Duty to God is an incredibly important element of the Boy Scouts of America. This element has been with the BSA since its inception, but as of January 1, 2016, it became an official requirement. According to Scouting Magazine, “the new requirements do ask Scouts to reflect on their own belief.” That means that they not only practice devotion to God but also continually think about this devotion and what it means to them. We’re going to take a look at how different countries involved in Scouting practice to Duty to God.
Scouts Canada states that all Scouts have what’s called a “Duty to God,” defined as “Adherence to spiritual principles, loyalty to the religion that expresses them, and acceptance of the duties resulting therefrom.” Additionally, the organization promises that each age group will include references to God. An example is the Beaver promise: “I promise to love God and help take care of the world.” And the Scout/Venturer promise “…To do my duty to God and the Queen…”
In Canada, Scouting does not require that you believe in God, just that you have a basic spiritual belief. Spirituality, which is a concern with the human spirit or soul rather than material or physical things, is prioritized.
Scouts Canada has a “Religion in Life” emblem that is awarded upon completion of a particular denomination’s program by a Scout. In 2009, a “Spirituality Award” for Scouts and Guides who did not belong to any denomination was established.
In Australia, Scouting makes no effort to find out if potential child members are atheists or agnostics. The Australian Scout promise contains “duty to my god” as opposed to “duty to God”. The Duty to God statement is used by many other countries. It allows each member to make an individual personal interpretation. In 2012, the promise was reworded to have to “develop my beliefs” instead of a direct reference to God.
There are permitted variations of the original Scout Promise to accommodate those whose faith or national allegiance is different. The UK Scouting association expects that the phrases “…duty to God‟ and “…to love God” will be suitable for most faiths. Muslims who have difficulty with the phrase “On my honour” because of the Islamic proscription of swearing oaths are able to say “In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent the Most Merciful…” instead if they prefer. Also, “…duty to Allah and to the Queen” may be used. Hindus and Buddhists may promise “…duty to my Dharma”.
Foreign national residents in the United Kingdom are able to promise to do their “…duty to God and to the country in which I am now living,” although British subjects must include the Queen in their promise.
In 2012 the association reviewed its fundamentals and launched a consultation to ask its members whether an alternative version of the Scout Promise should be developed for atheists and those unable to make the existing commitment. In 2013 it was announced that the consultation had led to the addition of an alternative promise for humanists and atheists. Taking effect on January 1, 2014, members can choose to replace “duty to God” with “to uphold our Scout values.” The change has been welcomed by representatives of the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, the Free Churches Group and the British Humanist Association.
The alternative promise takes the following form:
The Scout Association in the United Kingdom
The Scout Association of the United Kingdom allows members of any religion or no religion at all. Leaders, like all members, are not expected to be a member of any particular faith nor hold any religious belief of their own. They are, however, expected to abide by the Association’s religious policy which promotes mutual acceptance of beliefs within the movement. A person can do this by encouraging young Scouts to explore their own beliefs. They can also make general provisions and considerations for members like giving them advice and guidance. Scouts of religions other than Christianity can choose from a selection of alternatively worded promises. Scouts of no religion can choose to make a promise that replaces “duty to God” with “to uphold our Scout values” followed by “to do my duty to the Queen.” Any member making their Promise can choose which version of the Promise they wish to do.
All members of The Scout Association are encouraged to:
- make every effort to progress in the understanding and observance of the Promise to do their best to do their duty to God or to uphold Scouting’s values as appropriate
- explore their faiths, beliefs, and attitudes
- consider belonging to some religious body
- carry into daily practice what they profess
If a Scout Group, Explorer Scout Unit or Scout Network is composed of members of several denominations or religions. The young people should be encouraged to attend services of their own form of religion.
There are 2 activity badges relating to faith. One is for exploring the members own faith, titled my faith. The other is for learning about several other faiths and it’s called world faiths. Both of these badges are optional though.
In 1970, the Swedish Scout Promise was changed by Svenska Scoutförbundet from “I promise to do my best in performing my duty to God and the motherland, helping others, and following the Scout Law” to “I promise to do my best in following the Scout Law.“
In Austria, Pfadfinder und Pfadfinderinnen Österreichs is a member of both World Organization of the Scout Movement and World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. The association is open to members without prejudice to birth, nationality, religion or belief. Both Promise and Law contain references to god.
There are chaplains on a national level for Lutheran and for Roman Catholic groups and members, as well as a commissioner for spirituality on the national level. Chaplains are members of the clergy that are attached to a specific to an institution or chapel. There can be chaplains on the council and on the group level. Some groups are attached to religious communities or parishes, but even these are open to members of all denominations or religions.
There are religious merit badges. Requirements for awards include religion and spirituality.
In Belgium, The association “Les Scouts” offers a neutral Promise text, with no mention to God. FOS Open Scouting replaced “duty to God” with “loyal to a higher ideal” in their promise. FOS Open Scouting is an internationally oriented and coeducational Flemish Scout and guide organization. The Pluralist Scouts and Guide of Belgium association offer that same text as an alternative to “God” or “my religion”.
In Slovenia, Zveza tabornikov Slovenije is a member of World Organization of the Scout Movement. The guiding principles include plurality, openness to members without prejudice to birth, nationality, religion or belief. In the promise, the reference to God is replaced with “acceptance and development of Spiritual reality”. No religious merit badges are in use.
What does duty to God mean to you in your country? Share with us below!