner Jr., Scout executive and CEO of the New Birth of Freedom Council, which serves more than 11,000 Scouts in York, Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin and Perry counties, said several churches in the six-county area discontinued scouting programs due to the change. He would not identify the churches.

Recapping this story reminded me to check on our local churches and Boy Scout troops to recap the situation here. Have any troops been dropped in York County? If so, what has happened the young Scouts?

Religious groups sponsor about 70 percent of the BSA’s 100,000 troops; after the policy change was announced, most of the major sponsors — Mormons, Catholics and United Methodists — agreed to remain with the BSA despite unease in some corners about lifting the gay ban.

Meanwhile, a new Christian organization kicked off this week. The new scouting group, Trail Life USA, was created by OnMyHonor.net, which opposed the BSA’s policy change — effective on Jan. 1.

Mark Hancock, Trail Life USA’s chief operating officer, said close to 500 troops have signed up since early September, a handbook has been created and leadership guides have been published for three levels of boys in kindergarten through the 12th grade.

“We have a very excited group of churches and Christian organizations that are joining us,” Hancock told the Religion News Service. “They’re ready to go.”

He said the organization has “hundreds of volunteers all over the country” and will have a staff of six on Jan. 1 in virtual rather than brick-and-mortar offices. Hancock said many participants are evangelical Christian, but a number of Catholic troops are starting as well.

“Our focus is not really on numbers but it’s on providing a quality program for families to help the boys become men,” he said.

Those that have signed up — and paid $325 for the first year’s charter fee (it will subsequently be $185 annually) — include churches and other groups with a statement of Christian beliefs, such as a Christian home school organization or a Christian camp.

Trail Life USA’s values statement includes a section on purity that reads, in part: “We are to reserve sexual activity for the sanctity of marriage, a lifelong commitment before God between a man and a woman.”

Deron Smith, spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, said “it would be inappropriate for us to discuss other organizations,” but added “what we’re hearing from our councils is that only a handful of chartered organizations have decided not to renew their sponsorship of troops. We are thankful that the overwhelming majority of our units and members remain committed to the Scouting program.”

What do you think about the new organization? Is there enough demand for a Christian Scouting alternative to made it successful?

About John Hilton

I grew up in Susquehanna County, Pa. and graduated Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism/political science in 1998. After working for nearly three years for a weekly paper in upstate New York, I came to southcentral Pennsylvania. I spent 13 years as a reporter and editor for The Sentinel in Carlisle and joined the York Daily Record as religion reporter in September 2011.
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One Response to Boy Scouts Christian alternative launches with 500 troops

  1. Jim Fahringer says:

    Having been an Eagle Scout and earned my God and Country award and Good Citizenship award, I am deeply saddened that this whole politically correct subject about gay scouts and gay scout leaders has basically hurt, if not destroyed one of the finest organizations ever for boys. It was truly an exceptional organization based on time tested and correct morals – things like love for your God and your Country, living morally, keeping physically strong, helping others on a daily basis by doing good deeds and respecting others and our environment. The ideals and morals that I learned and practiced in Boy Scouts have made me a much better person and citizen — one who is respective of others and their beliefs but not necessarily endorsing their beliefs or lifestyles. Beacause of a few trying to make their case, the Boy Scouts of America has been severely hurt, if not destroyed. That is such a shame!!!

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