Vespers for the Boy Scouts of America

Vespers for the Boy Scouts of America

File photo of a Boy Scout. (George Frey/Getty Images)

Lance Christensen
Lance Christensen

5/13/2024

Updated: 5/21/2024

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Commentary
I had a whole, separate column ready to publish for this month, but something held me back from sending it to my editor a few days ago. I knew why after being alerted to an obituary of a close friend of mine. I instantly went into mourning.
Except that it wasn’t really an obituary, but it read as one.
The former Boy Scouts of America—or BSA—has transitioned into “Scouting America,” in an effort to rebrand itself.
Trying to process my emotional response, I quickly tweeted my disappointment. I was angry about the change and wanted to strike out harder, but the inevitability of it all tempered my response.
For those who think the BSA’s announcement is trivial or a passing phase, please understand how deeply this cut so many men like me who tried to hold onto the golden days of Scouting.
As petty as it may sound, I miss the Boy Scouts when they were just for boys. While challenged by several worthy opponents, they were unrivaled in the formation of young men for more than a century.
Yes, time has revealed sordid episodes of BSA’s betrayal of trust. Indeed, barrels of ink have been spilt on the numerous controversies and missteps of the past several decades. I see no need to relitigate any of those issues here. I’ll let others do the autopsy on BSA’s fall should it never get back up.
Rather than pen a diatribe, I wanted to provide a short eulogy to my experience since joining Cub Scouts in 1984. Spending a few words reminiscing on better times has proven to be the balm my soul needs to move along and remove the residual spite festering inside me.
At age 8, I was a typical kid who loved the weekly activities, the camping trips, the goofy skits at award ceremonies, and earning merit badges. There was little in the Scouting ethos I did not experience or enjoy. Mostly, I basked in the camaraderie and fellowship of other boys my age without the complexity of awkward or unwieldy co-ed situations. We enjoyed rambunctious adventures worthy of the silver screen.
We built more than campfires; we formed foundations for manhood. The Scout Oath and Scout Law were not just simple recitations; they became a part of my DNA as I internalized the principles stated therein. I learned honor, duty, and the need to “Be Prepared” at all times, to serve my fellow man in any capacity.
My Scout leaders were not just men with nothing else to do. They became mentors, maps, and compasses guiding me through life. As I’ve matured, I look fondly on the times they asked me to teach knots to younger boys, lead out on 50-mile rain-soaked treks through Philmont Ranch’s astonishing trails or pick an Eagle Project that improved accessibility at a local campground. They made me decide what kind of life I wanted to live and the man I wanted to become. They gave me purpose.
And when it was time for my oldest son to progress through the Eagle Scout advancement, I was proud to relay the basic skills I learned at his age while concurrently doing a personal inventory of my present role as a husband, father, provider, protector, citizen, colleague, and friend. Was I living up to the Scouting ideal?
As my church discontinued its long association with the BSA, we tried to continue on in a secular troop with my second son. My heart ached when he decided not to finish out the final requirements to be an Eagle Scout. He saw the dramatic changes happening within the organization and determined BSA no longer provided the value it once did. As an unfortunate result, my youngest son would never know the joys of being a Tenderfoot Scout as he devoted his time elsewhere, foreclosing any future relationship with the organization.
I fully own the consequences of our family’s decision to separate from the BSA. Could we have stuck it out for the credentials and accolades? I suppose we could have, but it would have felt pyrrhic.
For those staying with Scouting America, I harbor no ill will and do not begrudge the opportunities before you. I hope you and your children can be “prepared for life” in this restructured organization. We need more kindness and reverence in this world.
As I close, the words of the Boy Scout Vespers that I’ve sung at hundreds of campfires echo in my head.
Softly falls the light of day, While our campfire fades away. Silently each Scout should ask Have I done my daily task? Have I kept my honor bright? Can I guiltless sleep tonight? Have I done and have I dared Everything to be prepared?
I want to say that I left Scouting better than I found it. Now, it’s time to move along.
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Lance Christensen is the vice president of education policy and government affairs at the California Policy Center and former candidate for state superintendent of public instruction.

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