YORK COUNTY — Members of Boy Scout troop that included a Fort Mill teen decided to leave the organization and join a new Christian-centered outdoor group called Trail Life USA.
The switch was prompted by Boy Scouts of America’s decision to allow openly gay members into Scouting as of Jan. 1.
Former Boy Scout Troop 280, with approximately two dozen members, was sponsored by Harvest Baptist Church in Rock Hill and was guided by troop leader William Woods and other members of the church. In a unanimous vote, the troop dissolved all formal ties with BSA. Several members who were close to making Eagle Scout joined other local troops to earn the rank before leaving BSA.
Harvest Baptist pastor Marshall Fant described the troop as an extension of the church’s mission and Boy Scouts as one tool the church used to teach leadership. BSA’s decision, however, rendered it incompatible with the church’s mission, Fant said.
“Any organization we support must line up with our view of scripture,” he said, “and when the Boy Scouts no longer considered homosexuality a sin, then we did not have the freedom to address it as a sin in the light of scripture.”
Fant described the decision as “gut wrenching” but unanimous.
Scout parent Kim Hajas of Fort Mill agrees.
“It has been very painful for us to leave,” Hajas said, “Unfortunately, it’s a moral issue for all of us.”
Her son Ethan Hajas, 15, recently earned the Boy Scout’s highest rank of Eagle Scout after six years of Scouting. Ethan said he’s excited to start Trail Life.
“I was aggravated that the Scouts didn’t hold up to biblical standards on homosexuality,” Ethan said. “The Boy Scouts was a great program to build leadership. But I think Trail Life is going to be much better. I’m glad it’s biblically based.”
Trail Life USA was created in response to the Boy Scouts of America’s internal vote last May allowing openly gay youths to participate in Scouting. The BSA’s policy does not apply to homosexual adults, who are still banned from participating in the organization.
“Trail Life is a very similar program to the Boy Scouts,” Woods said, “It provides the same focus of adventure, character, and leadership. But it is more Christ-centered and service based.”
Woods emphasized the service-based nature of the group, which he said “quadruples the amount of service” required of members compared to BSA. Members who switch will receive “equivalent” rankings in the new organization, and the opportunity for outdoor hiking and camping activities, he said.
According to its website, Trail Life USA leaves no doubts about its views on homosexuality.
“We at Trail Life USA believe that homosexuality, or any sexuality outside of the Sanctity of Marriage under God between a Man and a Woman is sin,” the group’s website states.
York County BSA officials said there were no other whole troop defections. Greg Leitch, CEO of Boy Scouts of America’s Palmetto Council, said the organization remains strong.
“Nearly all of the active local programs who were displaced as a result of the membership policy change have been reorganized with new community partners,” Leitch wrote in an email to the Fort Mill Times.
“We understand that people are passionate about the membership standards issue and about Scouting,” Leitch wrote. “America needs Scouting. We believe good people can disagree and still work together to accomplish great things for youth. Going forward, we will work to stay focused on that which unites us.”