Franke: The Sad End of the Boy Scouts
I recall, just barely, reading James Burnham’s “Suicide of the West” back in my undergraduate days. While not being able to recall most of his arguments, I believe his point was that we are doing this to ourselves. He blamed liberalism, in its modern and not classical definition, for an erosion of our moral and spiritual foundations.
Jonah Goldberg borrowed that apocalyptic title for a recent book in which he blamed the woke movement for attacking the fundamental values of our American polity. His is more of a classical liberal’s viewpoint but if you want to read 400+ pages of mostly depressing prose, be my guest. I haven’t made it through it yet but I will keep trying.
I find it at once incredible and incredulous how quickly our political, cultural and business elites rolled over in the face of this onslaught. Take the Boy Scouts as a microcosm of this self-induced death march.
Membership in the Scouts has declined by nearly two-thirds since 2019. This decline is in spite of the national organization’s well-publicized commitment to the current gods of diversity and inclusion — they now have a chief diversity officer — and they have opened membership to girls. Declined in spite of? Perhaps because of.
Sure, they can blame Covid for the decline. Every other negative trend is blamed on Covid these days, with some justification, but mostly Covid simply accelerated what was already headed downhill. There is also the embarrassing settlement of decades old sexual abuse claims to the tune of $850 million, better than $1,000 per current scout and being assessed in large part to local councils since the national organization is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Pressure from woke cultural warriors and the LGBT lobby surely had something to do with all this. Despite winning a First Amendment Supreme Court case in 2000 upholding its exclusionary membership policy, the Boy Scouts national leadership determined to get on-board the woke train before it left the station. It seems the pressure was not applied directly to the Boy Scouts; observers inside and outside the organization point to major corporate sponsors and national board members as the targets and the actual pressure points. Moral cowardice among this crowd shouldn’t surprise anyone anymore.
I saw this cultural battle firsthand. The Lutheran church I attend sponsored a Boy Scout troop for boys in our school as well as the general public. Elders of the church served as adult leaders and activities had a religious component. Parents knew that and voluntarily chose our troop for their sons.
Five or so years ago, our leaders were called to a meeting at which they were warned to expect a ruling from the national organization that we could not enforce traditional membership or leadership standards. New rules were in the offing and we would not receive a religious exemption from them.
Shortly thereafter I spoke with the national vice president of our church body, who was involved in discussions with the Boy Scouts to allow for religious liberty at the troop level. He was not confident of success. His premonition proved accurate.
We were ready when the dictate came down. Our troop leaders had been authorized by the congregation’s voters assembly to return the Boy Scout charter and recharter with Trail Life USA, a similar organization which respects religious liberty and actually encourages a faith component in the boys’ training. The transition was smooth and our troop now has a larger membership than before.
This has happened across the nation. The Mormons formed their own scouting organization and returned all their charters. Other church-based troops did the same. Trail Life, for example, is pushing toward a thousand chartered troops.
The Boy Scouts were already membership-challenged with changing social mores which deemphasized and even demonized such traditional values as faith, fatherhood, families, masculinity and patriotism. It could have served as a beacon for those who fervently want to perpetuate in their sons those same values which have served us so well. Alas, the national leadership chose to be swallowed up by the nihilistic flavor of the month. Their participation numbers demonstrate that many Americans voted their disapproval with their feet.
Regardless of the cultural wilderness enveloping us, there is still a remnant which holds to traditional Boy Scout values — duty to God and country, moral uprightness, loyalty, obedience to authority, dependability and helpfulness to those in need. They and their sons and grandsons can no longer find that in the Boy Scouts . . . assuming the Boy Scouts even can continue to function as an organization.
Rest in peace, or good riddance? Either way, it is a sad commentary on where America is headed.
Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.