The first part of the Scout Oath is Duty to God and the last character value in the Scout Law is a Scout is reverent. Duty to God is one of the basic tenets of the Scouting program from beginning to end. Scouting is about building character and learning to make ethical and moral decisions. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we bring a wealth of understanding of ethical and moral decision making, spirituality, and duty to God to the units in which we belong. If you read the early writings on Scouting, such as “Gilcraft” Gleanings, you would be keenly aware of Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell and other early founders’ vision of the true nature of Scouting. In Gleanings (page 3) the author states, “THE Chief Scout says in Aids to Scoutmastership – I quote from the Revised Edition published in 1930: ‘To the man who reads Scouting for Boys superficially there is a disappointing lack of religion in the book, but to him who tries it in practice the basic religion underlying it soon becomes apparent.’”
Scouts BSA has two direct positions in troops, crews, and ships to facilitate and advance understanding of one’s duty to God as well as advancement requirements for duty to God in all programs Tiger Scout through Eagle Scout and in Venturing and Sea Scouts. A unit’s chaplain is an adult leader who promotes spiritual guidance to a unit, camp, jamboree, or community and the chaplain aide is a youth leader in a troop who works with the troop, crew, or ship’s chaplain.
The adult position of chaplain in traditional units is not always filled or may be assigned to someone who is not taking an active part in working with a unit’s chaplain aide. Since the chaplain aide is a position of responsibility, the Scout needs an adult partner to work with to define responsibilities and to set goals while serving as a chaplain aide. This is a great opportunity for Latter-day Saint Scouters to promote faith-based living while working with Scouts to meet expectations for a position of responsibility to the satisfaction of a board of review. We do a Scout great disservice to give them a position of responsibility and then not assign them duties, responsibilities, and desired results required of them (see Guide to Advancement paragraph 188.8.131.52.3).
Anyone can be a unit chaplain. You do not have to be an ordained minister. Scouts BSA has a 62-minute course called Chaplain Training that includes a module on Chaplain Roles and Responsibilities. This module will provide an understanding of various unit worship opportunities and identify the duties of the unit chaplain and chaplain aide. The other two modules are an overview of the Religious Emblems and Awards and Interfaith Considerations. Serving as a chaplain or chaplain aide provides the opportunity to help Scouts as they grow, both physically and spiritually. Completing these modules will fulfill the position trained requirements for any chaplain position across all programs.
In this capacity, you as the chaplain have an opportunity to be a friend to the Scouts and leaders and to contribute to their spiritual welfare and growth. By virtue of your position and personality as the unit chaplain, you can encourage the boys in their Scouting work and other aspects of their total lives. Some of the duties of the chaplain include providing opportunities for all boys to grow in their relationship with God and their fellow Scouts, encouraging Scouts to participate in the religious emblems program of their respective faith, giving outreach opportunities, and finding meaningful service opportunities through organizations such as JustServe. The duties of the chaplain aide are too numerous to post in this blog, but the purpose of the chaplain aide program is to make the 12th point of the Scout Law more meaningful in life, promote a greater understanding of and appreciation for all religions, and provide Scouts with the opportunity to work with an ordained member of the clergy, thereby gaining insight into the religious professional life.
There will be many opportunities for you to bring duty to God into your Scouting unit. Start simply and expand slowly. If your unit consists of members with mixed beliefs, use a non-denominational benediction to conclude meetings. The BSA’s website has a list of suggestions in the Sample Interfaith Prayers and Benedictions section. Our favorite is “May the great Scoutmaster of all Scouts be with us until we meet again” because it reminds us of “God Be with You Till We Meet Again” (Hymns, 1985 no. 152). If your unit is sponsored by a church, you should follow their practices for prayers.
Another opportunity to promote the Duty to God concept is on Scout Sunday/Scout Shabbat. Scout Sunday is the first Sunday of February, and Scout Shabbat is the first Saturday of February. If your unit is sponsored by a congregation, you can approach the priest/minister/rabbi to see if there is some way the Scouts could participate during the service in their uniforms. Closing your meetings with a benediction is a great opportunity to teach about reverence. Each religion prepares for prayers and prays differently. Some followers uncover their heads. Some followers cover their heads. Some followers cross themselves. Some followers fold their arms. There might be Scouts in your unit who do not have experience with formal religion. You have the chance to teach and model to your Scouts how to be reverent in different situations.
Many of the merit badges contain elements of duty to God in them. The American Culture merit badge has a requirement to research groups of people, one of which could be a religious group. The American Heritage merit badge has a requirement for Scouts to research the accomplishments and impacts of two Americans, one of whom could be a religious leader. A lot of charities are associated with one congregation or another, so when the Scouts research and do a service project for the Citizenship in the Community merit badge requirement, they have the opportunity to come in contact with different religions. In the Family Life merit badge, the “family meeting” in requirement six gives Scouts the opportunity to discuss religious concepts with their families. All of these merit badges contain the potential for Scouts to learn about and teach the concept of duty to God.
As a Scouter, you can encourage your Scouts to earn the religious emblem for their religion. The Latter-day Saint’s Faith in God and Duty to God awards have been replaced by the Light and Truth Award and the Vanguard Religious Award. As reported by Wayne and Roma Bishop in their November 2020 blog, “Why Your Scouts (and YOU) Want to Earn the New Vanguard Religious Award,” some Scouts and Scouters have already received their awards.
The idea of an interfaith worship service or Scouts’ Own may be a foreign concept because of previous backgrounds in Scouting sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Scouting courses such as the Introduction to Outdoor Leadership Skills (IOLS) will expose you to an interfaith worship service. The BSA has a helpful guide and worksheet to use in developing interfaith services.
If you are a unit leader, district chairman, roundtable commissioner, or other leader, the Leader’s Minute at the end of your meetings is a great time to bring up duty to God. You can use stories from your life, scripture stories (make sure they are from scriptures that are common in your unit), or other religious stories to illustrate how duty to God affected the protagonist.
We might have a President Monson moment where we think we are standing alone, then find out there are other members of the Church standing with us (“Dare to Stand Alone” October 2011 & video). We do not stand alone in teaching the duty to God concept because we have each other to lean on. Respect for spiritual beliefs is important because “the Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God . . .” (Declaration of Religious Principle). As Scouters, we have an opportunity to impact the lives of the Scouts and other Scouters around us by doing our duty to God and helping them do their duty to God.
Stan Stolpe has served in multiple Scouting positions at the unit, district, council, regional, national and international levels in the U.S. and overseas. He resides in Alexandria, Virginia, and is currently a skipper’s mate for Ship 818.
Bruce Brown inherited his love of Scouting from his father and grandfather. Bruce has been a Cubmaster, 11-year-old Scoutmaster, assistant Scoutmaster, and Scoutmaster. He is currently the training chairman for his district in Fairfax, Virginia.
The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the authors.