A Christian group is offering an alternative to the Boy Scouts of America for those upset with Scouting's new policy on sexual orientation, but the new group's policy is similar and more than 99 percent of Boy Scout units are still with the 100-year-old program.
Trail Life USA is "a Christian adventure, character and leadership movement" for young men based "on timeless values derived from the Bible," according to its website.
The new group formed in response to the Boy Scouts' decision to include boys who experience same-gender attraction. The Boy Scouts of America's national leadership made the decision in the spring. The new policy goes into effect on Jan. 1, the same day Trail Life USA launches.
Trail Life officials did not respond to a request for comment, but its policies appear similar to those of the Boy Scouts. Both groups will include boys who experience same-gender attraction. Both groups will prohibit sexual conduct. Both groups will ban openly gay leaders.
About 1,200 people from 44 states attended Trail Life USA's inaugural convention on Friday, where the group's chairman, John Stemberger, said the organization will not be "anti-BSA," the Washington Times reported.
Trail Life leaders must "subscribe to and abide by a statement of Christian faith and the oath and creed of the program," which isn't completed.
The new Boy Scouts of America policy, reported by the Deseret News in the spring, states "no youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone" but prohibits sexual conduct.
Specifically, the Boy Scout resolution says "that Scouting is a youth program and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting."
The new Boy Scout policy does not change the existing policy for Scout leaders of not granting "membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA."
Despite the similarities in policy, news outlets reported that for some, Trail Life USA is a clear alternative to Scouting.
“Families looking for an alternative to the Boy Scouts of America after the group voted to drop its ban on gay youth earlier this year descended on Nashville, Tenn., this weekend to help launch a Christian-based scouting organization,” Miranda Leitsinger wrote for NBC News. “ Whether the faith-based group gains popularity in the coming months could signal how successful the Boy Scouts of America will be at keeping members when the new policy takes effect on Jan. 1, 2014. BSA members were deeply divided over the decision to allow gay teens, with many vowing to quit the program.”
In a story Monday about Trail Life USA on NPR’s Morning Edition, reporter Kathy Lohr said, “Their motto is ‘walk worthy,’ and the group says it will focus on adventure, character and leadership. Adults in Trail Life USA must sign a statement of faith and make a commitment to purity. That means scouts will be taught that any sexual activity outside marriage is a sin. Leaders say scouts who are gay will be allowed in, as long as they don't promote or engage in any sexual behavior that is a distraction to the program.”
The Christian Post’s Anugrah Kumar reported, “Trail Life USA is modeled after the American Heritage Girls, an 18-year-old organization that is ‘Christ-centered’ and is ‘seen as an alternative to Girl Scouts,’ according to the group's website. Young men having same-sex attractions will not be excluded from the organization, though they will not be permitted to push a gay agenda or flaunt their sexual orientation.”
Trail Life USA's website says its vision is "to be the premier national character development organization for young men which produces Godly and responsible husbands, fathers and citizens."
So far few have defected from the Boy Scouts of America, BSA public relations director Deron Smith said in a statement on Monday.
"With approximately 2.6 million youth members, the BSA works to deliver the nation's foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training," Smith said.
Smith declined to comment on Trail Life USA, saying it would be inappropriate, but he said "We believe kids are better off when they are involved in Scouting and we remain focused on our goal of reaching and serving youth in order to help them grow into good, strong citizens. We are thankful that today, more than 99 percent of our approximately 116,000 units remain committed to the Scouting program."