The Boy Scouts’ Bankruptcy Is Not Just Financial. It’s Moral

Boy Scouts

What used to be an organization designed to help boys become men has now been re-fashioned in line with the new gnosticism of American culture, accepting LGTBQIA ideology, while abandoning its traditional ascetic position about sex and its opposition to atheism.

Source: The Federalist. Reprinted with permission.

By Alfred Kentigern Siewers

What’s left of the Boy Scouts of America (now operating as Scouts BSA) is on the brink of declaring bankruptcy, according to recent news reports. With estimated assets of more than $1 billion, Scouting’s problems go beyond the financial, deep into the problems with America’s civil culture today.

The U.S. Boy Scout movement reached its numerical height in 1969 with 6 million members, in a year with President Richard M. Nixon as honorary head of the Scouts and Eagle Scout astronaut Neil Armstrong stepping out on the moon.

I was a Cub Scout that year, once a week proudly wearing my uniform to Armstrong Elementary School in our Chicago neighborhood, heading to our well-attended den meeting right after school. My liberal Democratic parents signed me up, my dad a World War II veteran supportive of Scouting’s patriotism.

Fast-forward ahead nearly 50 years: Scout membership has dropped toward 2 million. The impending departure of the Latter Day Saints troops this year will drop that total by one-fifth. Our local school district in conservative central Pennsylvania won’t allow promoting Scouting at school. In our college town, many in the woke local elite now despise Scouting as neo-Nazi and white nationalist, despite efforts to change the national movement to please progressives. My son’s local troop closed recently for lack of members, and so did others in the area.

The national organization faces large lawsuits due to alleged cases of sexual abuse as state legislatures change the statute of limitations on such cases. It also faces a lawsuit from the Girl Scouts for poaching on their membership by changing its name recently to Scouts BSA and recruiting girls.

It’s Not Just Financial Bankruptcy

The old American Boy Scouts might as well be filing for moral bankruptcy, having lost both its base and elite cultural capital. What used to be an organization designed to help boys become men has now been re-fashioned in line with the new gnosticism of American culture, accepting LGTBQIA ideology, while abandoning its traditional ascetic position about sex and its opposition to atheism.

Next year’s World Scouting Jamboree in West Virginia reportedly will be the first hosted by the former Boy Scouts of America to make condoms available to participants. A 2016 agreement with the Unitarian-Universalists overrode the group’s membership requirement of belief in God by allowing belief in humanism, contrary to the Scout Oath.

The “bowling alone” syndrome of declining civic groups in the United States, over-scheduling of young people, and the weakening of American family models all played a role. In fact, political scientist Paul Kengor of Grove City College has detailed the history of American communists and cultural Marxists’s efforts to target and subvert Scouting in particular, to help undermine American family life.

Yet it was corporate executives and members of the U.S. political establishment (including Scouting leaders such as Rex Tillerson and Robert Gates) on the national board who with progressive staff members agreed to surrender to pressure to sexualize the organization in recent years, despite an earlier hard-fought U.S. Supreme Court victory by the organization to preserve membership rules. In admitting openly gay members and leaders, accepting transgenderism, then admitting girls, Scouting turned its back on a cultural background of Christian teaching on sexuality going back millennia.

The central issue was not admitting openly LGBTQIA-identifying members and leaders, but redefining the group’s value of freedom as self-expression, rather than self-restraint. The latter was the traditional ethos of Scouting, not shaping boys into open heterosexuals or any other type of -sexuals, in the “Mad Men”/Hugh Hefner mold or anything else.

Turning On Historic Christian Morality

In Scouting in recent decades, physical edginess and “tough” training requirements also were loosened or removed. The values of a culture dedicated to the human person as totally malleable, based on self-will, took hold. Safety and comfort became increasingly the ultimate values.

Such values, which affected Scouting ultimately more because of changes in in its anchoring mainline Protestant and business cultures than leftist subversion, reject an age-old cultural inheritance of the American republic that regarded virtue and self-restraint as the goals of education of young men, to be leaders of a free society and the families that would continue it.

