An Obituary for the Boy Scouts of America
"A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent" ... and a relic of history.
This weekend, my wife and I purchased Boy Scout popcorn outside a local Safeway. We were glad to contribute to a tradition in both our families: I had sold the popcorn, and so had her older brother. The money helps finance camping trips and other outdoor activities meant to build boys into men. The Boy Scouts of America has a very noble goal and I am proud to count myself an Eagle Scout, but in some ways the organization is already dead. The death of the name is already official.
Last year, the Boy Scouts of America opened its doors to girls and rebranded as Scouts BSA. This change was overdue, as the organization had already accepted girls — who identify as transgender boys — into the program. In an astounding move, the Boy Scouts of America surrendered its victory in a Supreme Court case. The Scouts had long fought against LGBT activists who demanded it open its ranks to openly homosexual boys and leaders. Despite winning the right to restrict its membership, the organization voluntarily surrendered to the LGBT movement.
It seems Scouts BSA may go bankrupt under the weight of more than 250 former members suing the Scouts, alleging inappropriate conduct by leaders and volunteers going back to the 1960s. The horrific crime of sexual abuse undercut the very purpose of the Boy Scouts of America — to train boys into men, strong to live in the outdoors and prepared for the world ahead of them. Boys abused in scouting received psychological damage rather than character building.
Finally, American culture has grown increasingly hostile to the mission of raising boys into men. Concerns about "toxic masculinity" have grown into an assault on masculinity itself, with the American Psychological Association demonizing traditional masculinity. Parents and teachers are scared to suggest boys and men might be different from girls and women, even though the differences are undeniable. Men and women are equal in worth and dignity, but males and females develop differently, and raising boys into men is a unique challenge.
As an Eagle Scout, it pains me to see an organization I truly believed in laid low in these ways. I firmly believe that the Boy Scouts of America was founded for a noble purpose, and that purpose remains extremely relevant today. In fact, the scandals that may have condemned the Boy Scouts only illustrate the deep need for a similar organization.
As Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), explained on his podcast "The Briefing," the scouting movement emerged in Great Britain and in the United States at the end of the 19th century in response to cultural shifts, like men and boys living in cities and working in factories and offices rather than in fields. "There were grave concerns by the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries that boys and men in the United States were less masculine, that there was a boy crisis in particular."
As more people began living in cities, the United States and Britain faced a perennial problem: "what to do sociologically, morally, and otherwise with adolescent males." Even then, parents, teachers, and others were concerned that boys were not growing into mature manhood. The lack of physical labor, the delay of marriage, and the rapid spread of disease in cities raised the concern that "weak boys would grow into weak men, who would produce a weak nation at the very time that, as we can now see, you had cataclysms like two world wars looming before the American consciousness."
So Lord Robert Baden-Powell founded the scouting movement in Great Britain in 1907, and brought it to the U.S. in 1910. Scouting was intended to take boys outside, toughen them up, give them strenuous activities, and unleash their competitive nature to build character. They would strive for personal achievements in the forms of ranks and merit badges. To some degree, scouting aimed to create a pseudo-military experience, to foster boys' physical, emotional, educational, and moral growth.
"On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, and to uphold the Scout Law [the words that opened this article]; to help other people at all times; and keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight."
The Scout Oath and Scout Law formed the moral center of the Boy Scouts of America. This moral core is essential for male maturity. Every recorded human society has attempted to channel young male aggressiveness toward productive, rather than destructive, ends. Testosterone drives men to compete for women, power, and status. Each man must learn to channel his desires to productive ends, and this is one of the great projects of morality and religion.
Today, Americans are rightly concerned about the young men who turn themselves over to evil and perpetrate mass shootings. Many of these men tend to be social outsiders, lashing out in order to gain power and infamy, if only for a moment. Gangs also remain endemic to major American cities, so much so that in one summer weekend, 11 people were killed in Chicago and 63 wounded.
Masculinity is not the problem, an immoral immaturity is. Masculinity, rightly understood, is a central part of the answer to such social ills. Young men have perpetrated mass shootings and run gangs, but they have also performed great deeds of heroism, like storming the beaches at Normandy.
The Boy Scouts of America was founded to foster this higher form of masculinity. It aimed to form modern knights: young men who were physically strong but also mentally awake and morally straight, dedicated to loving and serving their fellows, not lording it over them. Traditional virtues such as prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance define this kind of masculinity — not outward traits like drinking beer and cheering at football games.
The Boy Scouts of America also represented a great victory for voluntary associations, which Alexis de Tocqueville said set America apart.
Sadly, American society seems to have lost the strong moral compass that gave the Boy Scouts of America its effectiveness. Leaders no longer believe in the moral mission. Masculinity itself is under attack. Volunteers took advantage of their position to unspeakably abuse the boys and young men under their charge. The organization caved to cultural pressure on sexual issues.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which made up 19 percent of the boys in the Boy Scouts, will officially split from Scouts BSA on the last day of this year. Some schools in Pennsylvania are not even allowing local troops to recruit.
"I've heard phrases like, 'If we keep going the way we're going, we'll be gone by 2025,'" one person told The Washington Post.
I sincerely hope the Boy Scouts of America can turn this around. I owe this historic institution a debt of gratitude and I firmly believe in its mission, though I fear it may be sacrificing that mission for cultural relevance. But if Scouts BSA goes the way of the dodo, other programs will have to take its place. Many alternatives exist, both faith-based and secular, but none have the cultural strength of this historic organization — not yet.
If the Boy Scouts of America folds, it will also be a shame. This organization has been a contributor to American greatness and a sign of what makes America truly great. Americans bind together in voluntary associations to solve monumental problems. The Boy Scouts of America, not the government, tackled the masculinity crisis in America, and taught millions of boys both virtue and skills to succeed.
Whatever happens with the Boy Scouts, Americans need to understand the challenges of raising boys to become men and reject the APA's assault on traditional masculinity. The next generation depends on it.
Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.