Churches respond to Boy Scouts transgender policy

Boy Scouts | Even with religious exemptions, uncertainty remains about Scouting’s future
by Evan Wilt
Posted 2/10/17, 05:54 pm

WASHINGTON—When the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced last month a policy to allow transgender children into its programs, it said church affiliated troops could claim a religious exemption from the change. But it might not be that simple in practice.

For more than 100 years, BSA enrolled boys into its programs based on the gender listed on their birth certificates. But now the Scouts will allow any child to become a member as long as he or she identifies as male, regardless of biology.

In a video message, BSA’s chief executive Michael Surbaugh said birth certificates are no longer “a sufficient reference point” as more and more states interpret gender identity differently.

BSA officials told me they were no longer accepting interviews at this time, but in an emailed statement, communications director Effie Delimarkos said there are still religious exemptions for the new policy.

“With regard to religious partners, they will continue to have the right to make decisions based on religious beliefs,” Delimarkos said. “The BSA will work with families to find local Scouting units that are the best fit for their children. If a religious organization declines to accept a youth or adult application based on their religious beliefs, we ask that they please notify their local council so that a unit open to accepting the individual can be offered as an option.”

A 9-year-old from New Jersey became the BSA’s first openly transgender member this week. Joe Maldonado, who identifies as male, had to leave a troop in December after leaders discovered Joe was not a boy.

Justin Wilson, executive director of Scouts for Equality, told me BSA’s prior policy was not an issue, but Joe’s story began the conversation to advocate for new transgender rules. It only took about a month for Surbaugh to announce the change.

Florida attorney John Stemberger watched BSA succumb to the LGBT agenda after the organization announced in 2013 it would allow homosexual Scouts. He helped organize Trail Life USA, which launched at the beginning of 2014 as a Christ-centered scouting alternative.

Stemberger told me BSA was making itself a target for future legal battles. With the announcement, there are now two opposing policies in place: one that accepts transgender Scouts and one that allows church chartered troops to deny them entry. This framework creates poor optics and could cause a public relations mess at the very least, Stemberger said.

BSA has about 2.3 million members across the country. More than 100,000 of its Scouting units operate under chartered organizations. Of those, churches and other religious organizations charter approximately 70 percent.

Some chartered organizations have welcomed the change. Bruce Chudacoff, chairman of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting, told me he oversees around 200 Scouting units and has already had calls from progressive temples that want to start a troop because of the rule change.

Other religious Scouting groups had mixed responses to the new policy. In a statement this week, the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, which runs more than 7,000 Scouting units, said the change would have no impact on how it runs its troops. Mormon congregations had a similar reaction and expected to use the religious accommodation.

Fred Carter with the National Association of United Methodist Scouters said he was not sure how his affiliates would change in response to the new policy, but their goal of ministering to youth would remain the focus.

Ted Spangenberg, president of the Association of Baptists for Scouting, told me he does not expect any of the Baptist units to accept a transgender child, but that decision will be made on a case-by-case basis. Next week, Spangenberg will meet with the BSA’s National Religious Relationships Committee to glean more clarity on the issue.

“We have to play by the rules forced upon us,” Spangenberg said. “We’re all extremely disappointed. But we still believe through Scouting we can minister to families that otherwise would never be reached.”

Stemberger expects the BSA’s increasing pro-LGBT agenda to hurt the organization long-term.

“The next thing they will have is transgender leaders, and then they will give up local control,” he said.

Stemberger explained further policy changes could prompt more families to look for alternatives. He said on the day BSA announced it would allow girls into its programs, Trail Life USA’s website crashed from the influx of new traffic.

“You just don’t sleep boys and girls together—it’s moral insanity,” he said.

Now three years old, Trail Life USA has over 30,000 members in 48 states.

Evan Wilt

Evan is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD reporter.

Read more from this writer


You must be a WORLD Member and logged in to the website to comment.
  • MTJanet
    Posted: Fri, 02/10/2017 08:45 pm

    Each leader will have to ascertain exactly what he is called to do with regard to the mentally ill.  Should he allow a mentally ill child into the troop and hope that he will be able to have an impact on that boy and his family or would it be better to simply avoid the contact with the mentally ill and keep one's troop morally on track and not distracted with the issue?  I believe in the long run the latter will make the most sense for those who follow Christ.  

  • JerryM
    Posted: Fri, 02/10/2017 11:49 pm

    It is the drip-by-drip "succumbing" of so many organisations that we are witnessing.  Thank you God for all those that are praying and acting to see your Kingdom come in the context of the advance of this kind of evil...

  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Sun, 02/12/2017 12:48 pm

    After endless pressure the Boy Scouts abandoned the oath to love God and country and to stay morally straight.   What is to prevent the non-sectarian Trail Life from succumbing to the same so-called "legal" arguments against the Boy Scouts?  


  • Laneygirl's picture
    Posted: Sun, 02/12/2017 01:05 pm

    Right-thinking Americans watch as our long honored institutions cave to the strangling demands of the self-proclaimed "progressive" agenda; some with alarm, some with resignation, some with the will to fight. Others choose to remove themselves and their impressionable children, while creating alternatives that do not reject the Creator God whom we serve.

    To "play by the rules forced on us" is to hold on too tightly to the institutions of man. The Boy Scout badges and Eagle Scout designations no longer mean what they did before, so why bend to the requirements of the ungodly in order to claim those trophies? With all due respect to those who toiled diligently to earn them, to what level should our compromises sink?

    What does Boy Scout mean if you can be a girl?


  • DWayne
    Posted: Sun, 02/12/2017 08:03 pm

    Yeah for Trail Life USA. I'm planning to talk it up so they can have 30,000 more.

  • WFerguson
    Posted: Mon, 02/13/2017 12:40 pm

    My son and I have been with Trail Life since its beginning. It's a great organization. When it first started, I had hoped there would be an exodus from Boy Scouts to TLUSA and other groups. But, I underestimated the degree to which Christians are willing to support an organization that is morally bankrupt--and using them to give immorality the veneer of acceptability. Honestly, if they didn't leave in 2013/14, I doubt most of them will leave now. I wouldn't expect a quasi-Christian cult like the Mormons to to leave, but Catholics, Methodists and Baptists should know better and act accordingly.

  • Hans's picture
    Posted: Wed, 02/15/2017 11:56 am

    Honestly, I really don't understand what Christians expect out of the BSA. As an Eagle Scout, I really appreciate the leadership experience that I got there, not to mention a healthy introduction to the outdoors. But as an institution, it did nothing for my moral education one way or the other. One would hope that Christian parents would recognize this, value it for what it is, and encourage their kids to get involved in this as a bit of exposure to the broader community. I would also hope that they would not send their kids to the BSA to learn how to be morally straight. I saw kids whose parents sent them there for that reason, and it was a universal failure. 

    Besides, what's so great about moralistic deism anyway? Do we really expect the ethics of civil religion to produce anything of meaningful value?