Duty to God, but Closet Your Faith?

A new push by BSA to increase the visibility and value of “duty to God” (http://blog.scoutingmagazine.org/2014/10/03/belief-in-god-scouting/) has inspired a lot of spirited discussion on various internet forums.

first-class-badgeOne such discussion was titled; “Why is Duty to God such a weak program area?” and that caught my eye as I expected a series of interesting comments and some suggestions on ways that scouting units could incorporate faith related elements into their ongoing program (i.e. saying grace at camp meals, etc.).

In actuality, the discussion focused on several key themes (with actual comments copied below):

  1. Duty to God is an outmoded idea that is merely a quaint legacy of a century-old program.
    1. I would say that the reason it is going by the wayside is our society. If you look at church attendance, it has declined for many years. If the Leaders are not attending church, and the youth are not attending church, they are going to be unlikely to say Grace, or do other “religious” things. We have also driven religion out of schools and anything having to do with public events.
    2. Many parents of this generation of Scouts are not affiliated with any church and are most kindly described as secular humanists. Might Scouting lose them and their kids if we push Duty to God too far beyond their comfort levels, and thereby cost the kids (and Scouting) more than would be gained?
    3. IMG_20140726_125408550I saw a Barna research article (but did not read further than the headline) that said that 43% of Americans are unchurched…In this environment passionate belief is not modeled well in any portion of our culture and is often discouraged…And I don’t blame them. With attitudes like ‘all faiths are equally valid’, it is easy to come to the conclusion that it does not matter…So the problem seems to come from a general disinterest in society. So is there a way for scout leaders to show religious passion while necessarily making it generic so no one will be offended?”
    4. …may I add that the disinterest is probably caused by various issues with several belief systems. For example, terrorists who are acting in the name of Islam or several Christian denominations who seem to believe that their way is the only way and does everything they can to make sure that no one forgets that. Folks are very turned off by those attitudes and the use of a religion by those who would subvert it.”
  2. Pursuit of faith within scouting is problematic unless it is something so generic that it becomes meaningless, and it’s hard to present faith without it becoming perceived as unwarranted proselytization.
    1. I don’t need a santa-like god looking over my shoulders, taking notes on whether I’m naughty or nice to know what is the right thing and how to treat people. There’s IMGP6938one simple commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. If we all did this, the world would be a better place.
    2. I would simply caution that Scouts are Reverant, NOT Religious. My concern here is that by increasing the importance of Creator in Scouting, that some folks are going to over-reach the intent…I’d not think much of seeing a Catholic Scoutmaster start to push being Catholic (however unintentional it may be) over a Scout being his own person. There is a lot to be said about finding yourself when you surround yourself with the bounty of sounds from Mother Earth
    3. This is one of the reasons I have elected to separate myself from formal membership in BSA – the expression of religiosity without identifying who we are worshiping runs counter to my personal faith.
  3. No practical experience in presenting scouting ideals (Oath, Law, Motto, Slogan, Outdoor Code) – preferring for scouts to “pick it up” by example of leaders lifestyle, etc.
    1. I have found that there is some anecdotal evidence that some units may prefer to focus on other methods (outdoor program, advancement, etc.) and let “ideals” take a distant backseat or be merely experiential (follow moral example) as opposed to an active discussion. Contributing factors: unease in communicating about ideals, uncertainty how to incorporate ideals in practical ways, shifts in family backgrounds away from “churchy” environments (i.e. little league, public school, etc.)
    2. I think the biggest reason why Duty to God is so weak and misunderstood as a program area is that activity leadership and youth do not find it fun and interesting.

I think that each of the people making these remarks felt very strongly about their position and I appreciate them for contributing to the conversation in a respectful and constructive manner.

On of the positive contributions that I found interesting included:

Suggest inviting your pastors to events. Suggest inviting your pastors to take an active role in the religious awards program. If they are too busy, perhaps delegating the educational coordinators to assist.

In this case, there may be an underlying assumption that the unit may be chartered to a church or faith-based organization which could supply a specially trained faith leader to help coordinate “duty to God” activities and discussions in a tactful manner.  For units chartered to secular organizations, it would not be too difficult to make a few phone calls to find folks who could participate in a constructive manner.


Unfortunately, some of the comments were troublesome to me.  I understand that my own biases may be interfering in understanding the full intent of the persons making the comment, and I’m hoping to be fair in explaining why their comments pricked my conscience.

