The Boy Scouts of America announced Wednesday that they would admit girls into the organization for the first time ever. From now on, Cub Scout dens (usually around 6 to 12 kids) will be single gender—either male or female. Cub Scout packs (comprised of multiple dens) will have the option of being co-ed or single gender. As for the Boy Scouts proper, there will be a separate program available for older girls that will allow them to attain the rank of Eagle Scout.
The rationale behind this dramatic move is somewhat hazy, per the BSA leadership:
“We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children,” said Michael Surbaugh, the BSA’s chief scout executive. “The values of Scouting – trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example – are important for both young men and women,” Surbaugh added.
There are obvious reasons to lament this development from a traditionalist standpoint. But the move to allow women into the Boy Scouts raises a lot of non-obvious issues, none of which bode well for the future of the BSA.
To start, it’s worth noting that this move is a commentary on what a terrible organization the Girl Scouts has become. Christian groups have been abandoning the organization right and left in recent years for their embrace of left-wing politics. Tweeting out links to endorsements of pro-abortion politicians such as Wendy Davis and Girl Scout publications endorsing the liberal website Media Matters are par for the course with the Girl Scouts. The organization has a “Social Issues” FAQ on its website that is an obvious attempt to downplay its liberalism. Aside from the political issues, the Girl Scouts have also been rightly dinged as an administratively terrible cookie manufacturer with a sideline in youth development. If you pay $4 for a box of cookies, the local Girl Scout troop that sold it to you is likely to make about 70 cents on the sale. The rest goes to production costs and overhead.
Girl Scout membership is way down—from 2 million in 2013 to just over 1.5 million as reported earlier this year. It’s clear the group feels threatened: In August, the president of the Girl Scouts sent a letter to the BSA begging them not to include girls. “I formally request that your organization stay focused on serving the 90% of American boys not currently participating in Boy Scouts … and not consider expanding to recruit girls,” GSUSA president, Kathy Hopinkah Hannan said in a letter to the BSA’s president. With a 25 percent decline in membership in just four years, the inclusion of women into the Boy Scouts could be the beginning of the end of the Girl Scouts.
That said, the BSA has its own own membership issues. With more than 4 million Boy Scouts during the peak, the BSA is down to about 2.3 million scouts (and there were 2.6 million as recently as 2013). And that number is declining rapidly, albeit not quite as rapidly as the Girl Scouts. On some level, the decision to include women is, if you’ll forgive the pun, a Hail Mary to reverse the trend in declining membership.
But on another level, declining membership may not be the primary motivator behind this radical departure from the Boy Scouts stated mission of exclusively cultivating skills and morals in young men., . The recent membership decline has more than a little to do with the Boy Scouts’ response to being targeted for their previous stance excluding openly gay scoutmasters and employees. In 2013, the Scouts welcomed gay scoutmasters, and that caused a different kind of backlash.
As I noted back in May, “The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod severed its ties with scouting in 2015, and Franklin Graham, the influential evangelical pastor, reacted to the news of the Mormon decision by writing that ‘all churches’ should ‘pull out of the Boy Scouts organization completely.'” That suggests that the BSA, which has long enjoyed the backing churches, has been hurt by their new socially progressive policies.
Looking ahead, it’s difficult to imagine the BSA reversing this trend. It’s unclear what kind of families are going to be attracted to he BSA, whose chief appeal was ostensibly inculcating morals, but now shies away from reinforcing traditional notions of gender roles.
I think it’s also clear that the BSA leadership is operating out of fear, and with no clear sense of mission. The BSA seems to understand that alienating the organization’s religious base was self-destructive and this is why they initially resisted accepting gay scoutmasters. But LGBT activists intimidated the United Way and other high profile corporate supporters, and the BSA caved. I suspect that the BSA thinks that this latest move will allow them to get out ahead of the next big culture war battle, which will involve some combination of feminist entitlement and increased transgender acceptance. (The BSA announced it was open to transgender boys in January.)
However, much as the BSA fears the onslaught of negative publicity and alienation of corporate support, the BSA’s single biggest supporter is actually the Mormon church, and the BSA is running scared about how they might react to the organization’s socially progressive direction. One out of every five Boy Scout troops in the country is attached to an LDS congregation, Boy Scouts have been a central part of the church’s youth program for over a century, and the president of the Mormon church, Thomas S. Monson has been on the Boy Scouts board for 47 years.
Earlier this year, the church announced it was pulling 185,000 older teens out of scouting programs. Though the church offered few details about its reasoning the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBT groups attacked the church for the move nonetheless. It would be very easy to imagine the Mormon church, which has abundant financial resources and awesome organizational capability, is drawing up contingency plans to create its own men’s youth program and pull out of the organization rather than continue to tolerate BSA’s leftward drift. If the Mormons pull out of the BSA, they’re done for.
Speaking as someone who has kept his Order of the Arrow sash for nearly 30 years, the Boy Scouts of America lost my nearly all of my remaining respect today. And the cold, hard statistics tell me I’m far from alone in writing off a cherished institution no longer dedicated to the notion that there are special leadership qualities and responsibilities unique to men.