Archive Nota Bene Steven Wedgeworth

Christian Scouting

My friend Jon Barlow has just written a short essay calling on the formation of a Christian scouting alternative to the Boy Scouts of America. This is something that I’ve already seen done by many other men, and I’m sure we will see many more in the future. I fully expect at least one Christian scouting group to take formation within the year. But we really need to be wise about this. Mr. Barlow has some helpful points of explanation regarding the nature of the BSA:

The BSA promotes reverence, but it does not specify to whom this reverence is due. It  promotes duty to God, but it does not identify the God to whom this duty is owed. Boy Scouts pray to the “Great Scoutmaster” who watches over “all Scouts” but the BSA does not name this Scoutmaster. Boy Scouts thank the Lord for food, but the BSA does not specify which Lord. This is spiritually dangerous.

The BSA has not become compromised by the recent change in policy. It began its life, root and branch, as a compromised organization that was not founded in order to recognize and give due deference to the crown rights of King Jesus. It attempted to accommodate a wide variety of religious traditions at a time when most of the Western founders of the Boy Scouts partook of the late 19th and early 20th century optimism that believed all men of good will around the world held similar values and could work together on the basis of vague statements of belief. This modernism predates the devastations of a century of world war, the death of optimism in the basic goodness of human beings, the sexual revolution, and the re-emergence of radical Islam.

And also:

The BSA that is now allowing homosexual members is no more compromised than the BSA that previously disallowed them. It was, from the beginning, an organization without an explicitly Christian foundation, and thus it had no internal resources for arguing against the spirit of the age. What is new, however, is that Christians have finally been awakened to the fragility of any consensus that is founded on accidentally shared principles. Such consensus is always just a snapshot of a group of people, and it begins to dissolve immediately as society changes.

This is very reminiscent of the collapse of mainline Protestantism. Content to assume that “everyone agrees on that…” they never took the question of founding principles seriously (or seriously enough). But we no longer live in an era when that’s possible. As something of a side note, Mr. Barlow and I disagree (and have disagreed in public) over the doctrine of natural law. It might then seem a bit strange that I am agreeing with him here on the question of first things. But it isn’t strange at all. In the past, even when people were too cavalier about their spiritual first principles, they were still in confident agreement about the first principles of reason. Contemporary America has not only lost its faith, it’s also taken leave of its senses. And no reasonable person can send his son to be trained in honor within such a community.

But the loss of scouting is a real loss. Christians should not take it lightly. Mr. Barlow writes:

Until now, the meaning of the Eagle Scout award has been a commonly accepted societal indicator of achievement. Eagle Scouts became presidents and astronauts, and employers knew that the Eagle Scout was a boy with the character to finish a task to completion. Probably, for another half-century, this award will continue to hold great esteem, even more so now that the world can relax and accept scouts given that they are bowing to the spirit of the age and no longer excluding homosexual boys.

Moving forward, the achievements that our boys make in any other organization than Scouting will mark them as countercultural. Every college or scholarship board that sees some other organization on our boys’ resumes will know that our boys come from families that stand against the spirit of the age. They will be marked as boys from an antihomosexual point of view, and this may harm their careers and their futures.

The point here is not that compromise is the answer. The point is that breaking with the BSA is a big break. As the old saying goes, in for a penny, in for a pound. Why would we Christians waste this moment of inevitable countercultural confrontation to join yet another compromised organization? Why not go ahead, bite the bullet, and form a parallel, fully Christian institution? Our boys will already be marked as people “against” something.

This is important. Whatever alternative scouting is created, it will matter in a big way. And so Christians need to be especially careful. Having only been a Cub Scout, I am not in a position to lead such a movement or to offer much advice. But I can say this much. One of the Boy Scouts’ greatest offerings was that it showed a serious and moral masculinity, usually made up of fathers and sons, as they interacted with the outdoors and physical and mental challenges. To be an accomplished Eagle Scout was to be a man’s man in the best sense of that expression. And for whatever reason, whenever Christians (especially Evangelicals) try to create something “explicitly Christian,” they typically make it very unserious and unmanly. If a Christian scouting group just turns into another version of Evangelical summer camp, with acoustic guitars softly and tenderly repeating a banal refrain about “love” and being “sweet,” then it will be a huge failure.

If Christian scouting cannot get serious men involved in its leadership, men who are actually an inspiration to other men and capable of being seen as leaders even by non-Christians (another of scouting’s strengths), then it will be a huge failure. If Christian scouting is seen as anti-intellectual or lacking in time-honored tradition, making it up from scratch, then it will also be a huge failure. I’m sure there are men with a strong scouting background out here who can help me out and say much more. I would encourage them to bring their resources to bear on this project.

And I’d love to follow their lead.

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the Rector of Christ Church Anglican in South Bend, Indiana. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a founding member of the Davenant Institute.