When I was a child growing up in a traditional Jewish home in Jersey City, New Jersey, my parents enrolled me in the Cub Scouts, an organization whose goals included developing moral character, physical fitness, spiritual growth, and practical skills, along with providing opportunities for service to humanity. I quickly advanced through the various badges: Wolf, Bear, Lion, and Webelos. Thereafter I joined Troop 56 at the Jewish Community Center in Jersey City where I became an Eagle Scout, a Brotherhood member of the honorary Order of the Arrow, and served in several troop leadership positions.
As someone steeped in scouting as a youth, I am distressed over what I now perceive as the ongoing demise of the institution of scouting and the traditional moral values for which it stood, as articulated in the Scout Oath and the Scout Law.
Origins and Goals of Scouting
Begun in America in 1910 by W.D. Boyce, two years after Sir Robert Baden-Powell founded the movement in England, the Boy Scouts emphasized good citizenship and Judeo-Christian moral values. Girls had their own comparable organization when Baden-Powell helped his sister, Agnes Baden-Powell, create Girl Guides in 1910. Two years later, in the United States, Juliette Gordon Lowe organized the Girl Scouts of America. Scouting was intended to be a means of training children to live their lives with integrity and to incorporate within the fabric of their being ethical and moral choices that would last a lifetime, thereby enabling them to resist our ever-degrading culture.
Among the several and one of the important promises made upon joining scouting is to “do my duty to G-d” and to be “morally straight.” That, of course, means following the teachings of and living by the common religious values of the Abrahamic faiths as reflected in the religious teachings of one’s own particular faith. Given this critical connection to faith, many faith-based groups (such as churches and synagogues), civic community centers (including YMCAs, YWCAs, CYOs, and Jewish Community Centers), as well as educational institutions sponsored various cub packs and boy or girl scout troops.
For nearly a century, scouting was premised on this strong foundation of duty to G-d and country and the ability of a scout to incorporate universal moral ethics into his or her daily life. The scouting movement flourished. However, in the last few decades, left-wing activism has succeeded in chipping away at this foundation.
The Transformation of Scouting
Because traditional moral and religious values have slowly become irrelevant in scouting, those with strong Judeo-Christian moral values are exiting scouting at a rapid pace. In the 1970s, there were approximately 6.5 million registered boy scouts. Today the number is approximately 2.3 million. As to the girl scouts, their membership over the past three years has decreased 30 percent or more from its 2003 numbers of 3.8 million. Scouting organizations are self-destructing. Although there are many factors at play, it seems likely that scouting’s decline (both in membership and in revenue) is occurring, at least in significant part, because of its abandonment of the Judeo-Christian worldview—a worldview premised on the universal moral values of the Noahide Code.
The Girl Scouts, for example, alienated numerous Christian group sponsors by working for a “pro-choice” abortion policy and favoring sexual self-discovery over abstention. They also honored a number of pro-abortion activists such as Wendy Davis and Kathleen Sebelius.
The Boy Scouts, on the other hand, focused their destructive efforts against the traditional family. For example, even though the Boy Scouts won a Supreme Court ruling in 2000 protecting their right to be morally distinctive, they voluntarily lifted the ban on openly gay boys joining the organization, approved openly gay adult leaders, and encouraged transgender youth to join. They also approved membership for girls. Instead of focusing on their original purpose of enhancing and reinforcing the masculinity of younger boys and teenagers, the Boy Scouts decided to become a non-gendered organization. In the process, they marginalized the influence of women leaders on girls in the Girl Scouts and within their own organization denigrated the transition of boyhood to manhood.
Most recently, the Boy Scouts have been in the news thanks to a directive regarding the Worldwide Jamboree of Scouting, an event for eleven to eighteen-year-old children, which is scheduled to be held in West Virginia in 2019. The ironically named theme for the 2019 event is “Unlock a New World.” Section 7.3 of this event’s recently published guidelines mandates that the Jamboree’s hosts “must ensure that condoms are readily and easily available for all participants.” The guidelines also permit alcohol consummation within certain “confined areas” during the Jamboree. How do these policies help scouts (or their leaders) be morally straight or honor G-d?
