Scouting and the Search for Biblical MasculinityTim Kinnard
Back in 1908, there was a British cavalry officer by the name of Lieutenant General Robert Baden-Powell who had an idea. Actually, the idea was born a few years earlier during Powell’s service during the Second Boer War in South Africa where he wrote in 1899 a very non-conventional field manual for British Soldiers called “Aids to Scouting” which was filled with inspiring stories, general scouting methods, and even games meant to encourage the development of light reconnaissance skills within the British Army.
As a piece of trivia, during his military campaigns in South Africa, Powell had to get creative at a time when his troops were seriously outnumbered. At one point, calling on the help of 12-to-15 year old boys apart of a volunteer group of young men in training known as the Mafeking Cadet Corp. These were cadets dressed in khaki uniforms and wide-brimmed hats and were deployed to support troops by delivering messages or supplies, helping in the hospitals, etc. This freed the actual soldiers to focus on combat. Powell’s scouting book was produced out of his experiences working with the boys of the Mafeking Cadet Corp.
The book became a popular field manual not only for the British Army. It soon caught the attention of young boys in general throughout Britain. In response to this, Powell wrote a nonmilitary edition with added lessons on good morals and citizenship, in addition to those common scouting skills the military cadets learned. To test out his new field curriculum, on July 25, 1907, he and a few other instructors took a group of 22 boys on a camping expedition to Brownsea Island in Dorsetshire off the coast of England. There they spent a fortnight (2 weeks), teaching the boys about camping, observation, deduction, woodcraft, boating, lifesaving, patriotism, and chivalry. By all accounts, this was the first Boy Scout meeting to be held.
The following year, in January 1908, Powell’s new field guide was published under the name “Scouting for Boys” and troops began springing up all across the British Commonwealth. A central Boy Scout Office was set up to register the new scouts, to organize it’s leadership, to design a uniform, and so forth. By the end of the same year, there were 60,000 eager boy scouts ready for adventure, which each troop soon undertook with it’s own expeditions.
In 1909, the first national Boy Scout meeting was held in London which 10,000 scouts attended, including a group of uniformed girls who called themselves the “Girl Scouts.” Apparently, they wanted to be apart of the action too. For reasons we’ll come back to, Powell decided to keep the new organization exclusive to boys, though he also agreed to launch a separate program dedicated to the girls which received the name the “Girl Guides.” So, dating back to it’s original founding, there has been some shared interest in scouting between boys and girls, as well as some discussion on whether to combine or keep to separate the two groups. Again, I want to come back to this in a bit.
Around the same time, an American version of the Boy Scouts came to be, when a Chicago publisher by the name of William Boyce was one time lost in the fog and helped by a unknown scout who helped get him through it. Boyce was so inspired by the experience, he launched several outdoor youth organizations which developed into the Boy Scouts of America (“BSA”). Popularly of the movement spread in America just as it had in Britain, including among the girls. So, in 1912, the Girl Scouts of America was also established.
There are so many principles we could point to that makes scouting “scouting,” especially as it was first presented by Mr. Baden-Powell. There’s a lot of good stuff to think about. But, one aspect in particular I think is worth mentioning, especially for our modern times, is the emphasis the program was originally designed to give to the training of boys in their transition to becoming men. For example, in the Preface to the first edition of the Boys Scouts of America Handbook in 1911, the editorial board explains:
“The BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA is a corporation formed by a group of men who are anxious that the boys of America should come under the influence of [the] movement and be built up in all that goes to make character and good citizenship…
In these pages and throughout our organization we have made it obligatory upon our scouts that they cultivate courage, loyalty, patriotism, brotherliness, self-control, courtesy, kindness to animals, usefulness, cheerfulness, cleanliness, thrift, purity and honor.
No one can doubt that with such training added to his native gifts, the American boy will in the near future, as a man, be an efficient leader in the paths of civilization and peace….
We send out our ‘Official Handbook,’ therefore, with the earnest wish that many boys may find in it new methods for the proper use of their leisure time and fresh inspiration in their efforts to make their hours of recreation contribute to strong, noble manhood in the days to come.”
Or, as it’s explained in Baden’s Powell’s original manual,
“The object of [it’s] institution is to complete the sequence of the training from boyhood to manhood, through the progressive grades of Wolf Cub, Scout, and Rover (which, apparently, were the original scouting ranks)”
No wonder the decision was originally made to keep the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts as separate organizations. Foundationally, the Boy Scouts were built with the objective of training boys to be men. That, obviously looks different than the objective of training girls to be women. At least, it used to be obvious. How did the manual say it, “No one can doubt that with such gifts the American boy will in the near future, as a man, be an efficient leader.”
Unfortunately, though that leadership training and gifting traditionally associated with manhood was once something “no one can doubt,” things have changed over the last 100 years. Today, there seems to be some confusion as to the basic definition and distinction between manhood or womanhood.
