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Scouting for Alternatives

Tony Myles —  September 12, 2013 — 17 Comments

Boy Scouts of AmericaYou probably have an opinion about this.

According to NBC News, a new Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts of America has started in response to BSA voting to drop its ban on gay youth earlier this year. The new organization – Trail Life USA – has the support of more than 1,200 former Scout officials, parents and youth from 44 states who attended a two-day national leadership convention for it.

The article quotes different fathers who are trying to voice their position on participating in the new group. One of them is John Stemberger, a former Eagle Scout, father of two scouts and Orlando Attorney:

“I want to have a prominent faith component that will be weaved in every fiber of the program… but at the same time, we are not going to become religious and churchy. This is not another church program. This is going to be a masculine outdoor program to raise young men… I want to be clear: We are not an anti-BSA organization. In fact, we are not an anti-anything or anyone organization.”

So… the story did make the news. Why is that?

I wonder if it’s possible for us to have a professional discussion here about this issue. Not a mean-spirited one where we jump into debate mode, but some observations and theorizing about how this might affect youth ministry.

For example:

  • Is a youth group allowed to create its own policies on expressions of sexuality? Can you ask a barely dressed teenager to not come into your setting or two heterosexual teens who are all over each other physically to leave anymore than you can discourage two gay students from holding hands?

    Keep in mind, I’m not asking if you should… I’m asking if you think you’re allowed to.

  • Has culture really turned the right for personal pleasure into a moral issue? If so, how in the world do you impart a higher value of listening to God on such matters?

Maybe you have some thoughts on that, or perhaps even some questions of your own.

Let’s see if we can keep this respectable and God-honoring. Remember, the eternities of students are on the line.

Tony Myles

Tony Myles

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Tony Myles is a youth ministry veteran, author, speaker, volunteer youth worker and lead pastor of Connection Church in Medina, Ohio... and he really likes smoothies.

17 responses to Scouting for Alternatives

  1. Christianprincess September 12, 2013 at 11:37 am

    I believe our culture has place personal pleasure as a moral standard. That is sad in many ways, but a reality. I believe when it comes to how to handle the setting of your youth group, you have to set the standard equally. One of the things brought up in the book “Ministering to Gay Teenagers” was the fact that many families have different rules for their straight teens than for their gay teens. I think this happens in youth groups as well. We at times set the standards for modesty and public displays of affection based on our comfort level instead of having a standard for all. I believe the idea of not having “respect of persons” applies here. As we minister to all people, we have to be just in our standards and allowances for all of the youth God places in our care.

    • Tony Myles

      That’s an incredible catch – it seems like even families feel like they have to be politically correct in their own household on certain topics versus others. I wonder if students will pick up on the inconsistencies and reverse it as parents or if they’ll just amplify it a step further as adults.

  2. “I want to be clear: We are not an anti-BSA organization. In fact, we are not an anti-anything or anyone organization.”

    It’s easy to read the words but not believe them. They’re, by their own admission, doing this in reaction to the BSA’s lifting of the ban on gay youth. So it’s kinda hard not to think they’re anti gay, right? At the very least they’re anti ‘hanging around gay people’.

    I feel that if we are truly trying to model ourselves after Christ and trying to teach our children the same then excluding anyone is wrong. Jesus hung out with the ‘bad’ people, the undesirables, prostitutes, adulterers, tax collectors and murderers. Were he here now he’d be hanging out with the gays.

    He didn’t judge from a distance, he changed people by loving them from up close.

    • Tony Myles

      You make what seems to be a fair claim, althouh I wonder if we need to dig deeper here. Imagine trying to be “for” a set of values in something you start up – say a travel destination via a bus. Over time, others join into what you’ve started and board the bus. You feel relieved at first, but over time noticing them messing with the GPS and even trying to put their hands on the wheel as you drive. Over time, you feel like it’s a losing battle. They keep changing the destination on you… and they even get the bus company you’re driving under to tell you to listen to them.

      So you hop off the bus.

      In doing so, you find others who also felt oppressed in their situations, like they lost their voices somehow. Together, you pitch in your resources, buy a new bus, then head out for the original destination. Things are back on track.

      Is there hate involved in that?

    • These are good points about how Jesus ministered no doubt and I preach this all the time to those I’ve ministered to as well as to other ministry leaders… But children seemed to have a special place in the heart of Jesus. And how they were influenced was spoken of with deep conviction. I think its there is a process of exposing children to these influenced and that process is fairly complex. I don’t think the average parent would be able to guide their kids effectively through it,with that being said until their is more training for parents and more participation by parents an organization that fairs children from poor influence is the right thing

  3. Amber Cassady

    Thank you for talking about this. Great questions to ask and important reminder that our focus needs to be on the eternal implications for teens that God calls us to love

  4. Great post, very thought provoking

  5. I am so saddened by this. In my (19+ years as a youth pastor) professional opinion, the Boy Scouts made the correct, albeit way late, decision. As a teenager, I was most influenced by my youth group and by my Boy Scout troop. The idea that my troop would have turned away a boy who wanted to learn the ideals of Scouting because of sexual orientation is as distasteful to me as the idea that my youth group would have turned away a teenager seeking the Kingdom for the same reason (I am not aware that either did).

