- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2013

More than 1,200 former Scouting officials, parents and youths are gathering in Nashville, Tenn., Friday to unveil the name and other details about a new Christian-based organization for boys.

The group represents the most ambitious and well-funded challenge to date to the decision this year by the Boy Scouts of America to drop its long-standing ban on openly gay Scouts, one that has created a major rift in the organization.

“We are not looking to be an anti-BSA organization,” said John Stemberger, founder of OnMyHonor.net. But he acknowledged that the group would provide “an alternative” for the tens of thousands of people who are expected to leave the Boy Scouts because of its vote on gay Scouts. Gay adults are still barred as Scout leaders.

The group is expected to be modeled after the American Heritage Girls — which was created as a “Christ-centered” alternative to the Girl Scouts of America 18 years ago — and will promote outdoor adventure, service, character development and life-skills training for boys.

It will offer people “a home, a place to go,” Mr. Stemberger said. “We’re saying we are more committed to truth than tradition, and we’re more committed to integrity than institutions.”

Deron Smith, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, which has 2.6 million youth members, declined to comment on the rival, saying “it would be inappropriate for us to discuss other organizations.”

To date, however, more than 99 percent of the Boy Scouts’ 116,000 units “remain committed” to the organization, Mr. Smith said. Moreover, in the “very rare instance” when a chartered organization has chosen not to continue with the Boy Scouts, other organizations have stepped up to charter them, so the troops have uninterrupted service, he said.

The Wilkes (N.C.) Journal-Patriot, for instance, recently reported that two Baptist churches have dropped their charters for four Boy Scout units. Boy Scout leaders told the newspaper that they would “make certain” to find new chartering organizations for the units.

The convention Friday and Saturday in Nashville — which has the theme of “Honoring the Legacy, Raising the Standard” — will feature speeches from Michael Farris, chancellor of Patrick Henry College, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Parts of the convention can be seen live-streamed for a fee.

Conference registration exceeded expectations, Mr. Stemberger said. “There’s going to be over 1,200 people here, so we’ll be at full capacity. We’re turning people away.”

On Friday night, the name, logo and branding are scheduled to be released; words or phrases such as “Faith-Based Boys,” “American Honor Corps” and “Young Adventurers” have been suggested as options. Attendees are expected to work out issues such as chartering rules, programs, rankings, uniforms — down to such details as whether to have baseball caps or “Indiana Jones”-style hats, or both, as official headgear.

The major difference with the traditional Scouting movement, however, will be in the group’s Bible-based worldview: It promises to uphold marriage as the union between one man and one woman, and clearly define what is meant by “duty to God,” “morally straight,” “clean” and “reverent.”

The group will be open to boys regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or national origin, but it will be “Christ-centered” because adult leaders will be asked to adhere to a Christian statement of faith and values, organizers said on the OnMyHonor.net website.

The group also will admit boys who are experiencing sexual-identity confusion or same-sex attraction, but not those who are “open and avowed” about their homosexuality.

Moreover, boys must be “biologically male” — boys who wish to dress and act like girls, and girls who wish to dress and act like boys will not be accepted, according to preliminary documents on the group.

The group was created in the wake of the Boy Scouts’ extensive and at times passionate debate about whether to change its “don’t ask, don’t tell”-style membership policy on homosexuals.

In May, some 1,400 Boy Scouts of America leaders voted on whether to admit openly gay youths — but not adults — as members. With support from gay-rights activists, corporate and community leaders, and major religious sponsoring groups, including the Mormon Church, more than 60 percent of the organization’s voters decided for the policy change.

A few weeks later, Mr. Stemberger and other opponents of the policy change met in Louisville, Ky., to map out an alternative organization.

The full impact of the Boy Scouts’ policy change and the viability of the rival organization for boys are unlikely to be known until after Jan. 1, the official start date for both.

Mr. Stemberger, an Eagle Scout, said the new organization will “honor the BSA and respect the contributions they have made,” and that the people in the Boy Scouts of America “are our brothers, and friends and family.”

At the same time, he said, “we just think the organization has made an enormous mistake and a tragic mistake that is going to change the course of history and nature of Scouting in the future.”

Creating a group from scratch will take time, energy and resources, said Patti Garibay, founder and national executive director of American Heritage Girls.

The 17-year-old group claimed more than 20,000 members last year with chapters in 48 of the 50 states. The group signed a “memorandum of mutual support” with the Boy Scouts of America in 2009, only to revoke in May after the revised Boy Scouts guidelines on gay Scouts were approved.

“Stay laser-focused on your mission of serving youth while glorifying God,” Ms. Garibay advised the group. “Utilize the time and talents of ministry-minded volunteers who will bless the organization” and “remember that if something is truly of Him, He will bless our work for His glory.”

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

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