I want to deliver a requiem for the Scouts. But not the Scouts our North American friends might think I mean and not for that reasons they might suppose.
For several years, controversy has swirled around the organization formerly known as the Boy Scouts of America (why do I hear “When Doves Cry” in the background?). The most recent furor, of course, has been over the decision to drop the “Boy” and allow young women to join the Scouts of America. I think that the prior decision to allow openly active homosexual men as Scout leaders is more challenging from a Christian perspective. Yet the reaction to both decisions is to some extent based on a misunderstanding of what the Scouting movement always has been, one that I shared until I learned more firsthand about the worldwide Scout movement
It began in 1908 in the United Kingdom, based upon the ideas of Robert Stephenson Smyth (1857–1941), 1st Baron Baden-Powell, and his best-selling book “Scouting for Boys”. Today there are Scouting organizations active in 216 countries and territories, with a global membership of over 31 million, male and female. Two thirds of the international membership are in developing countries. The World Organization of Scout Movements (WOSM) is an international body that supports Scouts across the world.
The program initially focused on boys aged 11 to 18, with an emphasis on camping, hiking and other outdoor activities. However, girls wanted to become part of the movement almost as soon as it began. Although co-educational youth groups did exist at the time, Baden-Powell and his sister, Agnes, thought it best to start a parallel movement for girls, the Girl Scouts, in 1910. The Girl Scouts USA association still exists, but is not without their own share of controversy,due to ties with Planned Parenthood.
By the end of the 1990s, two-thirds of the Scout organizations belonging to WOSM had become co-educational. That includes the Scouts of Venezuela. The organization, which began with the Boy Scouts Club of Maracaibo (Venezuela’s second-largest city) in 1913, opened its membership to girls in 1997.
It is important to understand that what’s now called “diversity” or “inclusiveness” is in the DNA of the Scouting movement, and that includes religion. The WOSM describes Scouting as "a voluntary nonpolitical educational movement for young people open to all without distinction of origin, race or creed, in accordance with the purpose, principles and method conceived by the Founder (Baden-Powell).”
But the Scouts are not simply neutral in regard to religious faith. The “Scout Promise” includes “duty to God.” The WOSM states the following in its fundamental principles:
“Under the title ‘Duty to God’, the first of the above-mentioned principles of the Scout Movement is defined as "adherence to spiritual principles, loyalty to the religion that expresses them and acceptance of the duties resulting therefrom". Note that, by contrast to the title, the body of the text omits the word "God" to make clear that the clause also covers non-monotheistic religions, such as Hinduism, and those that do not recognize a personal God, such as Buddhism.”
This is a universalistic creed that promotes “spirituality” while treating all bodies of belief as equal. But the Jesus Who speaks through the Holy Scriptures makes truth claims that no founder of another world religion makes. He claims to be the same God who in the Old Testament said, “You shall have no other gods apart from Me.” He said of Himself, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:27); “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 34-37); “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).
So, how did Boy Scout troops become fixtures of Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod congregations throughout the United States since 1944? By an “understanding” with the national and international organizations that churches that supported local troops would have be able to require a stricter interpretation of what God is. Because it does not affirm faith in Jesus as the only Savior from sin, the Scouts cannot be considered an inherently Christian organization; but,until recently, the Scouts did not require positive denial of Scriptural teaching. It seemed participation in the Scouts reinforced moral teachings consistent with the universal moral Law revealed in the Bible.
While recognizing the religious element in the training of youth, scouting refrains from giving religious training or even announcing a program of such training but assigns to the church whatever spiritual guidance and religious instruction the Scout is to receive. Whatever Scouting has to say about religion refers to “civil righteousness”, or character building and citizenship training.
Member congregations of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod are free to affiliate with any scouting organization, although the national church body has advised them to be aware of possible conflicts over world views and proceed with “prayerful caution.” The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod neither encourages or discourages its members from being involved with Scouting.
In much the same way, the Scouts gained the approval of the Roman Catholic Church in Venezuela. The Venezuelan version of the Scout Promise reads as follows:
Por mi honor y con la gracia de Dios
me obligo a servir lo mejor que pueda
a mi iglesia, a mi patria, a ayudar a mi prójimo en cualquier circunstancia
y a cumplir la Ley Scout
On my honor, and with the grace of God
I oblige myself to serve as best I can
my church, my country, to help my neighbor in all circumstances
and to fulfill the Scout Law.
All of this leads up to my story of our two-year relationship with el Grupo Scout El Marqués of Barinas. Luz Maria’s daughter, Yepci, became involved with this group, with a view toward adapting some aspects of the Scout program for church youth activities. Yepci’ s children, Oriana and Elias, joined the Scouts as did neighboring youth in La Caramuca. We hosted Scout campouts more than once.
The high point of the relationship was when the Scouts sanded and refinished the pews in our chapel. Another of Luz Maria’s daughters, Charli, designed a merit badge for them for doing this. Unfortunately, our Scout troop is no more, as the adult leaders, including Yepci and Charli, all have left the country.
The Scouts provided us with a wonderful opportunity to make new connections with people in our surrounding community and give our youth healthy, productive outlets for their energy. I am sad that we were not able to continue this relationship. Yet if the relationship had continued, I would have exercised more “prayerful caution” based on the history and current status of the worldwide Scouting movement.