Scouting has a plethora of opportunities for youth to learn and grow into strong adults. Youth can learn about different career paths, experience the outdoors, learn good financial practices and much more. Another character building aspect Scouting has historically focused on is Duty to God. It has been a long-standing aspect of Scouting,  but is Duty to God really necessary? There are so many other opportunities and activities youth can experience through Scouting, is there even room for God in the BSA anymore?

The simple answer to this question is yes! Not only does the BSA still ask its members to affirm a belief in God, the Boy Scouts is pushing Duty to God more than ever. 

Duty to God has been a part of Scouting since the beginning. The first BSA Handbook for Boys, published in 1911, says “no boy can grow into the best kind of citizenship without recognizing his obligation to God.” 

When repeating the Scout Law, Scouts declare that a Scout is reverent. He is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties and respects the convictions of others in matters of custom and religion. This tradition of reverence towards God is one of the most important building blocks of Scouting. R. Chip Turner, Chairman of the BSA’s Religious Relationships Task Force states that “a belief in God is integral to Scouting and is a key element in character building.”

When leaders sign their membership application, they acknowledged the Declaration of Religious Principle which “affirms a belief in God, calls for an appreciation for the faith of others and acknowledges the importance of faith in citizenship development,” Turner reminds us. This same declaration is now included in the application form for youth, which is signed by parents. Turner explains that its policy promotes a strong and definite attention to religious life within the home and organization of the member. 

“Duty to God” has always been a cornerstone of Scouting, and it still continues to be. The BSA affirms the importance a belief in God in many ways. Here are just a few: faith adventures in the

Duty to God for Cub Scouts: Cub Scout programs are clearly designed to be carried out in the family with the assistance of their faith group leaders. Cub Scouts can find out what “Duty to God” means to them and their family and begin to learn how Scouts are reverent. 

Religious Emblems Programs: This program exists to encourage members to grow stronger in their faith. The Boy Scouts of America approved these programs and allows the emblems to be worn on the official uniform. The programs are administered by the various religious programs and allow Scouts to earn emblems while increasing their knowledge about their faith. 

Chaplain Aide: The Chaplain Aide is an important leadership role that supports the growth of “Duty to God,” as the Scout can help provide appropriate worship opportunities and devotionals at Scouting events, include grace with meals, provide information on the religious emblems programs, or teach respect for the religious beliefs of others.

Rank Advancements: Rank advancement requirements ask Scouts to reflect on their own belief. Here, Scouts tell leaders how they have done with their personal “Duty to God.” The Scout leader is there to listen to Scouts without judgment, not to proselytize or to evaluate whether the Scout’s duty to God meets the Scout leader’s personal standard.

Adventures of Faith: When a Venturer has achieved the Summit Award, he or she will have completed a “structured personal reflection” related to “Adventures of Faith.” This is a personal reflection that is not required to be shared with advisors or members of a board of review but is meant to inspire a young person to reflect on the growth of his own faith. In other words, Scouting strongly affirms fulfillment of “Duty to God” and looks to the Venturer’s family and religious leaders to provide faith-specific guidance.

These examples are great ways youth can remain connected with their faith. Scouting provides these opportunities to ensure that faith and “Duty to God” remains the foundation of all Scouting. While Scouts have many other activities and requirements that require their attention, “Duty to God” remains present through it all. Practicing Scouting with the belief in a higher power gives Scouts a bigger perspective with every activity they do. 

Although faith can be a tricky subject, it is essential to Scouting. Lord Robert Baden-Powell affirmed this on numerous occasions. He once answered a question about faith, and said this – “Where does religion come in? Well, my reply is … it does not come in at all. It is already there. It is the fundamental factor underlying Scouting and Guiding.” 

Still, there are bound to be many questions. You can refer to this helpful FAQs document the BSA released for further explanations. 

What do you think about religion and Scouting? Is there still room for God in today’s BSA? Share your thoughts below!

 

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Madison Austin
studies Public Relations at Brigham Young University and is a marketing specialist at the Utah National Parks Council. She is an avid hiker and enjoys being outdoors. Growing up in the mountainous regions of Colorado and Virginia enabled her to follow these passions. After moving to Utah to attend college, she has spent her time fostering both a career in Communications and a love for Utah's National Parks.

