The times and trends have undergone dramatic changes since Lord Robert Baden-Powell began the Boy Scout movement in England in 1908.
A hero of the South African War, Baden-Powell adapted some of the nonviolent portions of his military experience in an effort to build character among the young men of the Britain of his day.
One hundred and six years later, a coalition consisting of religious conservatives, former Boy Scouts and community leaders founded a scouting alternative. Known as Trail Life USA, it is not just theistic, but specifically Christian in its orientation.
Heath Bryant, who coordinates Trail Life for the greater Houston area, said the new group both parallels and differs from the Boy Scouts of America.
“Trail Life was officially launched Jan. 1, but the birthing actually started way before that,” the former Eagle Scout said. “You see, the Boy Scouts of America had changed some of their standards over the years, and many scouters felt like we needed an organization that raised the standard, rather than lowering it.”
Trail Life now boasts about 60 chartered troops in Texas with nine in the Houston area. The first Galveston County troop began meeting at League City’s OakCreek Bible Church a few months ago.
“Our vision is to be the premier national character development organization for young men, one which produces godly and responsible husbands, fathers and citizens,” Bryant said. “The people who will be most interested in taking this new journey are families who want a Christ-centered, outdoor adventure program, not just another church activity, but a lifelong adventure of leadership.”
Teachings concerning sexual orientation and practices have proved challenging, even divisive, for many denominations during the last half-century. Trail Life’s official policy is explicit. Its statement of values states: “God calls us to lives of holiness, being pure of heart, mind, word and deed. We are to reserve sexual activity for the sanctity of marriage, a lifelong commitment before God between a man and a woman.”
But the everyday pattern of scouting seems unchanged by the cultural battles fought overhead. Boys in uniform practice camping, crafts and good deeds following a merit-based system.
Ages 5-18 are included, with a separate program available for those in the 18-25 age group. Although many of Trail Life’s troops are coming from scouting’s ranks, about half are new, coming in with no experience in any youth program.
And, as with ordained ministers who have been allowed to transition between dividing churches, Trail Life allows Boy Scouts to transfer in while retaining their rank and privileges.
“We welcome all denominations and religious beliefs to join,” Bryant said. “But adults must subscribe to and abide by the Trail Life USA Statement of Christian Faith and Values as well as the oath and motto of the program.”
Doctrinal division can produce either serious, lasting schism or it can add richness and depth to a belief system. Both have happened throughout church history. At its inception, Trail Life is shooting for the latter.
“This organization is made up of some tremendous people, and I am blessed to be a small part of it,” Bryant said.
For details, call 281-996-5191 or 713-502-2364.
Rick Cousins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.