The Bygone Boy Scouts

Single-sex spaces aren’t outdated and may be needed more than ever.


John Stonestreet

Shane Morris

In the 1970s, membership in the Boy Scouts of America peaked at around five million. Since then, it has declined by around 85%. The exodus has coincided with a $2.5 billion settlement to address decades of sexual abuse allegations, the decision 10 years ago to admit openly gay scouts and scout leaders, and, in 2018, to welcome girls. 

A few weeks ago, the Boy Scouts of America announced the removal of the word “boy” from the name of its flagship program. Now to be known as “Scouts BSA,” girls aged 11 to 17 can enter the program and earn the organization’s highest rank of Eagle Scout.  

The shift was announced as an expansion of mission, to make scouting available to more people. It is, however, unlikely to save this century-old group that once mentored generations of boys into “morally straight” manhood and citizenship. More likely, this will be the final, sad chapter of a long decline caused, ultimately, by the organization’s forgetfulness of why it exists. 

Very few voluntary associations in American history have had as deep and wide an influence as the Boy Scouts. It’s long been a training ground for soldiers and senators, pastors and presidents, CEOs and, most importantly, fathers. Values such as trustworthiness, loyalty, courteousness, thrift, bravery, and reverence have been instilled in many of the over 100 million young men who joined the Scouts within the time-tested context of outdoorsmanship. There’s a reason that, for much of the twentieth century, “Scout’s honor” was among the highest assurances of integrity an American man could give.  

Now, one of the last spaces specifically dedicated to training up boys into men has all but vanished, leaving behind precious few places where they can find true guidance in growing up. In a tweet on X, theology professor and Eagle Scout Anthony Bradley called the Boy Scouts’ decision to become just “Scouts” an “absolute disaster”:  

We’re at the peak of the #BoyCrisis. Girls are allowed to have single-sex contexts for formation but boys are not (and we’re going to suffer the consequences [of] dismantling these third-spaces for guys).  

Other than the current influx of males into girls’ sports, Bradley is right. The original idea of single-sex spaces is rooted in a truth now widely denied, that men and women are different. Becoming a good man is a meaningfully different process from becoming a good woman, with different goals, challenges, milestones, and rites of passage. Space is required for these processes to happen, along with role models who can demonstrate the kind of lives worthy of emulation. 

Kids are drawn to this. As Anthony Esolen pointed out in his book No Apologies, from time immemorial boys have built tree houses and forts with “No Girls Allowed” signs, and girls naturally retreat into sanctums of single-sex company to talk freely.  

Organizations like the Boy Scouts were designed to mediate and direct this process on a grand scale. Of course, God designed the family to primarily accomplish the cultivation of character of His image bearers, male and female. He gave boys fathers to know who they are and who they’re becoming, and He gave girls mothers for the same reason. Many have also been gifted with spiritual and moral father and mother figures who have seized the opportunity to speak into young lives and point the way. This is especially crucial for children who lack a father or mother in their lives.  

The loss of the Boy Scouts has been especially felt, coinciding as it has with an epidemic of fatherlessness that has devastated communities (something Dr. Bradley has been consistently insightful about). Without mediating institutions like the Boy Scouts, we can expect even more lost boys unsure how to become men. 

And yet, there is hope. Institutions come and go, but God’s design for human beings does not.

Organizations like Trail Life USA are emerging as successful, spiritual successors of the bygone Boy Scouts, and they’re (unsurprisingly) exploding in membership. They deserve our support, even as we mourn the loss of something that has shaped countless lives. The hole left should spur us on to serve boys and girls, who still need dedicated spaces to grow up and who need the guides willing to show them the way.  

This Breakpoint was co-authored by Shane Morris. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to 


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