Boys Scouts of America (BSA) will open Cub Scouting to girls in 2018, the latest move in the BSA’s evolution from a gender-specific character development organization limited to biological boys.
BSA’s board of directors unanimously approved the change Oct. 11 at its Texas headquarters and announced plans to roll out a similar program for older girls in 2019 to allow girls to obtain the coveted rank of Eagle Scout. The changes cater to requests from families too busy to enroll sons and daughters in separate programs, BSA leaders said, and is not a tactic to increase membership numbers that have declined.
Many Southern Baptists have long resisted the BSA’s transition, opposing the 2013 change to accept open homosexuals as Scouts, the 2015 rule opening unit leadership and employment to gays and bisexuals, and the January decision to accept transgender youth as Scouts. The changes mark a sharp reversal from the BSA’s hard-fought 2000 U.S. Supreme Court victory to exclude homosexuals from Scouting.
“Boy Scouts of America has continued to change the original purpose of its organization,” Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, told Baptist Press (BP) Oct. 12. “It is with sadness that I hear about this latest strategy. I warned the top executives several years ago that their changes would lead to them ministering to fewer boys, not more. Unfortunately, that prophecy has proven to be true.”
Organizations that charter Cub Scout packs and dens, designed for ages 6-10, will retain the right to restrict individual membership to boys, BSA said in rolling out the new plan.
“In 2018, an existing pack may choose to establish a new girl pack, establish a pack that consists of girl dens and boy dens, or remain an all-boy pack,” the BSA explains at scoutingnewsroom.org. “Cub Scout dens will be single-gender – all boys or all girls. Cub Scout packs, meanwhile, can include any combination of all-boy or all-girl dens. The choice is left to individual pack leaders in consultation with their chartered organization.”
BSA will announce in 2018 a new opportunity for older girls, BSA said, making the Boy Scout curriculum available to girls ages 11-17 and enabling girls to become Eagle Scouts.
“This unique approach allows the organization to maintain the integrity of the single gender model while also meeting the needs of today’s families,” BSA said. BSA’s Venturing program has been co-ed since 1971; its Exploring program, since 1998.
R. Chip Turner, a Southern Baptist who is a member and immediate past chairman of the BSA National Religious Relationships Task Force, said the changes address the concerns of girls while retaining flexibility for religious organizations who participate in Scouting.
“I would prefer to broaden the opportunity to reach children, youth and families, using Scouting as a ministry,” Turner told BP today. “It’s simply another opportunity to reach people. Churches have the option to not go that way, stay with what they’re doing or to include the girls.”
The program being designed for older girls and anticipated for 2019, he said, is currently not intended to integrate girls into Boy Scout troops but to expand Boy Scout programming to girls.
“[The older girls will] have their own organization, so they will not be co-ed from that standpoint,” Turner told BP. “You always have to maintain vigilance anytime you have boys and girls together of course. That’s one of the reasons, among many, that there will be a separate program for [older] girls.”
Two-thirds of Boy Scout programs are currently chartered by churches, Turner told BP. Southern Baptists, meanwhile, also have long participated in Royal Ambassadors, a Christian character development program for boys offered by the Woman’s Missionary Union.
Trail Life USA (TLUSA), a Christian alternative to Scouting birthed after the BSA opened its membership to gays, pledged yesterday to remain all-male.
“As gender blurring only increases, it is more important than ever that someone provides a safe environment where boys can be boys, and where their natural talents and tendencies can be affirmed, encouraged and developed by men who can offer a positive role model,” TLUSA CEO Mark Hancock said in a press release. “I can assure that we have no intention of following the lead of the Boys Scouts of America. We will continue to offer a place where the wildness and the natural tendencies of boys can be encouraged and shaped, for their good and for the good of society.”
TLUSA has 30,000 members in 750 troops spread across 48 states.
Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA), which allows individual troops flexibility in accepting transgender girls, rebuked BSA for the latest change.
“The Boy Scouts house is on fire,” GSUSA told ABC News. “Instead of addressing systemic issues of continuing sexual assault, financial mismanagement and deficient programming, BSA’s senior management wants to add an accelerant to the house fire by recruiting girls.”
BSA membership totaled 2,341,000 in 2016, according to its 2016 annual report, in contrast to the 2,739,692 indicated in its 2011 annual report.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)