I remember attending the Boy Scout Jamboree in 1953 in Santa Ana, California, when I was twelve years old. I met hundreds of boys and men from different cultures. It was one of the highlights of my youth. I remember how delighted I was to bring home to my parents the recipe for Mulligan Stew (a hearty stew composed of a colorful combination of vegetables and tender pieces of beef) which was a favorite dish cooked there. I cannot imagine the reaction if I attended the 2019 Jamboree as a twelve-year-old and, instead of bringing home a recipe for a new dish, I came home to inform my parents how I used condoms to engage either in heterosexual or homosexual sex at the Jamboree.
Organizational Alternatives to Scouting
To uphold the values on which the scouting organizations were founded, new organizations that resemble the pre-progressive scouting organizations are taking root. This movement has been led by committed Christians of varying faiths.
The two most significant alternative groups are Trail Life, which is led by John Stemberger (a former Eagle Scout who is affiliated with the Florida Family Policy Council), and the American Heritage Girls (AHG), which was founded by Patti Garibay and other parents from West Chester, Ohio. Both Trail Life and American Heritage Girls specifically embrace Christian values and family involvement. Trail Life was initially created as a reaction to the membership policy changes of the Boy Scouts to permit openly gay youth to join. They want to provide an environment for boys consistent with Biblical principles. The impetus behind AHG’s creation was the Girl Scouts’ decision (1) to permit individual girl scouts to substitute for the word “G-d” in their scout oath an alternative wording reflective of their personal beliefs, and (2) to ban prayer at meetings. They want to keep G-d in the picture.
Even before relativistic ideology began to adversely affect scouting programs, some religious denominations created their own youth programs. These include The Southern Baptists’ Royal Ambassadors program, the Assemblies of G-d’s Royal Rangers, the Seventh Day Adventists’ Church Pathfinders, the Calvinists’ Cadet Corps, and the Knights of Columbus’s Columbian Squires, as well as non-denominational groups such as Awana, Keepers of the Faith, and Frontier Girls.
The Church of Latter Day Saints announced in 2015 that it was “deeply troubled” by the Boy Scouts’ decision to allow gay men to lead Boy Scout troops. It concluded that “the century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined.” In 2017, the LDS Church indicated that, as a first step to dissociating itself from scouting, it would replace scouting for teens aged fourteen to eighteen with its own youth programs. This announcement significantly changes the relationship that had lasted for over a hundred years between the LDS Church and the boy scouts. The significance of this loss to the Boy Scouts (now renamed as “Scouts BSA” as a further concession to relativist ideology) is incalculable. The LDS Church was the country’s largest sponsor of Boy Scout troops and in fact was the first “partner” to sponsor Scouting within the USA.
The progressive left is working to overcome what it perceives as the out-of-date premises of the Judeo-Christian ethic previously reflected in traditional scouting. Its advocates seek to gradually constrict the freedoms of our culture into an increasingly narrow set of prescribed limits including rigorous policing of language. Too often, in spite of their rhetoric about the importance of diversity and tolerance, the progressive left is determined to limit speech only to those views with which progressives agree.
We must resist the intense pressure to conform to the left’s ideology.
Human beings cannot become the sole arbiters of right and wrong. Neither can morality be altered to suit either one’s personal whims or social convenience. If we do so, then “right” and “wrong” become relative. That is why the original commitments of scouting involved recognizing one’s “duty to G-d” and to live a “morally straight” life according to G-d’s rules, commandments that provide universal moral absolutes that have withstood the test of time over millennia.
America’s traditional scouting institutions are in continuing decline. As evidenced by the progressives’ ideological takeover of the scouting movement, today’s world is losing touch with these moral absolutes as reflected in the Seven Laws of Noah (and restated at Mt. Sinai in the Ten Commandments.)
We find ourselves living in a time of great moral and social drift, without an objective or a universal moral anchor. We need to restore the importance of these timeless laws and incorporate them into our daily lives—and within our character-forming social institutions such as scouting.
Arthur Goldberg is Co-Director of the American based Jewish Institute for Global Awareness (JIFGA) , former Co-Director of JONAH, Inc. JIFGA sponsors www.fundingmorality.com, a crowd-funding site for those committed to Biblical values. He has authored Light in the Closet: Torah, Homosexuality, and the Power to Change. Email: Arthur@jifga.org