After 100 years of teaching future presidents, explorers, and civil rights leaders to follow their moral compass, it’s been sobering to watch the Boy Scouts lose their own bearings. And yet, the unhappy ending for one of America’s proudest traditions was easy to predict once the organization started chasing the approval of critics it could never win. Now, eight years into this experiment in moral compromise, the country is watching one of the saddest “I-told-you-so” moments of a generation. Disgraced, bankrupt, unpopular, and on the edge of extinction, the Scouts’ leadership is showing the world where cowardly conformity leads — and it isn’t where the culture promised.
For those who knew the Scouts in their heyday, the demise has been quick and painful. Since 2013, when the organization waved its first white flag on sexual orientation, the group that counted Martin Luther King, Jr., Buzz Aldrin, and George W. Bush as members has become barely recognizable. Ravaged by sexual abuse lawsuits and bleeding members, the road of moral surrender has not been kind to the 1910 institution. After years of successfully fighting to live by its moral code, BSA leaders gave into the lie that compromise would be their salvation. Nearly a decade later, the sad truth is: there’s almost nothing left to save.
“It’s a shell of what it once was,” Regent University professor Rob Schwarzwalder said mournfully. “At its peak, scouting in the United States had more than seven million members. Today, it’s about a tenth of that.” It’s a dramatic decline, the former FRC senior vice president admitted on “Washington Watch,” but a predictable one. Once the scouts walked away from 100 years of values, it was only a matter of time until the capitulation caught up with them. “They no longer are even able to define what they mean by things like honor and morality,” Rob pointed out. Once headquarters opened the tent flap to LGBT members and scout leaders, their fate was sealed. Now, after affirming everything from transgenderism to girl members, they’re having trouble even defining what a man is — let alone what character and honor are. “Scouting has pretty much been reduced to, ‘Let’s have fun outdoors, and let’s all embrace everybody’s philosophies,'” Rob lamented. “It’s moral incoherence.”
Gone is the Judeo-Christian ethic that guided scouts back in Teddy Roosevelt’s day. Now, it’s moral free-for-all that’s been reduced to: believe whatever you want — just be nice to people. Back when the BSA made their first concessions, the organization’s leaders promised to stay true to their mission. But, as Rob pointed out, every scout pledges, “‘On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and to my country.’ What kind of honor is there in an organization that for decades has refused to address pedophilia and sexual abuse in its ranks? And what kind of honor is left when you have compromised your basic mission of defining what good manhood is, what leadership is, does character matter? These are things that have been abandoned.”
When the pressure started coming for the scouts to walk away from their biblical roots, the organization lost the courage it spent a century teaching. If they’d have abided by their own oath, they would have told the bullies in corporations and on the Left, “We’re going to stand for what’s right. And if we lose, we’ll go down fighting because we’re men of principle. And principles don’t change.” Instead, Rob shook his head, the very thing that made scouting unique — its sense of conviction and principle — was tossed aside for the sake of appeasing a crowd who, ironically, cannot be appeased.
Now, having alienated everyone, the Boy Scouts are financially ruined and publicly scorned. And for what? An increasingly irrelevant organization that can’t even define its own terms. Just this month, the scouts’ nosedive continued when it agreed to one of the largest sex abuse settlements in American history — another humiliating chapter in a decade of disasters. When all is said and done, even the Boy Scouts won’t have the survival skills to weather this kind of storm.
And unfortunately, that’s the destiny of any Christian who takes the naïve view that the world can be placated. It can’t. True love, I Corinthians 13:6 tells us, is truth. It’s being salt and light in a draining, unforgiving culture. “Come out from them and be separate,” Paul said, because he understands that in the end, it’s not our sameness with the world that transforms people. It’s our distinction.
Right now, too many churches, Christian colleges, and leaders are dangerously close to making the same mistake. And those of us who’ve been in the battle understand why. Standing for principle in these days can be exhausting. And every one of us is under tremendous pressure to compromise the gospel. Look at Bethany Christian Services, which was historically a great organization that’s now making children available to same-sex couples in violation of the very Christian faith it espoused. “The slope becomes fast and slippery, and it has to be stood against,” Rob urged. “We don’t need to walk up to the slope. We need to walk away from it. Stand where God’s word always stands — lovingly and graciously — because His way is best. God is not unkind. His standards are not cruel. They’re for our good and the good of our children.”
Fortunately for heartbroken parents in this country, who grew up in the era when being a Boy Scout meant something, there are people who saw the demise coming and had a vision for keeping the God-centered tradition alive. “Things are changing in our culture really quickly,” Trail Life USA CEO Mark Hancock agreed. “We’ve lost touch with some of those moorings that held us to who we are as Americans and also who we are as believers.” His organization sees a hunger from moms and dads to fill that big hole the scouts left. “We’re only eight years old, but we’re just exploding as people [discover]… what we’re offering: the unapologetically Christian, boy-focused emphasis.”
While the scouts crumble, Trail Life USA is catching on like wildfire. They’re in all 50 states, over 950 churches, and count more than 33,000 boys as members. Look, Mark says, there are plenty of other organizations taking boys camping. “But we’re not some outdoor organization having a Christian experience. We are, at our core, a Christian ministry that uses the outdoors to develop boys into good and godly men.” Maybe they won’t be in the majority, he says. “But [we] are raising a remnant, if you will, a generation of boys [who] aren’t only going to be developed so that they can stand against this uncertain current that they’re facing — but to turn the tide itself…” Who knows, Mark said? “It could be this next generation that saves us.”