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Trail Life USA, The 'Other' Boy Scouts Of America

Sep 9, 2013
Originally published on September 9, 2013 12:49 pm

A new faith-based group for boys is taking shape, just three months after the Boy Scouts of America decided to change its membership policy to allow gay youth to join.

The group, dubbed Trail Life USA, calls itself a Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts. Its name was recently revealed at a hotel conference before a crowd of about 1,200 parents and scoutmasters, complete with a slick video with a dynamic score.

Its motto is "walk worthy," and the group says it will focus on adventure, character and leadership.

"Our vision and what we are about is to be the premier national character development organization for young men, which produces godly and responsible husbands, fathers and citizens," said John Stemberger, who led the opposition to the Boy Scouts' policy to allow gay youth.

Stemberger, who is an Eagle Scout, said it was a gut-wrenching decision to leave the Boy Scouts. But he said it's time to move on.

"Real men value truth over tradition," he told the assembled crowd. "Real men value principle over program, and they value integrity over institutions."

Many sessions at the inaugural convention were closed to the media, with a few live-streamed across the country. Leaders are partnering with American Heritage Girls, a group that formed more than 15 years ago as a faith-based alternative to the Girl Scouts.

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.

They will not allow youth who are open about their homosexuality. Officials did not comment further about the policy.

Some at the conference said they intend to join. Others, like Andy Mallang, an elementary school teacher from Indiana, are investigating their options.

Mallang said he made a personal decision to pull his 9-year-old son out of the Boy Scouts because he said its new policy violates his religious beliefs. He said it was a difficult choice.

"Whether I'm Christian or I have Muslim friends or Jewish friends or Hindu friends, there's still a time where I need to get along and work together," Mallang said. "I struggle with [thinking], 'Am I doing the right thing?' I am hoping that this organization for boys will be the answer."

Responding to the Boy Scouts' new policy, some churches have announced they won't continue to sponsor troops. Others support the change. And some say the century-old organization didn't go far enough, and that troops should also allow adult leaders who are gay.

A spokesman for the Boy Scouts says that while a charter group has decided not to continue, other organizations have stepped up to provide a home. The group says 99 percent of its more than 100,000 scouting units remain committed.

But Trail Life USA says it expects to charter 1,000 troops as incubators by January, when its program officially begins.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A new boys' group described as a faith-based boys group is taking shape just three months after the Boy Scouts of America decided to drop a ban on gay youth. The newly created scouting group is called Trail Life USA.

The organization had its first meeting over the weekend in Nashville and NPR's Kathy Lohr was there.

KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: On stage at a hotel conference center, leaders of the new scout-like organization played up the suspense surrounding the unveiling before a crowd of about 1,200 parents and scoutmasters.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You want to know the name?

AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I can't tell you now.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LOHR: Finally a slick video was revealed, featuring boys hiking, canoeing and mountain-climbing in idyllic wilderness settings to a dynamic soundtrack.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LOHR: And the name Trail Life USA was announced. It calls itself a Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts. The motto is "walk worthy," and the group says it will focus on adventure, character and leadership. John Stemberger led the opposition to the Boy Scouts' policy to allow gay youth.

JOHN STEMBERGER: Our vision and what we are about is to be the premier national character development organization for young men which produces godly and responsible husbands, fathers and citizens.

LOHR: Stemberger, who is an Eagle Scout, says it was a gut-wrenching decision to leave the Boy Scouts, but he says it's time to move on.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

STEMBERGER: Real men value truth over tradition.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

STEMBERGER: Real men value principle over program and they value integrity over institutions.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

LOHR: Many sessions at this inaugural convention were closed to the media, with a few live-streamed across the country. Leaders are partnering with American Heritage Girls, a group that formed more than 15 years ago as a faith-based alternative to the Girl Scouts. When board member David Servin talked about some of the differences between the Boy Scouts and this group, the word Jesus appeared in red letters on a large screen.

DAVID SERVIN: I put this in here just 'cause I could.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LOHR: Adults in this program 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. They will not allow youth who are open about their homosexuality. Officials won't comment further about the policy.

Some here say they intend to join. Others are investigating their options, including Andy Mallang, an elementary school teacher from Indiana.

ANDY MALLANG: I'm not angry or dislike homosexuals.

LOHR: Mallang says he made a personal decision to pull his 9-year-old son out of the Boy Scouts because he says its new policy violates his religious beliefs. And he says it was a difficult choice.

MALLANG: Whether I'm Christian or I have Muslim friends or Jewish friends or Hindu friends, there's still a time where I need to get along and work together. I struggle with am I doing the right thing. Yes, I am hoping that this organization for boys will be the answer.

LOHR: Responding to the Boy Scouts' new policy, some churches have announced they won't continue to sponsor troops. Others support the change and some say the century-old organization didn't go far enough, that troops should also allow adult leaders who are gay.

A spokesman for the Boy Scouts says where a charter group has decided not to continue, other organizations have stepped up to provide a home. The group says 99 percent of its more than 100,000 scouting units remain committed. But this new group, Trail Life USA, says it expects to charter 1,000 troops as incubators by January when its program officially begins.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Nashville.

INSKEEP: And you hear Kathy right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.