Scouting’s Self-Inflicted Death

By Rob Schwarzwalder Published on December 16, 2018

Oh, how I wish this story was different. For more than a decade, my sons were in Cub and then Boy Scouts of America (BSA). They held leadership positions and were close to their Eagle Scout awards. One was elected to BSA’s national honor society, the Order of the Arrow. Only one in seven Scouts attains this rank.

We spent countless hours with a group of boys and their dads. We became like a family. More activities and adventures than we could count bound us together in affection, commitment, and service.

Then in 2013, BSA decided to allow openly homosexual Scouts into the organization. This week the Wall Street Journal reported that the BSA might declare bankruptcy because membership is cascading downward and it has to pay overwhelming legal costs to settle sexual abuse cases, some dating to the sixties.

At the Convention

I was there at the annual convention when the vote was taken. I’d gone to Dallas on behalf of the Family Research Council, where I served as senior vice-president. At the meeting, I was forbidden from distributing FRC’s tasteful, beautifully presented material calling for retention of the historic policy about homosexuality.

I had the Dallas Gaylord Conference Center’s print shop run copies of the ad FRC had taken out in the Dallas Morning News to distribute to convention delegates. The shop’s manager called hotel security and I was escorted out of the building.

Bear in mind that I was a paying guest of the hotel, father of two Scouts, a member of one of the largest Scout troops on the Eastern seaboard, a patron of a print shop paying for a legal service — and, I guess, a threat to Scouting’s brave new world.

Internal Scout polling showed that hundreds of thousands of boys would leave if the policy changed. The vote was lopsidedly in favor of changing the policy anyway.

The then-president of Scouting was asked why the cut-off for openly gay Scouts was 18 years of age. He responded, “We had to cut it off somewhere.” I thought, how absurd. Gay activists would never accept this arbitrary rule. And with good reason. If one allows homosexual youth to openly take part in Scouting, why not openly gay young men? And openly gay adults, for that matter?

Only the First Step

As I predicted at the time, this was only the first step toward the demise of Scouting. What was once the nation’s premier organization for teaching boys how to become resourceful, honorable, and morally brave men has become an arena of political correctness. In the BSA’s effort to become acceptable to liberal elites, it has become irrelevant to America’s boys and their families.

Some of America’s largest corporations had stopped supporting Scouting due to the organization’s ban on homosexuality. From Chipotle to Disney to AT&T, they withdrew their financial support because BSA “discriminates.”

Of course, the mainstream media piled-on with endless stories about openly gay teens upset that Scouting excluded them. With little or no reporting about how Scouting families felt about “mainstreaming” homosexuality among their boys.

So, an organization that for a century had stood for trustworthiness, bravery, and honor caved-in. And in the intervening years, Scouting has been devastated.

Voting With Their Feet

And now Scouting faces bankruptcy. Families have voted with their feet. Scouting’s membership is down from 2.6 million in 2014 to 1.8 million today. That’s a loss of almost a third in just four years. With the Mormons planning to leave Scouting in 2020 due to all the changes, another 280,000 Scouts will be gone. About 140,000 Mormon Scouts have left already.

Those Scouts involved in the getting their Eagle rank also put in about 900,000 fewer service hours in 2017 as compared to 2013. That means many community projects went without volunteer assistance.

A few days ago, the Washington Post reported that Scouts’ current recruitment effort “raises questions about what it means to be a girl or a boy.” If the once-leading manhood training organization in America can’t tell the difference between a boy and a girl, it deserves its whimpering fate.

The good news is that there is a great alternative, one I am grateful to have played a role in founding. Trail Life USA has provided a truly Christian and masculine-focused alternative.

Trail Life’s vision is “to be the premier national character development organization for young men which produces godly and responsible husbands, fathers, and citizens” and “guide generations of courageous young men to honor God, lead with integrity, serve others, and experience outdoor adventure.” 

Like A Death

My sons became the ninth and tenth boys in Virginia to achieve the Freedom Rangeman award, Trail Life’s highest honor, one harder to get than Eagle Scout. They gave up years of hard work and great joy in Scouting to help create a new organization. I am proud of them.

When our troop left Scouts for Trail Life, it felt like a death. Friendships were strained. A community of boys and men, one created over years of camping and hiking, skits and laughter, prayer and sacrifice, was sundered.

But now the death is much bigger. It is the demise of a once-great institution by its own hand. I so wish it were different. Yet God is doing a new and wonderful work through Trail Life. For that, we can rejoice.

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