A New Scouting Organization Brings Faith to the Forest
Ongoing controversies surrounding the membership, leadership and policies of the Boy Scouts of America have left a lot of parents unsure of what other changes may come to the BSA in the future.
Among the responses to these concerns were calls for new alternative scouting groups (there are several existing ones) more strongly focused on specifically Christian beliefs and moral standards. One group that's sprung up is On My Honor, which had its first major meeting in late June and plans its first national convention in Nashville, Tenn., on Sept. 6 and 7, where the group's official name and logo will be announced.
On My Honor says it is open to "all boys irrespective of race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin." While it accepts members and their families from a variety of faiths, it states that all of the adult leaders "will adhere to a standard statement of Christian faith and values."
A little further under the radar, another scouting group has quickly grown from the vision of one man and, while it's not having a big convention in September, it's sending troops out into the wilderness to sharpen their outdoor skills and practice their faith.
On May 24, Texas outdoorsman, college chancellor/professor, Eagle Scout, and father of seven (including four boys) Dr. Taylor Marshall (pictured) announced on his blog, Canterbury Tales, his intention to create a new group. It was to be built on the principles set out by BSA founder Robert Baden-Powell in 1908, who chose St. George—the dragon-slaying patron saint of his native Britain—as also the patron of young men seeking strength and virtue.
Along with traditional scouting activities, Taylor wanted the group to also emphasize his faith, as a former Episcopalian priest who converted to Roman Catholicism.
In a few short months, the Scouts of St. George has become a reality, with troops springing up—largely but not necessarily connected to Catholic parishes—around the country and overseas. The first camp-out for a SSG troop happened the weekend of Aug. 24, but the bulk of the current troops' first outdoors adventures will come during September.
"Our campout," says Marshall, "for Troop 1 and Troop 5, Dallas and North Fort Worth, we're are going to go out Sept. 6 and 8. We're going to have a couple priests and deacon; we'll have Mass, rosary both nights, Angelus prayer. It'll be great; it'll be so much fun."
Along with emphasizing skills and faith, Marshall sees his group as one answer to a larger crisis.
"I think it touches on two needs," he says, "that Catholics are experiencing—scratch Catholics—everybody is experiencing, and that is a crisis of masculinity and manhood in the West. What does it mean to be a man?
"For about 40 years, we've talked about women's rights and what it means to be a woman, but I think young boys and men have been forgotten. Television shows tend to depict the father or men as either savages who are angry and brutal, or as domesticated wusses."
It also doesn't help that a lot of the public role models—whether athletes, entertainers, or politicians—frequently fall well short of what most parents would hope for their sons.
"So," says Marshall, "the Scouts of St. George is seeking to answer that question and provide leadership and ideas for grandfathers and fathers and uncles, and their sons and grandsons, to reconnect and do that in a context of the Faith, of traditional family values and virtue."
While Marshall doesn't anticipate being able to set up a sister organization for young girls until the SSG is well-established, perhaps in a year or so, he believes that improving young men also improves the environment for young women.
"You want to see your son flourish and develop and grow," he says. "Maybe you don't have sons; you have daughters, but they're going to marry one of these guys one of these days.
"I think all of us still want a man who can provide and be chivalrous and be respectful and honor and stay with his wife for 50, 60, 70 years and not run off, and raise good children, good citizens. What we're doing is not just something religious, it's also for society as a whole."
Marshall envisions camping and outdoor events as the heart of the SSG, with monthly camp-outs as long as weather permits. There are Junior Scouts for first through fifth graders; and the Scouts of St. George for junior- and high-schoolers.
Troops began registering on July 1 (click here for the directory of troops as of July 16), and the organization is still in the process of formalizing the "Saint George Field Manual" but has made progress on uniform design, start-up details, and general guidelines.
Unlike On My Honor, which is Christian in philosophy but open to all, the Scouts of St. George is only open to Catholic boys, whether both their parents are Catholics (or Christians) or not, with or without a father in the home. The adult leaders must also be Catholic, have a letter of approval from a priest in good standing, and complete their diocesan "safe environment" training.
One of the chief concerns Marshall has been dealing with is the concept of the SSG as being exclusive to one faith.
"That's been the most controversial," he says, "but I've stood by my guns on this. We are a Catholic organization; we do hold to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, so everything they teach, we hold. And the membership is Catholic. Of course, we realize that every boy's father is not Catholic, but those fathers are welcome to join us and be part of what we're doing.
"But the leadership and the identity is Catholic, and the reason for that is because we don't want to impose our beliefs and standards on those who don't agree with us... It would be a disservice to (a non-Catholic boy) for him to have to act like a Catholic just to be with us.
"So we're very upfront with who we are and what we do. That brings us a certain amount of authenticity that people can respect on both sides."
Of course, once the SSG is out in public, holding events and camp-outs, there's always the likelihood of protesters being on hand. Marshall isn't concerned with that right now.
"You know," he says, "if people protested, I would just say, 'Why don't you come down, sit over here, and have a roasted marshmallow with me and enjoy it?' I'm not interested in that. If people protest, I'd just be friendly with them."