In the wake of the Neo-Chalcedonianism established by the Fifth Ecumenical Church Council in 553, St. Maximus the Confessor in the seventh century articulated the basis for traditional Christian ascetic approaches to identity as a cosmology, not merely morality. It was a synthesis in part of biblical and Greek philosophical traditions. He wrote of how God created man male and female, but also that there was neither male nor female in Christ.

Maximus’ Christian Byzantine Empire had a performative sense of biological and embodied sexual identity of men and women, with also a third gender or sex, that of both eunuchs and ascetics. Virtuous and holy women could aspire to manliness; men could venerate the Mother of God as the best of saints. Self-restrained and grace-filled chastity, engaged in marriage to the oppose sex or to Christ in monastic community, was seen as leading to the fulfillment of human life in oneness with God’s grace—not essentializing sexual passions by objectifying others.

The complementarity of marriage was a living symbol of the relation of humanity in the universal church to God. Biological sexes of male and female were an embodied sacred iconography to be honored and followed, nurturing trans-generational families in which men could learn to be guardians of peace, husbands who would lay down their lives for their families and country.

That is the deep and complex centuries-old basis for a moral initiation into manhood that dimly still underlay the Boy Scout Oath and Law, a distant cultural inheritance.

Setting Boys Adrift In a Mooring-less Culture

Scouts were never a perfect organization. Major problems with sexual abuse and coverups of it show that. They had quasi-Masonic aspects in Order of the Arrow ceremonies and “great Scoutmaster in the sky” language at camp chapel, emerging from an odd crucible of Teddy Roosevelt-style nationalist progressivism and British Empire civics of the early 20th century. Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book” also inspired Cub Scout ranks.

But in the lost world of 1969 working-class Chicago neighborhoods, in the heyday of the Boy Scouts of America, I with many other boys before and since learned valuable lessons from Scouting, and however imperfectly kept respect for the virtues of the Scout Oath and Law tucked away with my old copy of the Scout handbook and Scout pocket knife in later years.

Our eldest son found a home in a small rural troop run by dedicated military and law enforcement veterans. I often went along on camping trips as an adult volunteer leader. It was a great experience and a sad day when the troop closed recently due to dwindling membership.

Our family’s relationship with regular Scouting ended around the time our younger son in fifth grade ran to get his copy of Boys Life magazine in the mail only to throw it aside because it was featuring girls, as if photoshopped into Norman Rockwell Scouting art. He lost his enthusiasm, our eldest lost his home troop, and dad didn’t want to send money to a national organization adrift.

Not just the old Boy Scouts but America may need receivership for moral bankruptcy. Either way, the real shame is that it is that much of a harder path today for many American boys without strong male role models to find their way to the freedom of self-restraint in manhood envisioned in that millennia-old tradition.

Dr. Alfred Kentigern Siewers is the William E. Simon visiting fellow in religion and public life (2018-2019) at the James Madison Program, Princeton University, and associate professor of English at Bucknell University. He is also reader and warden at Holy Protection Russian Orthodox Mission Church in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. He teaches and writes on Christian literature and ideas of nature, and on public rhetoric related to secularism and faith. His views are his own.


  1. Patrick J. Teague, Sr. says

    As a Cub Scout in the 50’s, a Boy Scout in the 60’s, and a Scout Master in the 80’s and 90’s, it is terribly painful to see what has killed the best boys-to-men organization in Western Society. As you described, Moral Bankruptcy leads to all othe bankruptcy. Boy Scouts have been attacked with premeditated by Communism since the early 60’s. When Communists overtook protests and universities in the late 60’s, Scouting’s fate was sealed. God haters’ zeal wins. Lord have mercy on what is left in Civilization.

