The Decline of the Boy Scouts Continues

BUT CHRISTIAN ALTERNATIVES ARE FILLING THE GAP

The Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) has accused the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) of poaching its members.

The Dallas Morning News reported this week that “a sharply worded letter from the Girl Scouts of the USA accuses the Irving-based Boy Scouts of America of conducting a ‘covert campaign’ to recruit girls into its programs to boost the Boy Scouts’ falling membership.”

The letter came from GSUSA president Kathy Hopinkah Hannan. She wrote that the Boy Scouts are “surreptitiously testing the appeal of a girls’ offering to millennial parents.” She also wrote that the Boy Scout leaders have made “disparaging and untrue remarks” about Girl Scout programs.

“Rather than seeking to fundamentally transform BSA into a co-ed program,” she wrote, “we believe strongly that Boy Scouts should instead take steps to ensure that they are expanding the scope of their programming to all boys, including those who BSA has historically underserved and underrepresented, such as African-American and Latino boys.”

A spokesperson for the Boy Scouts contended that the BSA and the GSUSA had been in conversations regarding joint programs. Effie Delimarkos said the BSA had hoped to identify “potential areas of opportunities for alignment in the future.” However, the GSUSA’s Hannan characterized the conversations and proposals as a “hostile takeover.”

The BSA has been an American institution for more than 100 years. During that time more than 105 million men and boys have participated in the program. However, recent years have seen a significant decline in Scouting membership and revenue. In 2014 the Boy Scouts began allowing openly gay boys into Scout troops. The next year, membership fell by about 6 percent, the largest single-year decline in membership in the organization’s history. Between 2013 and 2016 (the last year for which numbers are publicly available), membership has fallen by about 10 percent.

Scouts began accepting gay adult leaders in 2015. Earlier this year, the BSA began accepting transgender boys (girls who identify themselves as boys). The Mormon Church, Scouting’s largest faith-based partner, announced in May it would pull about 185,000 boys out of the program in response to these developments.

Evangelicals have also been exiting the BSA. In 2013, a group of evangelical leaders formed Trail Life USA to provide a safe haven for boys and men who value many aspects of the Boy Scout program, but believe the pro-gay drift has gone too far. At an organizational meeting in 2013 in Nashville, Bill Bunkley, one of the group’s leaders, said, “We’re here to honor the legacy of the Boy Scouts of America but now, quite frankly, we are called in a new direction.” Since that organizational meeting, Trail Life USA has grown to nearly 30,000 members, many of them former Boy Scouts.

John Stemberger, TLUSA’s first board chair, said that Trail Life would be open to all boys, but it would be an “explicitly Christian” organization. Its motto, “Walk Worthy,” is a reference to Colossians 1:10, which exhorts Christian to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

Image courtesy of gloch at iStock by Getty Images.

Warren Cole Smith is an investigative journalist and author as well as the Colson Center vice president for mission advancement.


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  • trmlogan

    Informative article. It would’ve been good to also mention the alternative faith-based Girl Scout programs, which might be one of the reasons they are so hostile toward losing more members: American Heritage Girls and Frontier Girls.