Boy Scouts of America – A Love Letter to a Organization of the Past
I am an Eagle Scout and a former Scoutmaster. I loved Boy Scouts of America. As a young boy and then a teen, I went to Boy Scout summer camp almost every summer. I went to the National Scout Jamboree in 2005 at Fort A.P. Hill. I earned dozens of Merit Badges and had some amazing experiences that will last a lifetime. Not the least of the benefits, I learned what it means to be a man, to be a friend, to be a citizen, and to be a leader.
My best friends, both in college and afterward, also happen to be Eagle Scouts. Despite our varied locales, we all shared similar experiences and were formed in outdoorsmanship, citizenship, religious devotion, physicality, mental acuity, and moral fortitude. We were committed to being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. And we always strive to be prepared.
What then could possibly be the problem with Boy Scouts of America? To put it succinctly: the organization that I belonged to no longer exists. What has taken its place is a subversion of what Boy Scouts held firm to for years.
Rather than a rockslide, this change happened glacially. It would be another whole article to outline what has happened, but I will seek to summarize it as imperfectly as it will be.
Overturning Long-Standing Policies
First, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) lifted the long-standing ban on homosexual youth in 2013. The policy read thusly: “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.” In principle, there is no problem with this. The Boy Scouts of America exists to form young men to live in accord with the Scout Oath, Law, and Motto. Whether a boy or young man has inclinations for boys or girls is inconsequential in this organization. Though, it should be determined by the boy’s parents if camping with other boys would pose an unnecessary occasion of sin.
Second, BSA had a policy that read in this way in 2013:
“While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA. Scouting believes same-sex attraction should be introduced and discussed outside of its program with parents, caregivers, or spiritual advisers, at the appropriate time and in the right setting. The vast majority of parents we serve value this right and do not sign their children up for Scouting for it to introduce or discuss, in any way, these topics.”
This policy was then flipped in 2015 by former Secretary of Defense and then BSA President Robert Gates saying that the policy against openly gay adult leaders was “unsustainable.” For a man to be “openly” living a homosexual lifestyle and then have a part in forming young men is incompatible with the Catholic Church’s teachings. As the 2013 policy rightly stated, same-sex attraction should be introduced and discussed outside of the program of BSA
Third, in 2017, “transgender boys” were then allowed to enroll in boys-only programs. This is problematic for two reasons. On the one-hand, transgender ideology is harmful to the dignity of the human person and an assault against the sovereign goodness and design of the Creator. On the other-hand, these “boys” are simply girls with gender dysphoria. Those with gender confusion should be met with love and concern. There is nothing loving about allowing this ideology to further infiltrate anyone’s psyche, let alone an organization for youth.
At this juncture, I want to make it clear that I do know of the existence of the co-ed Venture Scouts for those 14-21 in age. Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts is for those in the most formative years of 5-17.
The Cub Scouts now have Packs with both girls and boys dens, only boys dens, or only girls dens. And Boy Scouts allows girls to be part of Troops, as of February 2019. This has been the policy for some time in other countries and does not seem to cause much consternation for many people.
On the other hand, there are Catholics like me who lament that I cannot in good conscience allow my son to be part of this organization that I once loved so dearly. I do not mind if my son has friends with same-sex attraction, nor do I mind if they are in scouting together. I do, however, take issue with “openly gay” scout leaders, not because they have same-sex attraction but because I do not want sexuality to be on display from any of the leaders.
I do not want girls in my son’s scout troop if it is a subset of a boys’ organization. Boy Scouts ought to be for boys to learn to be good, faithful men of God, family, and country. If only there was a scouting organization for girls… but that’s another article for another time with issues of its own. And I do not support the further uncharitable fostering of a confusion in gender that should be healed and treated rather than supported.
Catholic Scouting Alternatives
In recent years, as a response to the policy changes at BSA, Catholic men have been organizing their own scouting alternatives.
Certainly, there are more, but I would like to highlight three: Trail Life USA, Troops of St. George, and Fraternus.
Trail Life Usa
In their own words:
“Trail Life USA is a Church-Based, Christ-Centered, Boy-Focused mentoring and discipleship journey that speaks to the heart of a boy. Established on timeless values derived from the Bible and set in the context of outdoor adventure, boys from Kindergarten through 12th grade are engaged in a Troop setting by male mentors where they are challenged to grow in character, understand their purpose, serve their community, and develop practical leadership skills to carry out the mission for which they were created.”
Trail Life USA is Church owned and operated, meaning that an individual Parish owns and operates it as an extension of their ministry. Thus, the culture of that Parish can fully permeate the Trail Life troop! There is also an alternative for girls called American Heritage Girls.
Troops of Saint George
The mission of the Troops of St. George (TSG), in their own words, is:
“The Troops of Saint George apostolate aims to use the outdoors as our canvas and the sacraments as our path to light the way for the formation of Holy Catholic men and boys. Whether called to the vocation of the priesthood, the religious life, or that of Holy fatherhood, our fathers and sons will take a prayerful pilgrimage together to fulfill Christ’s desire for them to grow in virtue and in their Holy Catholic faith as they journey toward heaven.’”
The TSG has a well-developed handbook, has a uniform, a solid rank structure, and is geared to camping and skill work with fathers and sons. It is Catholic through and through and strongly encourages the participation of a priest to offer the Holy Mass on camping trips. TSG also strongly encourages devotion to the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite (the Traditional Latin Mass) but does not discriminate against the Ordinary Form. TSG is organized for 1st Grade through 12th Grade participation. The Board of Directors also has two bishops as sitting members.
Website – https://fraternus.net/
In their own words:
“Fraternus Chapters are born from and always pointed back to the parish, the local community of men, because it is the Eucharist that Christian fraternity is most manifest. Fraternus helps to unite the men of a parish into a brotherhood seeking virtue and holiness, and then provides a framework to make sure that passes on to the next generation through intentional mentoring. This makes a Fraternus Chapter truly a “brotherhood for all ages.” Although it goes into high school and beyond, Fraternus membership begins in 6th grade, because it is in those years that mentoring becomes necessary.”
Though Fraternus begins in 6th Grade, it has the interesting approach of engaging all the men of a parish. There is a large discussion of virtue and prayer, focused on engaging the Sunday Mass readings at weekly Frat Nights. There are Excursions in which particular skills are taught and learned in an outdoor setting, heading out into the wild. There are further groups for high school boys based on honesty, accountability, willingness, and chastity. Then, finally, there is Fraternus Knighthood which is a promise to live a “simple but serious rule of life rooted in the classical spiritual disciplines and practices of Catholicism.”
Image credit: en:User:Rlevse at en.wikipedia / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)