A scouting organization created as a Christian-based alternative to the Boy Scouts is establishing itself throughout Nebraska.
Trail Life USA has organized chapters in Lincoln, Omaha, Norfolk, Nebraska City, McCook and Benkelman. The program bills itself as a Christian adventure, character and leadership program that views homosexuality as sinful.
Across the nation, parents of Boy Scouts have begun switching their children to Trail Life in response to the Boy Scouts of America’s decision in May to begin allowing openly gay boys to join. The decision went into effect Jan. 1.
“I was involved with Boy Scouts for many years,” said Chuck Boerngen, who has organized a Trail Life troop in Norfolk. “I wish them well. I wanted to join Trail Life because they’re raising the standard in scouting.”
Boy Scouts leadership made the decision to end the ban on gay members after pressure from groups including Scouts for Equality, which collected nearly 2 million signatures, including thousands from Eagle Scouts.
Boerngen wouldn’t say last week whether the Boy Scouts' decision to allow gay boys to join prompted him to start a Trail Life troop. His 12- and 14-year-old sons have been involved in Boy Scouts for years, he said.
He did say he appreciates Trail Life’s focus on the Bible.
“I don’t have to apologize about my Christian views anymore,” he said. “I don’t have to be secretive about what I believe.”
Boerngen said he started an American Heritage Girls troop in Norfolk as well, and his 6-year-old daughter attends those meetings. American Heritage Girls was founded in 1995 as a Christian-based alternative to what its founders saw as an increasingly secular Girl Scouts of the USA.
He said the Trail Life troop in Norfolk has about 25 boys and the American Heritage troop has about the same number of girls.
James Brown of Lincoln, point man for Trail Life in Nebraska and a liaison between local troops and the national organization, said all of the troops in the state were formed after the May decision by the Boy Scouts.
He said some troops in Nebraska have begun meeting, and others have not.
“They’re in various stages, from having meetings to putting leadership positions together,” Brown said.
Brown has two sons, 17 and 7, who were in Boy Scouts until May. He said he decided to get involved in Trail Life because of the scouts’ decision to allow gay members.
“As a parent, it was time to move on,” he said. “I wish all my friends at Boy Scouting well.”
The Lincoln troop has not had any meetings but is forming its leadership, he said. His sons have purchased Trail Life uniform shirts and handbooks.
“It will be a very masculine outdoor program,” Brown said, citing an activity agenda likely to include camping, canoing and hiking. “All those types of things build up character and leadership, all of it focused back on Christ.”
In Lincoln, mass defections from local Boy Scouts troops have not occurred as some feared, said Rene Monarez, executive director of the Cornhusker Council.
In fact, the council saw a 112 percent increase in recruitment last year compared to the year before, he said. No local partners — churches, for example — have ended their association with Boy Scouts since May, Monarez said.
He said the council likely has lost some members, volunteers and donors since May, but that it’s unclear what role the decision to allow gay boys to join had on those departures.
“We are thankful that the overwhelming majority of our scouting family remains committed to the program,” he said.
Nationally, most major sponsors of scout units, including the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches, have decided to maintain ties.
JD Flynn, Catholic Diocese of Lincoln spokesman, said he didn’t know of any local Catholic churches that had cut ties to the scouts. He said the Diocese of Lincoln told its local churches shortly after the May decision that they must decide individually whether to maintain their associations with local troops.
Foster Collins, a local assistant scoutmaster in Lincoln who had pushed for an end to the ban on gay scouts and scout leaders, said he hasn’t noticed any loss of scouts from his troop since the May decision. The troop continues to meet at South Gate United Methodist Church.
“On a local level, it’s really been a non-issue,” he said. “I’m sure there are people who are upset about it.”
But Collins said he’s heard nothing but support for the policy change and has even had other Boy Scout leaders ask him about a rainbow-colored knot he wears on his scouting uniform as a show of support for the change.
“Several other scoutmasters in our troop have asked me to get them one,” he said.