One More Reason for Churches to Exit Partnership and Join Trail Life
By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
Fallout from some 200 new allegations of sexual abuse by former Boy Scouts of America leaders may be the death knell of the century-old organization that has teetered on the brink of bankruptcy amid controversy over its attempts to redefine its membership.
The BSA began admitting openly homosexual Scouts in 2013, gay leaders in 2015 and transgender boys in 2017. Earlier this year it began accepting girls, prompting a trademark infringement lawsuit from the Girl Scouts.
Already embroiled in legal battles over earlier sex abuse claims, the BSA wound up suing its insurance companies when they refused to cover resulting settlements, saying the abuse could have been prevented.
“This is one more reason for churches to exit partnership with the Boy Scouts of America,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina. “What is left of this organization is a far cry from the institution that once challenged young boys to stay ‘physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.’”
Court testimony in January in a case unrelated to the Scouts revealed that the BSA believes more than 7,800 of its former leaders were involved in sexual abuse over the course of 72 years — about 2,800 more than was previously believed. That new information led three law firms to issue calls for victims to report their abuse, even if it happened years ago. And those calls prompted more than 200 allegations involving 150 alleged pedophiles who had never been publicly accused.
According to attorney Jeff Anderson, who represents sexual abuse victims, in its volunteer screening database the BSA identified more than 12,000 children who were sexually abused between 1944 and 2016. The database has served as the organization’s means of labeling accused leaders as ineligible to be involved in Scouting in any capacity. Records show the Boy Scouts banned more than 1,000 leaders and volunteers between 1965 and 1985.
Janet Warren, a University of Virginia professor of psychiatry who was hired by the BSA in 2011 to research the database and suggest ways to make it more effective, says there is no evidence of a cover-up by the organization, but Anderson said questions remain as to whether the BSA immediately shared reports of abuse with law enforcement. BSA officials have said that every instance of suspected abuse is reported and that upon review of the database the organization “went back decades and reported … instances of abuse to law enforcement when it may have been unclear whether prior incidences had been reported.”
Late last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that the BSA was considering bankruptcy as membership waned and legal costs mounted. But attorneys for the sexual assault victims say the underlying goal of such a filing is to halt existing and future litigation. They have also questioned why the Boy Scouts couldn’t have uncovered the most recent abuse allegations that they received with their hotline in a relatively brief time period.
The BSA has defended its policies, noting that youth protection training is mandatory for all registered leaders, that they prohibit adult leaders from being alone with a youth during scouting activities and that youth members are not allowed to sleep in the tents of adult leaders (parents and guardians excepted). The organization also prohibits one-on-one texts and social media communications between adult and youth members and has set up a helpline of its own for anyone who has been harmed in Scouting (1-844-726-8871).
Creech said churches that want to partner with an outdoor adventure program that trains young men in character and leadership should turn to Trail Life USA, a Christ-centered organization that launched in 2014 and has grown to 27,000 members in 800 troops across the United States.
In contrast, even as the BSA cast a wider and wider net, its membership has dropped nearly 50 percent from a peak of 4 million. Boy Scout rosters are expected to decrease by another 400,000 by year’s end, when the Mormons plan to sever all ties with the BSA.
“Any organization that takes steps that appear to indicate they’ve forgotten who they are and who they serve is in danger of losing their way,” Trail Life CEO Mark Hancock told the Asheville-based World News Group late last year. “A moral compass is a valuable tool for navigating in a culture that is undergoing such transition, especially in regard to confusing messages to boys and girls.”
Hancock said Trail Life requires regular background checks and that all adult members must agree to a statement of faith and be personally vouched for by a charter organization representative. The group also trains every adult every two years in child protection and requires approved adults to wear a lanyard indicating they’ve been vetted, checked and trained.
“Trail Life USA was forged in the fires of this cultural battle,” Hancock told the World, “legally and morally equipped to stand.”