    By the way, my great-grandfather, James Arthur Fenn was in America’s first Boy Scout Troup 1 in Pawhuska, (Indian Territory) Oklahoma, and in later years was the very first Silver Beaver recipient in Scouting. This hits close to home.

    Pat Teague,

  2. M. Stankovich says

    Like Prof. Siewers, I too recall the days of proudly wearing the Cub Scout uniform to school, completed by the kerchief neatly pressed by my grandmother that morning around my neck. All the more important was the fact that nobody could afford the uniform new, so most of us proudly settled on just the shirt & kerchief, handed down from someone. While it is not the focus of Prof. Siewers’ essay, there is no denying (from Norman Rockwell above, and the values & priorities that did not reflect the reality around us) that BSA has always been a White, middle-class endeavor. Then came some federal judge’s decision that racial integration should be “forced,” and onto a bus me and my neighbors went to middle school in the suburbs (“But wait, I’m white!”), and on the first Wednesday, as customary on the day our Den met after school, we wore our Cub Scout shirts and pressed kerchiefs. Oh, and there was also the small matter of the Viet Nam war and those sneaky, pesky attacks known as the “Tet Offensive of 1968” occurring at the exact same time as we got off the bus in those uniforms. Everyone of the 6 or 7 of us were harassed, kicked & punched, our kerchiefs and slider stolen, anything of value taken from us by the older high school kids (“May I remind you I am white”). They called us “ROTC” (“What?”) and obscenities. The point is that my distinct impression is that the value and influence of BSA is as much overly exaggerated as it is contextually limited. BSA generalizes poorly.

    Secondly, when stating that “the central issue was not admitting openly LGBTQIA-identifying members and leaders, but redefining the group’s value of freedom as self-expression, rather than self-restraint,” and making a vague reference to a “hard-fought U.S. Supreme Court victory by the organization to preserve membership rules,” Prof. Siewers is factually correct, but fails to convey how profound the impact of the “hard fought victory” might be. He is referring to Boy Scouts of America v Dale (a gay Scoutmaster dismissed by BSA because he disclosed he was a homosexual) decided by the SCOTUS June 28 , 2000; summarized at the SCOTUS site Oyez:

    In a 5-4 opinion delivered by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, the Court held that “applying New Jersey’s public accommodations law to require the Boy Scouts to admit Dale violates the Boy Scouts’ First Amendment right of expressive association.” In effect, the ruling gives the Boy Scouts of America a constitutional right to bar homosexuals from serving as troop leaders. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote for the Court that, “[t]he Boy Scouts asserts that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the values it seeks to instill,” and that a gay troop leader’s presence “would, at the very least, force the organization to send a message, both to the young members and the world, that the Boy Scouts accepts homosexual conduct as a legitimate form of behavior.”

    In effect, the SCOTUS ruled that a private organization had the right to freely associate with only those who meet a specific criterion (criteria) – in this case a moral behaviour(s). It seems to me that Prof. Siewers is saying they forsook the “hard-fought victory” and instead freely chose the path of immorality. Again this would be factually correct. But it is certainly not the entire story.

    Here in San Diego, there was a similar case of a Scoutmaster and leader dismissed after he disclosed he was homosexual; he chose to wait for the BSA v Dale decision. When the SCOTUS ruled in favor of the BSA, LGBT groups in San Diego filed protests that the City of San Diego was allowing the BSA to utilize, among several city facilities, a very large “clubhouse” facility in Balboa Park, in the middle of the city (home to the zoo, air & space museum, etc.), at no cost. Bear in mind, San Diego County is a “red” county in a “blue” state – home port of the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz carrier groups, Naval Air Station Miramar, North Island Naval Air Station, Marine Camp Pendleton, etc. and the city has traditionally been very supportive of BSA. The City Council of San Diego had no choice but to remove them from public facilities. While the “freedom of association” for a private entity such as BSA is not illegal nor discriminatory, this is not to say it does not come without consequences. I can’t imagine similar decisions have not been made across the US. There is no “justification” for moral bankruptcy, yet the instinct for survival is potent, however misguided.