5 comments

  1. Stephen Vale says:

    It’s great to see that even on the Internet, people can respectfully defend religion without this getting into ridiculous fights or flame wars. That’s really what Scouting’s about.

  2. Derrick says:

    The whole of the movement is based on religion or the building of the kingdom of God. These are the words of Robert Baden-Powell. Scouting is an institution that promotes the belief in God. Without God there is no Scouting movement, just an organization that teaches knots and camping. Without God there is no basis for morality and therefore building character is good for very little.. BSA doesn’t need to catch up. It’s the world that needs to catch up.

  3. Dan #2 says:

    Complexity comes from the fact that the meaning of God and “duty to God” varies quite a bit across religions and even religious sects. As the most obvious example, Scouting already recognizes and welcomes believers in polytheistic religions where there is no singular God. Janes are also welcomed even though, to my understanding, there is no direct duty to God. Despite these variations, both polytheistic religions and religions where there is no obligated duty to God have religious emblems in BSA. This does contradict the literal Scout Oath, but over time, BSA has come to respect and welcome widely diverse religious perspectives. You focus on faith here, but the type of faith you describe is very Christian and doesn’t match how faith is interpreted in other religions.

    I’ll also note that, even though there are writings within BSA history that link duty to God to character building and morality, BSA writings also recognize a distinction. For example, if someone who believes they have a duty to God, and such a duty makes them a moral person, then it’s redundant to also say that they are morally straight. Similarly, if duty to God subsumes morality, why also say a scout should also be trustworthy, helpful, and kind? These are all important because BSA has always recognized that discussions of what is moral go beyond merely stating a duty to God or a belief in God.

    As a recent change, the required belief in God statement for youth really bothers me. Even for a scout who is actively involved in a religious community, the concept of theological belief can be complex and it is completely developmentally appropriate for a child to have questions about faith. For an organization where actions matter (“Do my best”), requiring children, who are maturing into an understanding of what personal belief means, to proclaim a commitment to a specific theistic belief system will inherently be forcing some children to lie. A scout who goes to Church every Sunday, but who is sometimes confused about what belief in God means to them should not be forced to quit scouting or lie about this confusion. Forcing this type of lying can also limit adult religious leaders’ ability to discuss questions of faith with scouts in their community with the goal of helping them mature into an adult relationship to their faith. What pastor/scout leader would want to force a child to hide their theological questions because discussing them might get them kicked out of scouting?

    This leads to how to maintain reverence while welcoming scouts who don’t currently hold a religious belief. I see reverence as respect and understanding of religion and religious belief. On a practical level, demonstrating reverence in scouting usually involve studying a religion or religions, typically where one has a family/ancestral connection, but it could be studying and learning to respect any religion. In my experiences from 2 decades ago in the NY suburbs, this is what scouting was already doing in practice since people were asked to list a personal religion, but never asked about their personal beliefs. If my memory is correct, you can even earn many of the religious emblems merely through study and attending religious events without any proclamations of personal belief. Taking this perspective, an atheist could be reverent if they sincerely study religion(s) and treat practitioners of religions in a respectful manner.

    I could see a path forward where earning a religious emblem becomes part of the advancement process with a conscious effort to make sure these emblems can be earned by those who come from other belief systems. I could even see a palm-like award for scouts who earn multiple religious emblems (which would encourage a greater understanding and respect of other communities). This would keep religion fundamentally central to scouting while also providing path for atheists or those unsure of their personal beliefs to participate in scouting without lying.

  4. Jonathon says:

    From the FAQ linked in this article:
    “A Scout is called to do his duty to God by both the Scout Oath and Scout Law, and his belief in God
    should be acknowledged by his parent or guardian’s signature on the BSA Youth Application. A Scout’s
    declaration that he does not believe in God is grounds to deny rank advancement and could affect his
    continued membership in the troop.”

  5. Daniel says:

    The notion underlying the BSA’s Declaration of Religious Principle is that atheists and agnostics are morally inferior or of defective character: “The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God.”

    Besides this assertion being being morally repugnant; it is archaic. It flies in the face of logic and the experience of most. Most of the world Scouting community has rightly rejected this assertion; BSA has some catching up to do.

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