New Duty to God Requirements: Are we a religious organization?

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As many scoutmasters have learned, January 1, 2016 brings new boy scout rank advancement requirements. The moving of requirements among the ranks is not getting much attention. Neither is the specificity of the type of service hours now required: specific conservation requirements.

The scout’s demonstration of observing his religious duties is getting attention.

The great Bobwhite Blather blog addresses the question of whether this demonstrates that the BSA is or is not a “religious organization.” His analysis is well worth a considered read.

Scoutmastercg.com’s Clarke Green contributed to this analysis, last June, when he took a look at how Baden Powell thought a Scout’s Own service should be managed. Clarke goes further in critiquing some of the current interpretations and inconsistencies in the current BSA definitions of Duty to God.

Clarke’s analysis clearly in another article demonstrates that encouraging a scout to examine his religious beliefs within the religious emblem program gives a scoutmaster the ability to avoid entering a debate on the subject of “what constitutes an acceptable religion” and still upholds the principles of Duty to God.

No matter how a scout answers the question for himself, the most important part is for his scoutmaster to encourage the scout to enter the realm of seeking answers to questions about his own beliefs. This seeking process can be either through his own self-study or with his own house of worship.

Scouting is an active process of learning. We put scouts in the position of making moral and ethical choices on a campout by deciding how to treat his patrol well, especially when things don’t always go smoothly. The Duty to God is supposed to put these questions into a realm of questions that rise about the current moment. A momentary conflict between patrol members can and should turn into a moment of learning about life outside of the patrol.

Having a working mental vocabulary of his own beliefs creates a tool for self-improvement. His actions and self-reflections within a larger context cause those self-discoveries to come faster and to have a greater impact.

These new requirements encourage religious self-exploration and not any mandatory conclusions, other than the scout is part of a larger world than just himself. He needs to figure out how he is a small part of a larger world.

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