Eight years after lifting a ban on homosexual youth when it boasted more than 2.7 million members, the Boy Scouts of America now has just 762,000 members as it continues to grapple with some 82,000 sexual abuse claims from former Scouts, court records show.
In just one year alone, from 2019 to 2020 amid the pandemic, the BSA’s flagship Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA programs lost 850,000 members dropping from 1.97 million to 1.12 million over the period. Since then, membership in those programs have fallen a further 358,000 to the current 762,000 according to figures recently reviewed by The Associated Press.
Lawyers for the BSA, which is going through a federal bankruptcy process as a result of mounting sex abuse claims from former Scouts, are negotiating the creation of a $250 million trust fund for victims.
Earlier this year, the BSA proposed in its revised bankruptcy plan, to issue an unsecured promissory note for $80 million for the victims’ trust fund and to use its restricted assets to cover post-bankruptcy expenses, the Rockland County Times reported. Changes to the youth organization’s original Chapter 11 filing increase the contribution the BSA would make to the trust fund from $120 million under its previous plan to $250 million.
The BSA’s President and CEO, Roger Mosby, told the AP that its 252 local councils will have to sell off properties to help cover the claims.
“We understand that this is a difficult and often emotional decision, but in some instances may be a necessary step as we work toward our shared imperatives of equitably compensating survivors and continuing Scouting’s mission,” Mosby said in a statement.
The Greater Hudson Valley Boy Scouts of America in New York has already listed three of its mid-Hudson camps, including Camp Bullowa in Stony Point, as available for purchase, according to Rockland County Times.
Jim Monaghan, supervisor of the Town of Stony Point, told the publication that he spoke with the Greater Hudson Valley Council of the BSA, CEO Richard Stockton, about the possibility of the town purchasing the property.
“If there is an opportunity to buy it, I certainly think it would be a tremendous asset for the town and for its future,” Monaghan said. “It is a wonderful recreational area that could still be used by local groups for camping and for scouting.”
The membership drop, coupled with the pandemic and abuse claims, has resulted in a strain on the BSA’s finances, according to a disclosure statement showing gross revenues falling from $394 million in 2019 to $187 million in 2020.
The youth organization founded in 1910 is now hoping to increase its bottom-line with a hike in its annual youth membership fee from $66 to $72 which is expected to go in effect on Aug. 1.
Among the reasons cited by the AP for the recent drop in membership is competition from sports leagues, a perception that the BSA is old fashioned and the pandemic.
The BSA, however, has been steadily losing members, particularly from conservative Christian families, since 2013, when it adopted an amendment that effectively lifts the ban on homosexual youth in the organization.
In an interview with The Christian Post that year, Elizabeth Pritchard, the pack committee chair for Pack 928 in Southlake, Texas, warned that the vote would fracture the organization and scare away members who disagreed with the ruling.
"I just can't imagine going to camp with my son, being with him every step of the way saying: 'I'm sorry, he can't sleep in tents with other boys. I'm sorry, he can't take a shower unless I'm outside the shower and he's the only person in there. I'm sorry, he can't go biking with other boys unless his father or I are there.' How is that scouting?" she asked.
Some churches like the Southeast Christian Church, a megachurch in Louisville, Kentucky, quickly cut ties with the BSA after the announcement.
"We want everyone, including ourselves, to live by biblical standards," Tim Hester, the church's executive pastor explained that year. "Truly for us, it's a logical decision. … We cannot be distracted from the mission God has called us to."
Since 2013, the BSA announced further changes in its membership policy allowing openly gay scout leaders in 2015. It further expanded membership to include girls, prompting a lawsuit from the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, which is also reporting a loss in membership.
The changes have resulted in Christian denominations continuing to cut ties with the organization in favor of programs that align with their values like Trail Life USA which has seen a significant bump in its membership.
In just nine months after it launched in 2014, the "unapologetically Christian" alternative to BSA attracted more than 14,000 members. It recently reported some 30,000 members and has continued growing even during the pandemic.
“So far this year, we have seen a 70% increase in new members over this time last year and a 30% increase over the same period the prior year,” Trail Life USA CEO Mark Hancock told CP. “Just this year, we have seen over 65 new troops started as men across the nation have stepped up to lead and make a difference in the lives of boys in their churches, their families and their communities.”
At the end of 2019, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also completely cut ties with the BSA, noting a shift toward a more globally-focused youth leadership and development program. The Mormons ended scouting programs for about 180,000 older teenage boys 14–18, and replaced them with church-sponsored activities at the beginning of 2018.
The LDS Church said that Scouting's Varsity and Venturing programs did not serve LDS young men of those ages well, according to Deseret News, and the change would allow youths and leaders to implement simplified programs that balanced "spiritual, social, physical and intellectual development goals for young men."
That decision cut the number of Mormon boys in scouting from nearly half a million to 280,000 at the beginning of 2018. The church reportedly paid the same annual lump sum it paid to the BSA in 2017 to dull the impact of such a major loss of revenue.