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