NEW YORK — With the Boy Scouts of America entangled in a furor over its ban on gays, lesser-known youth organizations across the ideological spectrum see an opportunity. They wonder if the turmoil might prompt some families to give them a closer look as options for their boys.
They range from Bible-based programs run by conservative religious organizations to coed, inclusive groups, including one founded on the basis of pagan beliefs.
None of the groups has the size or iconic status of the BSA, though some have been around for many decades.
Leaders of several of the groups, in public statements and interviews with The Associated Press, made clear they are following the Boy Scouts’ predicament with interest and pondering possible ramifications for their own prospects — though not seeking to profit from “someone else’s misfortune,” as one leader said.
The BSA, founded in 1910 and now serving about 2.66 million boys, is deliberating a possible shift in its long-standing policy of excluding gays as youth members or adult leaders.
In May, the BSA’s 1,400-member National Council is expected to consider a proposal to ease the ban by allowing sponsors of local Scout units to decide for themselves whether to admit gays. Gay-rights groups say the plan is inadequate, and that no units should be allowed to discriminate, while some conservative religious leaders and advocacy groups want the ban to stay in place nationwide.
As a result, there has been consternation on both the left and right of the Scouting community, and warnings of possible defections depending on what decision is made in May.
For families that do seek an alternative to the Boy Scouts, here are some of the options:
• The Southern Baptist Convention’s Royal Ambassadors http://bit.ly/y1p6ck
Founded in 1908, this is a program run by Southern Baptist churches for boys in first through sixth grade.
The SBC’s Women’s Missionary Union, which oversees the program, estimates that it has about 6,300 adult leaders and 31,000 youth members. Its curriculum shares many features with the Boy Scouts — including camping trips and model race-car competitions — but it also stresses a goal of providing boys with “godly characteristics” and a “biblical worldview.”
Of the major religious denominations which sponsor large numbers of Boy Scout units, the Southern Baptists have been among the most outspoken in urging the BSA to keep the ban on gays.
• The Assemblies of God’s Royal Rangers http://royalrangers.com/
Founded in 1962 by one of the largest Pentecostal denominations, the Royal Rangers have about 81,000 youth members in about 4,000 units, according to church headquarters.
“We provide Christ-like character formation and servant leadership development for boys and young men in a highly relational and fun environment,” says the Rangers’ mission statement.
Every four years, the organization brings together several thousand boys and adult leaders for a “Camporama” at the Rangers’ campground in Eagle Rock, Mo. Last summer’s event featured a high-ropes course, two zip lines, a water slide, and a lumberjack show.
Like the Southern Baptists, the Assemblies of God considers homosexuality immoral and has urged the Boy Scouts not to lift the ban on gays. A statement to that effect, from the denomination’s leader, has been posted on the Rangers’ website.
“We are saddened and disappointed to hear that Boy Scouts of America, an organization long devoted to biblical values, is now considering loosening the principles in which it was founded,” says the Rev. George O. Wood.
• The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Pathfinders http://bit.ly/ViNzhg
Dating back more than 60 years, the coed Pathfinders program serves about 35,000 boys and girls ages 10-15 in the U.S. and Canada, according to James Black, the church’s director of youth ministries for North America.
Black said the program resembles the Boy Scouts in many respects, with an emphasis on camping, plus an array of honors and patches that the youth members can work for.
Unlike the Scouts, however, the Pathfinders operate as a church-based ministry, with a priority placed on community service. However, Black said boys and girls are welcome to join even if not from Seventh-day Adventist families.
• The Calvinist Cadet Corps www.calvinistcadets.org/
Founded in 1952, with a headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich., this is a non-denominational but staunchly religious scouting-style program.
Office manager Kathy Door, said the corps currently serves about 9,900 boys in 550 clubs in the U.S. and Canada, with strong bases of support in Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and the Pacific Coast.
“When someone who hasn’t heard of us asks questions, we tell them we’re sort of along the lines of Scouting but we are much more conservative,” Door said. “There are Bible lessons at every meeting.”
• The Knights of Columbus’ Columbian Squires http://www.kofc.org/un/en/squires/index.html .
This organization for Roman Catholic boys and young men ages 10-18 was founded in 1925 and claims a youth membership of more than 25,000, including some in units in Mexico and the Philippines.
• Camp Fire http://www.campfireusa.org/
Founded in 1910 as Camp Fire Girls of America, this organization changed its name and became coed in 1975. Boys now comprise almost half of its 300,000 youth participants, according to spokeswoman Catherine Lufkin.
While the Boy Scouts have drawn some criticism for excluding gays and atheists, Camp Fire stresses its inclusiveness and says it welcomes youth and families regardless of race, creed, gender, social status, disability or sexual orientation.
Lufkin said young people view Camp Fire’s diversity as an asset and enjoy making friends who are different from themselves.
Like the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts of the USA, and other major youth organizations, Camp Fire has seen its membership ranks decline in recent decades, though Lufkin said the numbers have stabilized in recent years.
• Navigators USA http://navigatorsusa.org/
This alternative scouting organization has its roots in a Boy Scout troop based in New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood and sponsored by the Unitarian Church of All Souls.
The troop broke away from the BSA in 2003 out of disagreement with the exclusionary membership policies, and some of the volunteer leaders decided to continue independently as a coed, inclusive movement.
• The Baden-Powell Service Association http://bpsa-us.org/
The BPSA was founded in 2008 by David Atchley of Washington, Mo., who as a leader of his son’s Cub Scout pack had a rift with regional BSA leaders over his efforts to adopt a nondiscrimination code.
Atchley, a software engineer, said the BPSA has grown steadily in the past two years, from just a handful of units to 19 now, ranging from Kingston, N.Y., and Exeter, N.H., to Albuquerque, N.M., and Sunnyvale, Calif.
Like the Navigators, the group is coed, with an inclusive membership policy, and Atchley says the contrast with the Boy Scouts has been a factor in its growth.
The organization takes its name from Robert Baden-Powell, whose initiatives in Britain in starting in 1907 launched the international Scouting movement.
• SpiralScouts International http://www.spiralscouts.org/
This coed organization originated in 2001 at the Aquarian Tabernacle Church in Index, Wash., which serves a Wiccan community
Though developed on the basis of pagan beliefs and practices, it is open to youth and families of any faith — or no religious affiliation. Its units are known as circles; it also welcomes individual families who are designated as “hearths.”
Spokeswoman Rachel Scott said the U.S. component comprises about 150 adult volunteers and 350 youth scouts, ages 3-18, in 45 circles and hearths.
The mix of genders is a key principle, according to the group’s Web site.
“Our program encourages girls and boys to learn, play, and work together under the direction of leaders of both genders as a way of showing by example that both men and women are capable and cooperative leaders,” it says.
SpiralScouts has gone public with its disapproval of the Boy Scouts’ membership policies, offering to extend its highest rank to Eagle Scouts who have returned their badges to the BSA in protest over those policies.
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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.