- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Organizers said Tuesday that they were putting the final touches on a “character-development” national program for boys, in the most direct challenge to date to the decision by the Boy Scouts of America to allow openly gay boys to participate in Scouting.

The organization, which has not been named, will hold an organizing conference in Nashville, Tenn., in September ahead of an official launch Jan. 1. It aims to become a religion-based alternative to the Boy Scouts of America and was created in response to “tens of thousands” people, including Scouts, adult leaders and sponsoring groups, who were upset with the Boy Scouts’ recent change in policy to allow openly gay members.

The mission of the new organization will be to “guide generations of courageous young men to honor God, lead with integrity, serve others, and experience outdoor adventure,” Rob Green, interim executive director, said Tuesday.

Although boys of all religions will be welcome to join the group, “adult leaders in the program — from the National Board level to individual unit volunteers — will adhere to a standard statement of Christian faith and values,” said Mr. Green, a former Boy Scout leader from Spartanburg, S.C.

On the hot-button issue of sexuality, the group will accept youths with same-sex attractions, but will ask all members to live a life of sexual purity.

Distracting behaviors or conduct will not be permitted — no rainbow flags or other “flaunting” of gay behavior, said John Stemberger, founder of OnMyHonor.net and a lead organizer of the new group.

Adults, including volunteers, will be asked to sign a standard statement of Christian faith and values.

For years, the Boy Scouts of America was viewed as “applied Christianity,” and words such as “morally straight,” “clean” and “reverent” were understood from the Christian worldview, Mr. Green said. The group will maintain that same approach by focusing on “sexual purity, rather than sexual orientation,” and declaring that “the proper context for sexual relations is only between a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage.”

The organization is emerging on the heels of the Boy Scouts’ public fight over its membership policy that banned youths and adults who were “open or avowed homosexuals.”

The Boy Scouts underwent a full re-examination of that policy this year, and then asked some 1,400 Scout leaders to vote on a policy that would permit openly gay youths to be part of the organization but maintain the ban on homosexual adults.

The policy was approved by more than 60 percent of Boy Scout leaders in May and will go into effect Jan. 1 for the estimated 116,000 Scouting units.

Boy Scout leaders said after the vote that they had no plans to further review the issue and that they would not let the organization be “consumed” by a “single, divisive and unresolved social issue.”

“While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting,” Boy Scouts of America leaders said in a May 23 statement.

However, advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender adults in Scouting quickly said the new policy didn’t go far enough and that they would not quit their efforts until the Boy Scouts also admitted adult homosexuals.

The full impact of the change in membership policy isn’t known. Many major chartering organizations, such as the Mormon church, said they were pleased, while others, such as the Assemblies of God, said they could not support the change and would be withdrawing from the Boy Scouts.

Other religious groups said they were waiting to see the revised policy before making a decision to stay or go.

Asked Tuesday for a comment about the alternative group being formed, Boy Scouts spokesman Deron Smith said, “It would be inappropriate for us to discuss other organizations. We remain focused on reaching and serving youth in order to help them grow into good, strong citizens.”

Mr. Stemberger and Mr. Green said they did not know how big “the exodus” from the Boy Scouts would be or how many people would join their organization, which will be unveiled, with a name, logo and other details, at its first national convention in Nashville, Tenn., on Sept. 6 and 7.

However, “we have heard from over 30,000 families,” Mr. Green said.

The group will be open to boys of all religions, races, nationalities and ethnicities and will be modeled on American Heritage Girls, a religion-based alternative to the Girl Scouts of America.

By November, the organization will be accepting registrations for new units as well as Boy Scout units that want to transfer. Rank advancements earned within the Boy Scouts will be transferable, Mr. Green said.

Groups such as Faith Based Boys, TrailHead USA and Frontier Service Corps are part of the coalition that attended a confidential planning meeting at the end of June in Louisville, Ky.

The organization should be in full operation by Jan. 1.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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