Boy Scout Mission…. Changed?

The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.

Seems to me the Boy Scouts are in a predicament.  From where I stand, they are being forced to define themselves after years of trying  to be all things to all people.  Don’t know how they are going to get out of this one, but I can guess and I would imagine that they are going to take some lumps and bruises along the way.  Furthermore, I’m predicting that the Boy Scouts of tomorrow is going to be much different than the Boy Scouts of today and yesterday, no matter what path they ultimately choose.

I think the proverbial law of unintended consequences happened when no one was looking as Boy Scouts  tried hard to make itself relevant in today’s world.  I mean, how can you force a policy that dictates a belief in God, but then allow all religions, even the ones that don’t believe in God?  Furthermore, how can you expect to strictly define moral standards  using a code of ideals that are defined differently and sometimes diametrically by the various moral authorities (churches) that you welcome into your fold.

The only answer that I see is the route in which they seem to be taking, where the Chartered Organization codifies membership criteria.  (The claim is that the Atheist dis-qualifier is not on the table, but does anyone really believe that?)  I get that there will be turmoil in the ranks and that there will be gnashing of teeth, etc by those that are disappointed in the National Organization’s capitulation from the one side and probably more boycotts and turmoil from the other side because the policy doesn’t formally endorse their lifestyle, but it seems the predictable choice.

Please understand, I’m not advocating here, I’m sticking my finger up in the air and trying to see where the wind is blowing.  By relinquishing the control to the local charters, the Boy Scouts can focus on being just  a curriculum and service provider, which they kind of have been for the past few years, and stay out of the uncomfortable spotlight of national ethics debates.  By going this route, the Boy Scouts of America will be marginalizing itself, but the tools of the Scout Oath and Law, the Patrol Method and the rest of the groundwork laid back in the early days can be licensed to Chartered Organizations to use as they see fit.

While I foresee this move being inevitable (whether at this next vote or a future decision), I think this will ultimately marginalize the National Organization’s claim of moral relevance.  Some units will be presented as a values driven program, some will be a camping club, some will be a merit badge factory and many will fall somewhere in between, all led by well meaning people that want to help out the youth of today and leaders of tomorrow… but that’s kind of how it is now, isn’t it?  The only thing different is that the romantic, iconic, Norman Rockwell-ish image of the Boy Scouts of America, as a youth movement rather than a youth program, will finally draw to a close.  (Maybe I’m too pessimistic?)

Seems to me, if this goes the way it seems, their mission needs to change to:  The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare Youth Organizations to help young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.

4 thoughts on “Boy Scout Mission…. Changed?

  1. Your post seem to link ethical and moral behavior with the church but it is not only the church that provides this. Parents and peers set a good example for young people on how to behave ethically and morally.

    Peers come from every where the Scout Leader and the was he acts the Patrol Leader and the what she manages the patrol. A teacher, a politician, a sports player etc.

    The UK Scout Association has to my knowledge never had the Chartered Organisation structure that the BSA has. There are some Groups that are linked to a specific religion but for the most part we are Scouts and for 106 years we have been going from strength to strength.
    We live in a modern world and for a young person to fit into our modern society they need to embrace acceptance and understanding.

    You maybe aware that the UK Scout Association has recently undergone a complete review of its fundamentals and have changed our scouting purpose from:-
    The purpose of Scouting is to contribute to the development of young people in achieving their full physical, intellectual, social and spiritual potentials, as individuals, as responsible citizens and as members of their local, national and international communities.
    Scouting exists to actively engage and support young people in their personal development, empowering them to make a positive contribution to society.

    And we have some scouting values As Scouts we are guided by these values:

    We act with integrity; we are honest, trustworthy and loyal.
    We have self-respect and respect for others.
    We support others and take care of the world in which we live.
    We explore our faiths, beliefs and attitudes.
    We make a positive difference; we cooperate with others and make friends.

    I don’t feel this has in any way weakened the scouting we deliver if anything has made it more relevant to the society we all live in and share.

    More on he fundamentals can be found here



  2. I don’t know that I meant to link ethical and moral behavior with the church, at least not in this post… I’m more commenting on the structure we have now and how Scouting is redefining itself. In the Chartered Organizational structure, organizations sign a contract in which BSA agrees that the curriculum of Scouting will not detract from, but enhance, the mission of the organization. Furthermore, in this structure, a BSA unit is “Owned” by the organization that charters it. (In my mind, I liken it to a franchise situation). This is probably a huge distinction with the system you have in place in the UK.
    For the most part the ideals of Scouting have been relatively benign, because I think, of the vagueness. Ask 100 people what Trustworthy means and you’ll get a 100 different answers, but for the most part my guess is that all 100 of them would associate some positive message with the term Trustworthy and you’ll get a consensual understanding of the amalgamation of responses. (I think most people would agree that being Trustworthy is a good thing).
    For whatever reason, people have now taken significant notice of (the only?) two non-vague ideals promoted by BSA, namely Anti-Atheism and Anti-Homosexuality. Seemingly unbeknownst to the National Charter, these specific ideals were not as universally regarded as the vague ideals. My best guess is that the notice has come from BSA’s drop in membership and its quest for diversity in membership that is bringing the program outside the neighborhood church charters to other organizations. Also, I am very mindful of the change of direction of some churches in which they also have scrutinized and castigated these positions.
    With the scrutiny that is going on now, I’m sure BSA would love to drop these concepts completely from its national policies and continue on as they have, but with our current structure, this will be seen by the majority of Charters as, at best, capitulation of an ideal that they are in agreement with and possibly, at worst, tacit agreement with the contrary position and a reversal of position on a long held ideal.
    My guess in the post is that the only way to effectively deal with this, and to keep membership, program and charter dollars flowing is to minimize the national role in all of this discussion and emphasize the role of the local charter.
    As for the shift from the principals to the values of Scouting that is explained in your link… I don’t know enough about UK scouting to comment intelligibly about the correlation of what you have there and what we have here.

  3. Mike

    Any change will come with some people embracing it fully and some people rejecting it and going their separate ways. We as adult leaders can only look at those young people around us and help them make a fully informed decision that is best for them.

    I only showed the UK principals as they have as you say in the comment about the US one become vague but still have a underlying consistent message.

    Any example is the Belief one. It states we explore our faiths, beliefs and attitudes. it previously said Duty to God.

    The idea that a young person can explore their own faiths and beliefs put over the empowerment of them to make a decision look at all the relevant options and make and informed decision.

    It is likely that:-
    The Beaver (6-8) will talk of his/her parents religion
    The Cub (8-10) will talk of his/her parents religion but start to question other options
    The Scout (10-14) will be starting to make his own mind up about what he/she really believes
    The Explorer (14-18) will have strong opinions about faith and beliefs and will be probably shaping their future feelings.

    The the ideas that we explore the faith and believe allows for this development through scouting but equally if age 7 a young Beavers makes a decision that they will be Christian it also allows them do develop and explorer that religion.

    good informative post, Have a great day


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