The biblical complementarian belief that men and women are created equal in value and worth before God, but created differently by design in their roles and responsibilities has been lost in the larger culture. A modern feminist, egalitarian uniformity, insisting on the virtual equality of men and women (including in their roles and responsibilities), has now become mainstream. Some even believe gender itself is a social construct that has no place in public discourse. Other than the biological blue and pink differences between boys and girls (which themselves should be open to transitioning from one to the other if so desired), all of us are just a colorful non-binary spectrum of people. We are what we want to be. In my opinion it’s all the result of a increasingly secular society, that no longer answers to God or the authority of Scripture to tell us what we are, or should be.
Unfortunately, the Boy Scouts program itself has since abandoned its foundational understanding of the important differences between men and women, despite their continued promise to honorably fulfill their duty before God in their Scout Oath. In a 2017 statement by Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbauh (Sir-bah), it seems the organizations real loyalty is now to the shifting opinion of a very confused society.
“We and others have recently been challenged by a very complex topic on the issue of gender identity. For more than 100 years, BSA…ultimately deferred to information on an individual’s birth certificate to determine eligibility for, and participation in, [the program]…
“After weeks of [conversation], we realized that referring to birth certificates as the reference point is no longer sufficient…Starting today, we will accept registration in our scouting programs based on the gender identity provided on an individual’s application.”
In other words, it doesn’t matter how God made you, or his intended design for the biological sexes—if you want to tag along with the guys, the door is open to you. If you want to state on the application you are a guy, even if you’re a girl, no big deal. Distinguishing between manhood and womanhood is no longer important to us.
Regardless of the direction the BSA and the broader culture has gone, acknowledging the God-given differences between men and women is still important. Why? Because God’s good plan for the sexes hasn’t changed. What is God’s good plan for the sexes? We’re told a big part of God’s plan for the sexes to is reflect aspects of his nature and character. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
I take that to mean there are certain attributes hardwired into man that makes him a man, and in a woman that makes her a woman, that, when taken complementarily, makes them in God’s image. I won’t take time to go through all those qualities, but biblically they are there. And, biblically they haven’t changed. How do we know that? Because the nature of God hasn’t changed. “He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
Another part of God’s plan for the sexes, particularly in the context of marriage, is to reflect not only aspects of God’s nature and character but of the complementing nature of the Gospel itself. Ephesians 5:31, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
Before that the text speaks of a man and woman’s different but complementary roles in the home.
A man’s primary leadership in the home, and a wife’s instrumental support of her husband, creates a kind of living portrait of how God graciously leads the church, and how the church joyously thrives as an integral part of God’s work in the world.
Obviously, the home is where biblical masculinity and biblical femininity are meant to shine brightest. But, certainly, it can still be reflected in public life too, whether that’s in the church, or at the sports arena, or even on scouting trail.
The BSA may have lost its way in the search of what it means to be a man, but that doesn’t mean everyone on the trail has. In fact, if you’re looking for a Christian scouting organization that still holds to a complementarian view, and which came about as a result of the BSA’s wrongly calibrating their compass on such matters, I can point you to Trail Life USA.
According to it’s website,
“Trail Life USA is a Church-Based, Christ-Centered, Boy-Focused mentoring and discipleship journey that speaks to the heart of a boy. Established on timeless values derived from the Bible and set in the context of outdoor adventure, boys from Kindergarten through 12th grade are engaged in a Troop setting by male mentors where they are challenged to grow in character, understand their purpose, serve their community, and develop practical leadership skills to carry out the mission for which they were created.”
I’ve got two of my boys in a local Trail Life Troop here in Arkansas. Actually, three of my boys are currently participating—one, due to his special needs, is participating in more of an honorary capacity right now, though I was excited to learn Trail Life does have a special track for Special Needs students. I’ll probably be looking into that eventually. Soon, though, I’ll have my fourth son enrolled when he turns 5. As one of the dads, I’m also actively involved. So, it’s turned into something for all the guys in our family.
I like what I read in an article at Backpacker.com, reporting on Trail Life’s inception. One member of the organization was quoted saying, “The Boy Scout may own the trademark of ‘scouting,’ but they don’t own the idea.” The article goes on, “Here, ‘Trailmen’ replace ‘Boy Scouts;’ instead of a second-grader earning the Wolf badge…he’s a Hawk in Trail Life. The oaths have strong overlap…as do many of the skills, including a focus on survival, first aid, and being a good citizen…‘At our core’ [Trail Life CEO, Mark Hancock explains], ‘we are unapologetically Christian…It is absolutely in our foundation—irretrievable, irreplaceable, irremovable.”
So far, I have been more than impressed with the teaching and instruction we’ve received in Trail Life. Not only are the outdoors skills and fraternal relationships something that I think fosters manliness, but the focus on character building and biblical truth is something that fosters godliness. That happens to be core distinctive of Trail Life. The program is “focused on turning boys into godly men. Our firm conviction is that this can only be done by allowing a boy the opportunity to interact, work with, and be mentored by and with other Christian men.”
I could say more about Trail Life USA, and scouting in general. Suffice it to say, I believe a crucial part of the entire pursuit is a discovery of the person God wants you to be. For boys, I believe that must necessarily include their becoming God honoring men, which is why we’re apart of the program we’re apart of. To learn more, I’d point you to www.traillifeusa.com where you’ll find more information on their distinctives and values, as well as their various advancement tracks for the boy. You can also find a directory of the different troops and what local options are close to you.