Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Why I left Royal Rangers and How It Affected Me

I've written my reasons for leaving Royal Rangers several times but many are interested.  Now that I have a blog I'm going to write it all out for posterity.  I will add Scout friendly terms in parentheses for clarity.

First, for those not in the know, Royal Rangers is (or at least was) a Christian scouting organization. It is not affiliated with the Boy Scouts but it was modeled very heavily on it.  It is one of the official youth programs of the Assemblies of God denomination.

I joined in 1985 when I was about 16 years old.  For reasons I don't fully understand to this day my mom wouldn't let me join Boy Scouts, which was what I really wanted to do.  When we discovered Rangers this seemed a great compromise.  I went camping, canoeing, and had many adventures.  I earned the Gold Medal of Achievement in 1988, an award with requirements very close to Eagle Scout.  I transitioned quickly into leadership, taking active roles in three Outposts (troops) and learned a lot from many good leaders.  I joined the frontier cos-play group, the Frontiersman Camping Fraternity (later Fellowship) and advanced through the ranks.  I tried to start a Chi Omega Rho group but the program was cancelled before it could grow.  I served on staff at statewide camps and was a leader of our Outpost at the 1990 International Camporama in Missouri.  In all I was active for eleven years.

My problems began in college.  I became more active in District (state) level programs such as our annual Pow Wow (Jamboree).  I served on staff a couple of years.  The Assemblies of God is an Evangelical church.  Praying out loud, raising hands, shouting, and speaking in tongues are all encouraged and expected.  I'm a quiet and reserved person and never felt comfortable with the outward expressions of piety and generally did not participate, but I recognized others had different needs and never said anything.

Pow Wow had a pattern every year.  The first night of camp there would be an altar call and dozens of boys aged 9-18 would come down to the front of the crowd to have a leader pray with them for salvation.  I happily participated in this.

It was the second night that got me.  Boys were invited forward to be "baptized in the Holy Spirit."  Essentially this meant deep, verbal prayer until the boy spontaneously spoke in tongues.  I have never spoken in tongues.  It is a gift that God gave the Apostles in the book of Acts to allow them to communicate with people of different languages.  Nowadays it sounds a lot like gibberish and is a "prayer language" that only God understands.  So these boys would come up expecting some miraculous transformation and be told they couldn't leave until the Holy Spirit had blessed them with this gift.  The AG church teaches that it is the proof of the "baptism in the Holy Spirit."  I tried and could not bring myself to force a 9 year old boy to stand there for an hour (yes, sometimes it took that long) in the cold night air hoping God loved him enough to make him speak gibberish.  Meanwhile all he really wanted was to be back at camp drinking hot cocoa with his friends.  I had a boy in tears because he wasn't blessed by God because the whole meeting had built up a hot, religious fervor in him.

I brought up my concerns the next morning with the camp staff.  I was told in no uncertain terms to keep my opinions to myself.  Later, I was asked not to be on staff anymore.

So I went back to my church and continued teaching Outpost meetings with the older boys (12-15 years old).  Eventually the lesson plan called for teaching about the gift of Tongues and Baptism in the Holy Spirit.  I presented the lesson as written.  Then I told the boys that honestly they should not feel pressured and not to feel God didn't love them or that He would not work in their lives if they did not have that gift.  I told them the church's doctrine and my opinion that I wasn't convinced by it and that they should make up their own minds.  I was careful not to denigrate the church or say their teaching was wrong in any way, only that I didn't fully embrace it.

I was pulled into the pastor's office within a week with the Outpost Commander and told in no uncertain terms that if I did not tell the boys the doctrine was 100% true (need to be baptized in Holy Spirit and when you do you will speak in tongues as proof of it) I could find somewhere else to be.  Since I could not accept that doctrine I left Royal Rangers completely.

I do not speak in tongues.  I disagree completely with the interpretation of how it is used today vs. how it is used in Scripture.  I believe that if miracles exist this is certainly an awesome one to have.  I'm not convinced though.  I'm not going to get into the verse-by-verse back up of my position since I'm not trying to convince anyone of my beliefs, but merely presenting them.

I was very sad when I left Royal Rangers.  It changed how I look at religion completely, and not generally for the positive.  I have grown skeptical and suspicious of organizations that claim to interpret the Scriptures as the sole source of authority on God.  I have never recovered from that separation.  Being kicked out for daring to question and encouraging others to question as well was overwhelming and eventually led me to leave organized churches entirely.  I still have a spiritual life but I determine it, not a church.

So, for those who have been curious and always wanted to know, that is the reason I left Royal Rangers.  If someone were to ask me today if their son should join I would hand them a Cub Scout or Boy Scout application and warn them not to go anywhere near Royal Rangers unless they believe in the total separation of church and mind.