This week, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced its decision to stop chartering Scouting units beginning on Jan. 1, 2020. The decision wasn’t unexpected–church leaders had signaled as much when they announced a year ago that they were dropping Venturing–but it is still sending shockwaves through much of the BSA. And it’s certainly a big deal for us to lose nearly 20 percent of our Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. Coming on the heels of decisions to admit girls and gay youths and adults, the announcement has some people predicting that the end is near for the BSA.
I respectfully disagree. At the same time that many people are understandably concerned, others are understandably excited. The influx of girls is bringing new energy to Cub Scouting, and I’m sure the earlier decisions on gay members and leaders have improved Scouting’s image in the eyes of countless people who would otherwise have avoided the organization. (To cite just one statistic, 54 percent of Christians and 83 percent of religiously unaffiliated people say homosexuality should be accepted by society.)
As I’ve thought recently about where the BSA is and where it’s going, I’ve been reminded of the history of Philmont Scout Ranch, one of my favorite places on the planet. In 1939, deep in the Great Depression, the BSA opened what was then called the Philturn Rockymountain Scoutcamp on 35,857 acres donated by oilman Waite Phillips. Two years later, as America faced the prospect of entering World War II, Philmont expanded to 127,395 acres, thanks to an additional gift from Phillips (a gift that also included the VIlla Philmonte and an office tower in Tulsa, Oklahoma). And in 1963, in the midst of another turbulent decade in American history, Norton Clapp added 10,098 acres to the property, which brought much of Baldy Mountain within Philmont’s boundaries.
Phillips, Clapp, and Chief Scout Executive James E. West were visionary leaders, men who knew the dark clouds would soon part. I think we have visionary leaders today. But I also think the future lies in the hands of ordinary Scouters like you and me.
At the BSA’s National Annual Meeting in 2013, past BSA President Rex Tillerson talked about how the decision on admitting gay members marked the end of one journey and the beginning of another. Then he said this:
“Now, there’s another train about to leave. I know where this train’s going. This train’s going where there’s millions of kids that want to be served. This train’s going where we’re going to save lives. We’re going to reach in there and save children from their poor conditions. We’re going to serve kids and make the leaders of tomorrow, millions of them. That’s where this train’s going. I need — we need — every one of you to be on that train. The main thing to remember is to keep the main thing the main thing. And the main thing is to serve more youth.”
Need some great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.