    I think we (as the Church) need to wrestle with some larger questions. Clearly (and I say this as a United Methodist) homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture and most of Christian teaching, so the question is not, “is it wrong?” The question is, what if we (the Church) stop throwing punches at the LGBT community, and start acting as a shield? Would God hold us accountable for condoning sin? Or laud us for protecting a vulnerable people? Would we gain meaningful ministry access to a group of people that are fearful of and angry at the Church? Or would we lose our witness as our faithfulness to the teaching of the Bible is yet again eroded?

    The Trail Life USA movement is choosing to limit its influence. They are choosing to exclude people who might have their lives changed by caring adults and challenging adventures. I am disheartened by this blatant elitism that insinuates that the morals and values of Scouting and Scouting-like programs is only for those we deem worthy, and I say, “God bless the Boy Scouts of America!”

    • Tony Myles

      I appreciate you looking for the greater value here. It’s interesting how in the emerging culture it feels as hard to maintain holiness while not building walls, while at the same time building bridges without losing the foundation we’re building off of. My sense is every ministry or organization will err more one way versus the other.

      • Thankfully, in the end we will all be covered by grace! If I am to err, I hope I will always err to the side that loves people over doctrine. I know some would say that love that does not acknowledge sin is not true or Godly love, but I am willing to continue to try. Thanks for posting this, and placing an expectation of professional courtesy on this. We need more dialogue like this in the Church and in our nation.

  6. I’m a Scoutmaster AND a Christian. Trail Life has said that they will accept LGBT youth and adults into membership, as long as they don’t “flaunt” their orientation. How is that different from the current Boy Scout standard? First, the Boy Scouts don’t currently accept openly LGBT adults as members. Second, the Boy Scouts still don’t condone “flaunting” any form of sexuality. The Boy Scouts still believe that any discussion of sexuality is best left within the family and spiritual community. As far as I can tell, Trail Life is not really that different from Boy Scouting when it comes to the issue that they proclaim is the reason they have formed an alternative organization. You have pointed to the deeper issues and I would like those behind Trail Life to address them.

  7. I, too, agree with what has already been mentioned in the above comments that though one of the father’s would like to convince us that Trail Life isn’t against anything, it clearly is–you mentioned above the example of the bus, but the difference is that the newcomers aren’t changing the destination of the bus because, as far as I can tell, no one is changing the scouts goal or purpose. The question isn’t of direction but of inclusion; are we going to let “those people” on the bus because they don’t have the right qualifications? It’s up to the integrity of the leaders to maintain the direction of it, not the passengers. Whether the father wants to admit it or not, Trail Life is starting out with an exclusive view; they just don’t want to be known in that way.

    If the point of Trail Life is establishing a Christian alternative, and therefore changing the overall purpose of the program, than I can support it fully and the conversation completely changes. If, however, it seeks to maintain all of the same goals of the BSA with the added exclusive view, then I am more hesitant. For BSA, though often supportive of Christian values, is not a Christian organization per se.

    The greater value for us as youth pastors is expressing the love of Christ to our students. Whether they join Trail Life, BSA, or chess club, that is our priority as it was our model’s priority (JC). In many ways, comparing BSA to youth is an apples to oranges comparison, for ministry operates out of completely different principles with completely different intentions than that of a secular organization. We need not apologize what we believe theologically/doctrinally, but, ultimately, it all needs to be soaked in a full expression of God’s love (or as much as possible!).

    Tony, thank you for bringing this conversation again to our attention–good, respectful dialogue needs to be had concerning gay agenda. We can’t just keep pretending it doesn’t exist…I’m pretty sure Christ never intended the church to exist within a bubble!

  8. I know John Stemberger personally from working with him during the ’08 election cycle. He was and is a man of integrity and has always been at the forefront of cultural issues surrounding Christians.

    What’s interesting is that my church—Assemblies of God—has had their own alternative scouting program called Royal Rangers since the 1960′s. It’s incredibly effective as a boy’s ministry because it combined discipleship with scouting skills.

    Trail Life sounds interesting, but it all comes down to the purpose parents have for their kids. If I had to choose between Discipleship and Scouting (an unfair distillation of Boy Scouts, I know) I would choose the former. Thankfully, my twin boys don’t have to choose between the two. Parent’s need to prioritize, there’s only so many hours in the week.

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