    Finally, as a scientist, I know that all the anecdote one can fit in a normal grocery shopping cart tells you absolutely nothing more than the need for research. There simply is no definitive data that would indicate, in the negative, 1) that a lack of male role modeling – be it from a primary male care provider, same-gender sibling, etc. – is detrimental to normal male role development; 2) that males raised by a female as the primary care provider will suffer more “deficits” in ego-strength and character than males raised by a male as the primary care provider. Conversely, it seems to me that studies attempting to “equate” child development in, for example, same-sex head-of-household parenting relationships are necessarily forced to measure themselves against the established criteria of a one male, one female parenting relationship because it is unquestionably the paradigm. It seems to me that we possess more than enough longitudinal data to incorporate these standards into our discussion.

  3. Fr. Ioannes Apiarius says

    The Boy Scouts organization is a good example of what happens when weak and cowardly men are in charge. They lack the strong moral foundation and solid backbones required of those in positions of authority. These weak individuals always compromise their beliefs and cave in to social pressure, especially when the LGBT propaganda machine comes knocking.

    Make no mistake about it, the homosexualists will pervert and destroy everything they target. They want to sexualize and homosexualize all institutions and organizations. Every time weak men compromise and give in to the demands of the LGBT aggressiveness it only emboldens the homosexualists. Each victory leads them to push even harder in targeting the next institution, organization, company, business, or individual. No amount of compromise or middle ground is enough. They seek the total annihilation of traditional morality.

    Weakness and cowardice in the face of these assaults does nothing but encourage the LGBT radicals to go even further. The LGBT flag must be flown everywhere, even in your own churches and homes. Everyone must celebrate it. Your children must be indoctrinated. All boys and girls must accept that abnormality is normal. They must be sexualized as early as possible. Your children must learn sexual perversion and celebrate the LGBT doctrines from elementary school through college, and beyond.

    Christian parents wake up! The abnormal cannot dictate what’s normal. The LGBT activists condemn your moral judgment as “hate.” They denounce your criticisms of sodomy and sexual depravity as “homophobia.” They denigrate your traditional Christian beliefs as “bigotry.” They attack your refusal to embrace and celebrate the LGBT agenda as “dangerous.”

    Christian parents, don’t seek the approval and praise of the homosexualists. They don’t desire understanding or rapprochement, but your complete surrender. There is no compromise possible with those who seek to corrupt children and rebel against God’s laws.

    Christian parents, pick up your crosses and follow Christ. Stand up against the unrelenting homosexualist assaults. Defend your family. Make a stand. Protect the innocence of your children. Don’t back down. Stand on your moral principles. Fight back!

    Christian parents, be prepared for the hatred of the world. This is the price we all pay when we stand for truth and righteousness. Remember that the Lord warned us, “if the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you”, and “a servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:18-21).

    – Fr. Ioannes Apiarius

  4. Anna Stickles says

    Both males and females need role models and teaching about self-restraint, the importance of sobriety and dignity, etc. The emphasis on self-will and lack of teaching about self-restraint I think can directly be traced to the new morality ( that is being adopted:

    “What many find shocking about these phenomena is that they involve rejecting previously conventional moral injunctions to ignore insults, recognize the good intentions of those who accidentally give offense, and be charitable and civil toward those with whom we disagree. They instead illustrate a high sensitivity to slight, such that verbal offenses or even disagreements merit a serious response. They suggest a new morality.”

    Lack of self restraint does not only, or even primarily effect our sexuality, but it effects our ability to relate to recognize and restrain the automatic emotional and mental reactions that arise due to stress or insults or offense. It makes a person morally weak and unable to control or stand back from and reflect on one’s own thoughts and feelings. People start to identify with their thoughts and feelings and be much more controlled by them in an atmosphere that idolizes self-will, “authenticity” (ie acting out on and affirming whatever thought or feeling we have)

Speak Your Mind