An organization billing itself as a Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts of America says it has about 500 troops.
The new scouting group, Trail Life USA, was created by OnMyHonor.net, which opposed the BSA’s policy change last May that permitted gay Boy Scouts – but not gay adult leaders – effective this year.
Mark Hancock, Trail Life USA’s chief operating officer, said close to 500 troops have signed up since September, a handbook has been created and leadership guides have been published for three levels of boys in kindergarten through the 12th grade.
In North Carolina, 19 troops are chartered and active. Thirty others are still in the process of launching.
Trail Life has divided the state into five geographical areas. The Southwest area, which includes Charlotte, has four active troops and six others still gearing up.
Among the chartered and active: Troop 7777 at Grace Covenant Church in Cornelius.
Its 70 members, who range from kindergartners to high school seniors, met at the church last week. After a flag ceremony, Christian devotions and a slide show, the Trailmen separated into different age groups. Those in elementary school played games, while the high schoolers learned how to build cooking fires.
Scott Register, the troop’s adult leader, has a much more ambitious roster of activities in mind in the coming months. Those plans include a kayaking trip on the Congaree River and possibly a Christian mission trip to the rain forest in Nicaragua.
“We are leading young men to become Godly husbands, fathers and citizens,” said Register, who’s been involved in youth outdoor activities, including YMCA camps, Scouting and athletic leagues, for 25 years.
Trail Life plans to do that, Register said, by praying together, attending some Sunday services together and also by “modeling how a Christian man should live.”
South Carolina will eventually have 21 Trail Life troops. Six are chartered and active now – including the one sponsored by Harvest Baptist Church in Rock Hill.
The church had a Boy Scout Troop since 2002, but switched to Trail Life because of the Scouts’ decision on gays.
The 20 or so members, ages 11 to 16, are now part of Troop 23. That number was chosen to honor its troop Bible verse, Paul’s letter to the Philippians, 2:3 – “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
Troop 23 Scoutmaster William Woods said he expects the boys to spend more time on faith-building exercises and do the work needed for the Freedom Award – Trail Life’s version of the BSA’s Eagle Scout.
Then there will be summer camp and partnering with the church’s missionaries.
“I’m excited because (Trail Life) is adding a lot we were missing in the BSA,” Woods said.
Those that have signed up – and paid $325 for the first year’s charter fee (it will subsequently be $185 annually) – include churches and other groups with a statement of Christian beliefs, such as a Christian home-school organization or a Christian camp.
Trail Life USA’s values statement includes a section on purity that reads, in part: “We are to reserve sexual activity for the sanctity of marriage, a lifelong commitment before God between a man and a woman.”
Daryl Norris, who heads the Trail Life effort in Eastern North Carolina, called Trail Life “unapologetically Christian,” but open to all denominations.
“Baptist, Catholic, Methodist – all of them,” he said.
Some Christian denominations have had their own alternatives to Boy Scouting for years. Many Southern Baptist boys are “Royal Ambassadors,” while Assemblies of God and Pentecostal Holiness congregations sponsor “Royal Ranger” troops.
Norris said the newest alternative, Trail Life, has attracted a large number of former Boy Scouts and conservative churches that had sponsored Boy Scout troops.
Religious groups still sponsor about 70 percent of the BSA’s 100,000 troops; after the policy change accepting gay boys was announced, most of the major sponsors – Mormons, Catholics and United Methodists – agreed to remain with the BSA despite unease in some corners about lifting the gay ban.
Deron Smith, spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, said “it would be inappropriate for us to discuss other organizations,” but added “what we’re hearing from our councils is that only a handful of chartered organizations have decided not to renew their sponsorship of troops. We are thankful that the overwhelming majority of our units and members remain committed to the Scouting program.”
Trail Life is still evolving as more troops become active.
A dress uniform for all Trailmen is still under development. Troop 7777 in Cornelius has adopted temporary camouflage garb that hints at another goal of Trail Life: giving the boys an appreciation of the outdoors.
And the troop harked back to the Bible teachings at sponsoring Grace Covenant Church in picking its troop number.
“Seven has a lot of significance in the Bible,” said troop master Register. “There are seven days of creation.”
Staff Writer Tim Funk contributed.