03 July 2014

Trail Life members form a circle and recite the organization's creed during meeting in North Richland Hills, Texas. Trail Life USA, the new Christian-based alternative to the Boy Scouts of America, excludes openly gay members. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."

 -- Sinclair Lewis

 Dissatisfied with the Boy Scouts of America's new policy permitting openly gay boy scouts, a new Christian alternative, called Trail Life, emerged in 2013 and began a public relations blitzkrieg this past week. The group, which already has more than 100 chartered troops, has materials and rules but no uniforms as of yet. The press offensive played up the group's values and growth and garnered write-ups in the San Jose Mercury News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer and MSNBC, among others. The mainstream press was happy to print photos of young “trailblazers” giving what appears to be a Nazi-style salute without criticism, but did not seem eager to research the background of the group's leaders and their connections.

 The group's leader and founder, John Stemberger, lead the fight to keep gay children out of scouting and removed his own children and cut his ties to the organization last May when that fight was lost. He began immediately building his splinter group around very narrow principles. Although Trail Life claims to be open to any race or creed, it's statement of faith affirms a belief in holy trinity, thus excluding any non-Christians from participation. The Trail Life motto “Walk Worthy” is an explicit reference to Colossians 1:10 “Walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing him” The group also affirms that all sexuality should be within the context of a marriage between one man and one woman.

 Anti-gay and other far-right religious activism is not new to Stemberger. He also leads another far right group, the Florida Family Policy Council, which is associated with the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family. In September 2012, Stemberger was a keynote speaker at the Family Impact Summit along with former Florida Secretary of State Kathrine Harris. Harris, apparently not content to be the only Secretary of State present to have rigged an election for George W. Bush, was joined by Ohio's own Ken Blackwell.

 Anti-gay activism was not the only topic at the conference. Other topics included opposition to abortion, opposition to Islam and defense of marriage. The conference was not Blackwell's first non-traditional marriage to the bigot caucus of far-right politics. As reported by the Free Press in 2006,Blackwell addressed the Council for National Policy, which includes former Ku Klux Klan leaders, Christian Reconstructionists, noted anti-Semite Don Wildmon (who also spoke at the 2012 Family Impact Summit) and Iran-Contra principles John Singluab and Oliver North. Blackwell also toured Ohio during the 2006 election season with white supremacist Larry Pratt in support of gun owner's rights.

 The Florida Family Policy Council is not the only far-right religious connection that the Trailmen have. Among Trail Life's strategic partners is a group called Manhood Journey, which describes itself as “a non-denominational, Bible-based approach to building young men through the discipleship and mentorship of their own father.” Manhood Journey is the exclusive provider of spiritual materials to Trail Life boys for grades 6 through 12. Their teaching materials include lessons on “absolute truth” and how “tolerance” of ideas that are not “absolute truth” is wrong. The mentorship and discipleship model of organization appear to be drawn from a religious concept known as shepherding discipleship, in which a teacher involves themselves in all parts of a disciple's life and the disciple must account for all their time and every action to the teacher.

 Trail Life has a Columbus area affiliate, Troop 110 which meets at the government owned and funded Dublin Community Recreation Center. Troop 110 is sponsored by a religious organization called the Journey Church, which has three levels of membership. The innermost level of membership is called spiritual friends and “are usually groups of three same gender people who challenge one another to live an authentic spiritual life. They meet regularly for personal coaching and encouragement similar to how Jesus met with Peter, James and John.” The organizational model of the Journey Church appears quite similar to shepherding discipleship, which was advanced by the para-church group Promise Keepers. The Promise Keepers, known for their mass all-male revival rallies, were envisioned by their founder's pastor, James Riley, as an end-times army. When questioned directly on this “"Never have 300,000 men come together throughout human history," he declared, "except for the purpose of war."

 As boys begin their experience of Trail Life, giving a five fingered salute instead of the scout three fingered salute and reciting their creed with their right arm outstretched in a possibly unconscious imitation of the Hitler Youth, powerful political forces are speeding them on their journey. Already they have the quiet backing of white supremacists, election riggers and have appropriated government resources from the City of Dublin to their narrow religious use. Their political trajectory is not yet charted, but it will be monitored, at least by the Free Press.