New Boy Scouts California uniform
Jonathan Pickens looks at his boy scouts uniform which badges and patches he earned as a boy at his home in Roseville, California, Thursday, September 5, 2013. Lezlie Sterling / for NBC News
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.
More than 1, 200 former Scout officials, parents and youth from 44 states were attending the two-day national leadership convention where the group unveiled its name – Trail Life USA – and logo, officials with the group said. One of the founders John Stemberger, a former Eagle Scout and father of two scouts, created OnMyHonor.Net, a coalition of disgruntled BSA members who left the organization after the controversial vote in May.
“Most of us are coming from a highly-structured environment that has 103 years of culture and language and program and symbols … and we are starting from scratch, ” Stemberger said late Friday as he asked for patience as the group began “a program that we believe will be stronger, safer and more principled in every way.”
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.
“I do feel strongly enough about the policy that I don’t want my kids there” in the Boy Scouts, said Jonathan Pickens, a California firefighter and father of three young boys who had not yet joined Scouting before the change in the membership guidelines. An Eagle Scout who has 22 years in the BSA with the troop that his dad founded, Pickens - who opposed lifting the ban on gay Scouts - would rather “take a little bit of a blind leap of faith and try to make this work.”
Jonathan Pickens goes through his camping gear at his home in Roseville, California, Thursday, September 5, 2013. Lezlie Sterling / for NBC News
Pickens was in Nashville joining other families and former Boy Scout leaders from across the country to discuss topics such as rank advancement, uniforms and charter partners; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee will address the meeting.
“I want to have a prominent faith component that will be weaved in every fiber of the program, ” said Stemberger, an Orlando attorney. “But at the same time, we are not going to become religious and churchy. This is not another church program. This is going to be a masculine outdoor program to raise young men.”
Boys, ages 5-17, may come from every religious background, but adult leaders in the program will adhere to a standard statement of Christian faith and values. The membership policy will focus on sexual purity rather than orientation. Gay youth and adults can participate, but they cannot “flaunt” their sexuality, Stemberger said in July.
The issue of whether to allow gay youth and adults in the BSA roiled the program for years. A campaign to change the membership policy gained momentum last year after a lesbian was ousted as den mother of her pack and a gay teen was denied the Eagle rank.