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A heroic vision no more

The America in which traditional scouting thrived no longer exists

A pin on a Boy Scout's uniform in Irving, Texas, on Feb. 4, 2013. Associated Press/Photo by Tony Gutierrez

A heroic vision no more
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In the fellowship hall at Granbery Memorial UMC, I had on an orange Tiger Scout t-shirt (or was about to) and was hearing a speech from Mrs. Augusta Dulaney. She exhorted us to “be good and work hard” and to earn the rank of Eagle Scout. “I want that. I am going to become an Eagle Scout,” I told myself. And I did.

I was proud to be in the ranks of the Boy Scouts of America. Yes, I loved the pinewood derbies in Cub Scouts and the monthly camping trips in Boy Scouts, but there was something more—a lot more. I remember when Boys’ Life magazine ran a “Scouts in Action” story after 9/11 where an assistant Scoutmaster died while rescuing casualties in the World Trade Center. I wept at the beauty of his courage. On that day, I realized I might die while helping my fellow man, and that such a sacrifice was the right and honorable thing to do. Men—uniquely—are called to lay down their lives for others. It’s a mindset, an ethos. Even mocking someone as “a boy scout” recognized an ideal of moral purity, sense of duty, and manly capability. And that masculine “heroic vision” has formed American presidents, astronauts, soldiers, and, yes, ministers for over a century.

That vision is pretty much dead and gone, at least as far as the Boy Scouts of America is concerned. For one thing, the institution just announced that it is changing its name to “Scouting America.” For another, this rebrand is an honest admission that the venerable organization has surrendered the founding principles that made it so great and inspiring, even if leadership in that organization has failed to live up to those very principles over the decades, as revealed in the thousands of men filing claims against the Boy Scouts for sexual abuse.

The financial bankruptcy pales in comparison to the moral and philosophical collapse. The BSA snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by admitting gay Scouts in 2013 and gay Scoutmasters in 2015. In 2019, the organization opened its doors to girls, likely in a bid to attract those turned off by the Girl Scouts of America. In short, it’s been an all-out race to open up the organization to as many people as possible. One wonders when “Duty to God” requirements will be dropped by the program. The desperation is palpable. Membership is in free-fall. In 2018, there were 2 million Scouts. Today, there are 1 million, and the number is falling.

The Boy Scouts was already dead to many of us who had good experiences with the program. We focus on the institution’s own problems. A lack of moral and spiritual vision as well as a change in cultural ethos instigated by its own leaders encouraged them to accept these fatal compromises.

If you’re the kind of guy who says, “Scouting made me the man I am today,” you also probably have a big problem with the radical sea-change in morals and society today.

But we can neglect the larger picture, which is this: America has changed in such a way as to make the traditional culture, practices, and values of Scouting undesirable. The contemporary world (particularly in the West) has turned its back on the civilization that founded the BSA and made it possible. It was a world that praised honor and chivalry—a religiously intoned might-for-right mentality summarized in the Birkenhead drill: “Women and children first.”

That’s not egalitarian. It’s not inclusive. It makes distinctions, lays down obligations, affirms hierarchies, and submits to a Reality. It is dangerous, and the military-adjacent nature of traditional Scouting affirmed this—it’s a fallen world, and God wants good, brave men to play their part in it. Of course, following the world wars, these sorts of things were increasingly frowned upon. At the same time, we’ve become profoundly confused about sex itself, where traditional expectations and morality inherited from centuries of human experience and preached in God’s Word were tossed out in favor of the Sexual Revolution, its radical forms of feminism and gender confusion, and a rejection of meaning. Do we see boyhood and manhood as unique, noble, and good? Do we find value in male-only and male-dominated spaces? Are you kidding?

I have a hunch: if you’re the kind of guy who says, “Scouting made me the man I am today,” you also probably have a big problem with the radical sea-change in morals and society today. In fact, you might be one of the reasons that people think the Boy Scouts needed to be neutralized. What do you do now? Lament. Cry out for repentance.

And build.

We have sons that must be built up into men. What practical steps can we take to foster trustworthiness, loyalty, helpfulness, friendship, courtesy, kindness, obedience, cheerfulness, thriftiness, bravery, cleanliness, and reverence amongst our sons? Perhaps we should help establish a Trail Life troop in our church or get involved in one nearby.

But one thing’s for certain and we all need to be clear about it—Scouting America just isn’t going to cut it.

Barton J. Gingerich

The Rev. Barton J. Gingerich is the rector of St. Jude’s Anglican Church (REC) in Richmond, Va. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from Patrick Henry College and a Master of Divinity with a concentration in historical theology from Reformed Episcopal Seminary.

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