Plenty of Boy Scout Alternatives; But Few for LGBTs
With the Boy Scouts of America entangled in a furor over its ban on gays, lesser-known youth organizations across the ideological spectrum see an opportunity. They wonder if the turmoil might prompt some families to give them a closer look as options for their boys.
They range from Bible-based programs run by conservative religious organizations to coed, inclusive groups, including one founded on the basis of pagan beliefs. None of the groups has the size or iconic status of the BSA, though some have been around for many decades.
Leaders of several of the groups, in public statements and interviews with The Associated Press, made clear they are following the Boy Scouts’ predicament with interest and pondering possible ramifications for their own prospects - though not seeking to profit from "someone else’s misfortune," as one leader said.
The BSA, founded in 1910 and now serving about 2.66 million boys, is deliberating a possible shift in its long-standing policy of excluding gays as youth members or adult leaders.
In May, the BSA’s 1,400-member National Council is expected to consider a proposal to ease the ban by allowing sponsors of local Scout units to decide for themselves whether to admit gays. Gay-rights groups say the plan is inadequate, and that no units should be allowed to discriminate, while some conservative religious leaders and advocacy groups want the ban to stay in place nationwide.
As a result, there has been consternation on both the left and right of the scouting community, and warnings of possible defections depending on what decision is made in May.
For families that do seek an alternative to the Boy Scouts, here are some of the options:
The Southern Baptist Convention’s Royal Ambassadors
Founded in 1908, this is a program run by Southern Baptist churches for boys in first through sixth grade.
The SBC’s Women’s Missionary Union, which oversees the program, estimates that it has about 6,300 adult leaders and 31,000 youth members. Its curriculum shares many features with the Boy Scouts, including camping trips and model race-car competitions, but it also stresses a goal of providing boys with "godly characteristics" and a "biblical worldview."
Of the major religious denominations which sponsor large numbers of Boy Scout units, the Southern Baptists have been among the most outspoken in urging the BSA to keep the ban on gays. The SBC’s official news agency, Baptist Press, recently reported that the Royal Ambassador program might spread to more Southern Baptist churches if the BSA’s ban is lifted.
The article quoted Don Hinkle, editor of the Missouri Baptist Convention’s newspaper, as reminiscing fondly about his boyhood experience with the Royal Ambassadors.
"Perhaps in these sad, self-destructing days for the Boy Scouts of America, God will use RAs in a new and powerful way to bring honor and glory to Him," Hinkle told Baptist Press.
In addition to the Royal Ambassadors, the SBC also oversees the Challengers, a program for boys aged 12-17.
The Assemblies of God’s Royal Rangers Royal Rangers
Founded in 1962 by one of the largest Pentecostal denominations, the Royal Rangers have about 81,000 youth members in about 4,000 units, according to church headquarters.
"We provide Christ-like character formation and servant leadership development for boys and young men in a highly relational and fun environment," says the Rangers’ mission statement.
Every four years, the organization brings together several thousand boys and adult leaders for a "Camporama" at the Rangers’ campground in Eagle Rock, Mo. Last summer’s event featured a high-ropes course, two zip lines, a water slide, and a lumberjack show.
Like the Southern Baptists, the Assemblies of God considers homosexuality immoral and has urged the Boy Scouts not to lift the ban on gays. A statement to that effect, from the denomination’s leader, has been posted on the Rangers’ website.
"We are saddened and disappointed to hear that Boy Scouts of America, an organization long devoted to biblical values, is now considering loosening the principles in which it was founded," says the Rev. George O. Wood. "We pray the BSA will give careful consideration to this matter and hold firm to the beliefs that have made it a strong and influential organization for more than 100 years."
The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Pathfinders
Dating back more than 60 years, the coed Pathfinders program serves about 35,000 boys and girls ages 10 to 15 in the U.S. and Canada, according to James Black, the church’s director of youth ministries for North America.
Black said the program resembles the Boy Scouts in many respects, with an emphasis on camping, plus an array of honors and patches that the youth members can work for.
Unlike the Scouts, however, the Pathfinders operate as a church-based ministry, with a priority placed on community service. However, Black said boys and girls are welcome to join even if not from Seventh-day Adventist families.
Amid the Boy Scouts’ turmoil, there’s been an upsurge of inquiries from parents about possible participation in the Pathfinders, Black said.
"We don’t want to gain off of someone else’s misfortune - but we want to be there as an available option for healthy, meaningful programs," he said. "We wish the best for the Boy Scouts. ...Our hearts and prayers go out to them."
The Calvinist Cadet Corps Cadet Corps
Founded in 1952, with a headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich., this is a non-denominational but staunchly religious scouting-style program.