When the Boy Scouts of America announced they wouldn’t exclude males of homosexual orientation, Christian organizations began to second-guess their involvement in the American institution.
Christian churches began to disassociate themselves with local Boy Scout chapters, particularly Catholic churches that had once offered their church buildings as gathering venues for local chapters — but the dissociation didn’t end there.
Born out of the new Boy Scouts policy was the organization, Trail Life USA, a Christian alternative organization aimed at offering boys and young men with the same experience found in the Boy Scouts, only without the tolerance of homosexual members.
“Our vision and what we are about is to be the premier national character development organization for young men, which produces godly and responsible husbands, fathers and citizens,” John Stemberger, who was a vocal critic of the Boy Scouts’ policy reversal, said in a promotional video for the organization.
The move away from the Boy Scouts new policy comes as the nation is overwhelmingly moving toward acceptance of equal rights for the LGBTQ community. Fourteen states recognize same-sex marriage, with Hawaii joining the movement this week.
In July, a poll administered by Princeton Survey Research Associates found a record 55 percent of Americans were in favor of same-sex marriage. A Gallup poll issued in 1996 found that just 27 percent of Americans were behind same-sex marriage at that time.
That’s a progressive trend Stemberger and the new Trail Life organization don’t want to be a part of — and one they want to stand against, through the next generation.
“The society we’re living in today is just in moral freefall,” Stemberger said in a Trail Life USA video. “Things that were unthinkable just generations ago are now not only thinkable, but they’re being promoted as virtuous, and so we’re seeing this sort of downward spiral of moral confusion all throughout our society.”
An exodus from tradition
Stemberger said in the promotional video for Trail Life USA that in 2012 he had a discussion with a prominent leader within the Boy Scouts of America, who told him that although there was discussion and pressure to change the policy to be more open to homosexual members, the organization was not going to do so.
Before Trail Life USA was born and before the vote had already gone through, former Scouts in Florida were joining together for a Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts — it was called On My Honor, and it stood against the inclusion of homosexuality among teenagers involved in the organization.
In May, Boy Scout leaders from around the nation gathered in Grapevine, Texas for the organization’s national meeting. It was there that the national council, consisting of 1,400 members, voted to change the policy, with 60 percent in favor.
This was after an announcement in January that it would consider doing so. The statement followed the highly publicized Eagle Scout rejection of Ryan Andresen, who, at age 18, was denied Eagle rank after he admitted to being gay. His mother started a campaign on Change.org that quickly caught on, sparking protest among those who claimed the Scouts’ position on homosexuality needed a second look.
“Ryan has worked for nearly 12 years to become an Eagle Scout, and nothing would make him more proud than earning that well-deserved distinction,” the petition stated. “I hope that if enough people come together, we can convince my son’s troop leaders to help him feel proud of who he is and all he’s accomplished.”
The petition site now includes a “victory” statement at the top, pointing to the votes and thanking the 479,000 Americans who signed the petition.
Following the vote that grabbed headlines throughout the nation, the Boy Scouts of America issued a statement, justifying their decision as one that would allow the organization to deliver the program to all youth.
“Based on growing input from within the Scouting family, the BSA leadership chose to conduct an additional review of the organization’s long-standing membership policy and its impact on Scouting’s mission,” the statement said. “This review created an outpouring of feedback from the Scouting family and the American public, from both those who agree with the current policy and those who support a change.”
At the time, the organization attempted to distance itself from the controversy, claiming the policy would not radically change the organization from its existing structure.
“The resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting,” the statement read.
The change has yet to take effect, as the policy will formally change Jan. 1, yet that didn’t stop the 40 percent opposed to the decision to look for ways out. While the policy change does not transfer to troop leaders, those within the Scouts, particularly Christians opposed to same-sex marriage, claimed the organization wasn’t one that he stand by any longer.
Religion, politics and Scouting
Rob Green, executive director of Trail Life USA, knew the minute he learned of the Scouting decision that he was out.
“Earlier this year I caught wind of the fact the the Boy Scouts were considering changing their value system, and I knew at that point that it was going to be a tough fight,” Green said. “I decided in early February to go ahead and resign, but I would wait until we had a chance to address this issue and go all the way through with the vote and make sure that I did what I could to stop it or at least slow down this erosion of values from the Boy Scouts.”
After working with the organization for 20 years, he threw in the towel. Now, he stands with Trail Life USA as the answer to the rift in social policy within the more than 100-year-old organization. He now refers to Trail Life USA as a Scout-like organization with a “much firmer value system.”
He’s joined by many families who have turned away from the progressive notion of LGBTQ acceptance among troop members. Mark Hancock, now board vice chairman for Trail Life USA was among those parents who knew their children would not be allowed to be a part of an organization that allowed openly gay members.
“Our initial response was disbelief,” Hancock said. “We were … like so many other families, we were just taken by surprise that the Boy Scouts that had been so much a part of our lives would break with this tradition and in such a radical way. We almost dealt like as if we were grieving the loss of something. Initially we were just in denial. Certainly, we’ll be fine, our troop will be fine, our little group will be fine. But when the resolution finally came out, we just saw that there was no way we could resist this change and there’s no way that we could stay true to the organization.”
Once formed, the organization now known as Trail Life USA found partnerships with the American Heritage Girls, a Girl Scouts-like organization focussed on what they say are more Christian principles than those of the Scouts, which is also faith-based.
Stemberger claims the organization is open to all male youth of faith, but says the messages spread by leaders will be one that’s biblically based, and will not condone or support homosexuality.
It’s not clear how many Scouts will ultimately leave the program, as the policy has yet to take effect. However, estimates put the numbers of potential loss at 200,000 to 400,000 youth members, according to Stemberg. At this point, nearly 30,000 have contacted the organization.
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