One way to think about the Boy Scouts’ recent renaming to “Scouting America” is that this is just the hopeful public relations rebranding of an already low-performing product. 

Cub Scouts, which serves children in kindergarten through fifth grade, has been officially co-ed since 2017; and Boy Scouts, which serves sixth through twelfth graders, has accepted girls since 2018. The organization has been in decline for several years. 

In 2019, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts combined served 1.97 million American children; today, it serves about 762 thousand. BSA leadership, understandably, wants to reverse this troubling trend, one that also parallels a wider de-institutionalization and atomization of American life that gravely threatens our national character. 

But instead of recognizing that going co-ed in the first place correlated with the recent decline in enrollment, BSA leadership has decided to double down on the direction that may be at fault for the organization’s troubles. This ideologically motivated move is likely to backfire. 

When an organization tries to be everything to everyone, it winds up being nothing to anyone. “Boy Scouts” may have been off-putting to some who believe that the reality of biological maleness, including naturally superior strength, greater aggression, and the consequent need for stricter authority, amounts to “toxic masculinity.”  Many people who subscribe to those views would not be interested in something called “Boy Scouts,” perhaps believing it represented a notion of “boyhood” that they find retrograde. 

Will enough of those people put their children in “Scouting America” to make up for all the potential scouts that the organization will lose precisely because it seems to no longer be offering a specifically male social and formational experience? I doubt it. 

Take a look at the mainline Protestant churches that stand majestic—and empty—all over the country. When religiosity began to decline in the 1960s, these congregations began to embrace trendy political slogans and let the tenets of both the faith and the community take a back seat. As a result, they became spaces where congregants could expect less erudite versions of the same moral relativism found in college liberal arts classes. They failed to recognize that in abandoning their raison d’être to stay with the times, they merely hastened their own obsolescence and rendered themselves redundant.

The Catholic Church, by contrast, mostly held tight to its doctrine, even as its practices changed. It, too, lost members hand over fist and continues to do so. But at least it’s still here, growing in certain locations where its creed is welcomed—unmistakably the same thing it always was, and biding its time, infrastructure mostly intact, for a time when more people embrace the perennial human need to engage what it offers. 

The Boy Scouts went with the Protestant model when they should have gone with the Catholic one. Instead of continuing to be a haven for people invested in what they specifically offer, they have decided to become just another “inclusive,” co-ed organization. Such institutions are a dime a dozen. “Boy Scouts” was unique, and should have stayed that way. 

As the mom of two Cub Scouts and a proponent of all that the organization stands for (or used to?) I hope that scouting doesn’t rebrand itself into obsolescence. But I fear that it will.