(Courtesy of Baptist Press/Thomas Graham)
A national coalition launched this weekend a new scouting organization, Trail Life USA, based on Christian values and principles as an alternative to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), which lifted its age-old ban on gay youth in May.
Over 1,200 former BSA officials, parents and youth representing 44 U.S. states launched the new Christian-based program at a national convention in Nashville, Tenn., on Friday night, NBC News reported.
"Most of us are coming from a highly-structured environment that has 103 years of culture and language and program and symbols … and we are starting from scratch," John Stemberger, a former Eagle Scout and one of the new program's founders, was quoted as saying.
Trail Life USA is "a program that we believe will be stronger, safer and more principled in every way," added Stemberger, who created OnMyHonor.Net, a coalition of former BSA members who left the organization after its national policy banning openly gay members was revoked by a vote in May.
The BSA's new policy will take effect on Jan. 1, 2014, and that's when Trail Life USA will also be fully launched.
"I want to have a prominent faith component that will be weaved in every fiber of the program," Stemberger said. "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."
Stemberger also clarified that the new program will be neither anti-BSA organization nor "anti-anything or any one organization."
"I'm very excited that we can be starting a new thing that's historical in nature that will be talked about years from now as being a cultural shift," Jeff Rayno, a 51-year-old field researcher from Pooler, Ga., was quoted as saying of the new organization. "People are drawing somewhat of a line in the sand, saying that we have something that we believe in, we have a right to associate with people that think the same way that we do."
"Our vision is to be the premier national character development organization for young men which produces godly and responsible husbands, fathers, and citizens," Rob Green, the organization's interim executive director, said in July.
Trail Life USA is modeled after the American Heritage Girls, an 18-year-old organization that is "Christ-centered" and is "seen as an alternative to Girl Scouts," according to the group's website.
The new organization will not refuse membership to boys based on race, religion, national origin or ethnicity, Green said. Adult leaders will be required to adhere to a statement of Christian faith and values, he added. "In addition, the organization's membership policy will focus on sexual purity rather than sexual orientation. The policy will read, in part: 'the proper context for sexual relations is only between a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage.'"
Young men having same-sex attractions will not be excluded from the organization, though they will not be permitted to push a gay agenda or flaunt their sexual orientation.
"I think that there's a real difference between someone who has a same-sex attraction and someone who identifies with the gay political movement," Stemberger said earlier. "That's a very different thing, and so we wouldn't tolerate any kind of open sex or politics in the program, or gay activism."
It's not a coincidence that the BSA decision to allow openly gay members and decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court on same sex marriage came around the same time, Stemberger said in an article he wrote for The Christian Post in May. "If you think it is just a coincidence that these two matters are being decided so closely to each other, one right after the other, on similar topics -- think again," he wrote. "It is strategic and calculated timing on the part of gay-rights operatives at the highest levels."
Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD and other gay-rights activist groups were steady and relentless in their systematic lobbying of BSA leaders, not to mention the mainstream media and Hollywood piling on right behind them, he added.