Spring Summer 2013 181One scouter said “No matter what, when it comes to a camporee, we are Scouters first. After that I become a Catholic Scouter only in the right situation.”  Contextually, he was discussing the use of interfaith services to convey a generic moral tale to highlight a point of the Scout law as preferable to faith-specific services where boys could actually worship in the context of their own faith practice (i.e. a protestant service, catholic service, jewish service, etc.)  When I was a youth in scouting, the norm was to offer faith-specific services at different times at the chapel during summer camp or camporees.  Now the push is for “interfaith” gatherings.

A response from another scouter appeared shortly after this post:

Also, as a Catholic, I know what a part time one is. But it’s not “I’m not one at a camporee” but I am one “once in a while.” You’re always Catholic and supposed to be.

2013 RFSR Ships wheel finalA Scout is Loyal to whom loyalty is due.  For me, part of my duty to God is to be loyal to Him throughout my day to day experience – not merely when it may be convenient to avoid offending others.  Now, as a Scout, I’m also called to be friendly, courteous, kind, cheerful and reverent (including the respect of other people to believe as they wish).  Balancing these concepts isn’t difficult (nor need it be).  As a Christian, I don’t aim to hurt people’s feelings, but I also won’t “hide my faith in a closet” in order make people more comfortable in normal social situations like participating in a scouting program – especially as long as BSA promotes the active practice of faith in its aims for character building:

  • In little league, faith wasn’t brought up during practices or games.
  • Conversely, at BSA, (for example) there’s a First Class rank requirement to “Lead your patrol in saying grace at the meals” (4e).

BSA is at or nearing a critical crossroads in its history.  Will it stay true to it’s original course of promoting faith practice as critical to participating citizenship, or will it change course to de-emphasize faith, closet adults from commenting on their own faith practice, or move slowly to eliminate faith from the program — to become a truly secular program?

BSA’s own president has been quoted as saying “In Scouting, there’s a secular emphasis on values and virtue that is not found anyplace else” (http://www.esquire.com/features/boy-scouts-1014) which at face value seems to contradict the notion that moral and ethical values are derived or delivered from a Higher Being called “God”.

2013 RFSR Jolly Roger Patch finalIf our values (as scouts) come from mankind, how can we (as individuals) agree on the common definition of each point of the scout law? The foundation shifts from personal view to personal view or from time to time as society redefines the rules of acceptable behavior. Is that where tolerance comes into play? What if I think that lying doesn’t really hurt anyone so I can tell “white lies” without being untrustworthy? Who are you to tell me I’m wrong?

As another blogger indicated;

“The god of Scouting is much like the god of Alcoholics Anonymous, a “higher power” that is whatever one wants it to be. Sure, you have to believe in god to be a Scout, you just don’t have to be too specific about it.This brings us to the basis for morals. How can an organization that will not take a stand on the identity of God be expected to take a stand on specific moral issues? There is a direct connection between the law and the Law Giver. If you’re not really sure who the Law Giver is, how can you be sure whether [any] specific behavior is “morally straight” or not?”

On another linked in forum dedicated to scouting, another scouter summed it up this way;

“Bottom line – nothing is perfect. You do the best you can to include all and offend none. If you want perfection – then Scouting is probably not the organization for you.”

This comment was “liked” by many others as seeming to settle the discussion. The concern is that by telling folks to “like it or leave”, we are asking people of faith to “closet” their beliefs while participating in scouting or find another organization that is more tolerant. It seems a double standard for an organization to encourage youth to be “out of the closet” about their preference in potential sexual partners, but “in the closet” about their choice of who they name as “God” while still prohibiting youth of “no-faith” from the many benefits of scouting. I thought we were supposed to help ALL other people at ALL times, not just when it was convenient to our individual, personal ideology. Telling people that they ought to be quiet, hide their beliefs or be shown the door seems counter to actually helping anyone except ourselves to feel better about our own perspective by removing all challengers.

Public Speaker RockwellWebsters dictionary says that tolerance means we can get along while disagreeing, not that we have to share the same ideology in order to work together as “first among equals”. Asking people to be in the closet or leave (or not be welcome) for faith issues (creed) is just as objectionable as for sexual preference, color, race, etc.

Is it scouting for all, or scouting for some (that think exactly like us)?

The 1911 Handbook states; “And then the final and chief test of the scout is the doing of a good turn to somebody every day, quietly and without boasting. This is the proof of the scout. It is practical religion, and a boy honors God best when he helps others most.”  In the context of scouting (not church), why can’t duty to God be this simple?



About Troop113

Our Troop # comes from Psalm 1:1-3 - describing the men we want our scouts to become
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