This year, a new alternative to the Boy Scouts of America officially launched nationwide — and already has a presence in York County.
Following the Scouts’ decision in 2013 to allow openly gay leaders and scouts in troops, the troop sponsored by Harvest Baptist Church in Rock Hill decided to blaze its own trail in scout-like programs, replacing the Boy Scouts with Trail Life USA.
“That was the thing that pushed it over the edge for us to switch,” said Marshall Fant, associate pastor of Harvest Baptist Church. “The main reason being that part of the Boy Scout Oath includes the words ‘morally straight’ and we believe that includes sexual ethics.
The new program at Harvest Baptist Church is the first of its kind to appear in York County, and like the Boy Scouts of America, is inter-weaved with the church. Trail Life USA describes itself as “the Christian alternative to” to the Boy Scouts.
Fant said the church viewed the scout troop as an outreach ministry, going so far to as change troop policies on weekend camping trips to where scouts would return in time for Sunday morning services.
“We always felt like the Boy Scout troop was serving the church’s philosophy,” Fant said. “The minute they stopped doing that at the national level, we reluctantly…had to discontinue our relationship with them.”
Fant said existing scout leaders reviewed at least two other programs before moving forward with the Trail Life program, describing it as the “more rigorous” of available options.
But one of the concerns was how teens in the troop working on their Eagle Scout rank would be affected. The Eagle rank is the highest rank in the scouting program, generally obtained by less than one percent of scouts.
Fant said the pending switch come January worked as an incentive for the teens in the troop working on the Eagle rank to complete their projects.
To date, Trail Life boasts 500 chartered troops across 42 states.