ENCOURAGING RELIGIOUS INVOLVEMENT
Perhaps your first question is "Why should we encourage religious involvement?" The answer is simple. Encouraging religious involvement supports the goals of Scouting; e.g., character development, citizenship and fitness. If this weren't enough, you should also be aware that encouraging religious involvement has some very practical benefits. In a recent Gallup poll religious students with strong family support were found to have better grades. The most successful students were also those most likely to eat dinner regularly with the whole family.
The next question that comes to mind is "How can Scout leaders encourage religious involvement?" While there is no single simple answer, we can offer some ideas. Perhaps the best place to start is with the principles of Scouting.
The principles of Scouting are often summed up in the words "Scout Spirit." Like the wind, this spirit is invisible, but it has great power when harnessed. How to catch this spirit is described by the words of an old sailor who was asked by a young lad, "What is the wind?" The old salt replied, "I don't know what the wind is, but I know how to set the sail."
In Scouting, a leader tries to help a boy to set the sail of his life to capture the spirit of the Cub Scout Promise, the Boy Scout Oath or the Explorer's Code. Although Scout leaders do not give religious instruction, they do have an important responsibility as role models for their scouts. There is no room in Scouting for double standards. Unless ideals are adhered to by all, respect for leadership and teachings may be lost.
It must be impressed on Scouts that living the Scout Promise or Oath is as much a requirement as earning badges. For a boy to be a good Scout and to advance, he must recognize his duty to God and do something about it. How does a leader help?
One easy way to acknowledge a Supreme Being is to take a hike with the Scouts. Talk about the trees, how they grow from a tiny seed, the grass and even the weeds - - how they flower and mature. If the group happens on a nest of young animals or bird eggs, explanations may be very simple: With God's help the adults care for the young just as in human families.
A way to teach love and compassion is to have an outing to a nursing home, a children's ward in a hospital or a retirement center to sing or take gifts. Similarly, service projects can help Scouts learn how to show love to family, church and/or community.
As he experiences the warm feeling of citizenship through service, as he does a good turn, a Scout can also be made aware that he is helping to fulfill his duty to God in the spirit of the Good Samaritan.
On picnics or hikes, call attention to how litter makes an area look soiled just as dirty clothes make a Scout look soiled. Show the Scouts how to clean up an area after a picnic and be sure adults do a fair share. Teach boys to put candy and gum wrappers into their pockets and do the same. Remind them that they would like to find the area clean and beautiful when they come back for a picnic. Teach scouts to leave the area better than they found it as a good turn. At the same time you will be teaching them to do unto others as they would have them do unto themselves.
When driving, always obey the signs and speed limits; then when driving young people, it will come naturally to you. When walking, obey walking regulations - - walk on the correct side of the street (toward oncoming traffic), cross at intersections, and stay close to the curb. By teaching respect for civil laws, you will also be reinforcing respect for religious law, rules or tenets among the Scouts.
Take your Scouts on a bicycle ride. Teach the boys the safety rules. Always ride with traffic. Ride single file. Don't jump curbs. Avoid sudden swerves. If boys learn the proper way to handle a bike, parents can feel safer when their Scouts are out alone. By teaching self-discipline in everyday activities, you are also teaching self-discipline that will help Scouts to remain strong in their beliefs.
Especially on weekend Scout activities, be sensitive to religious observances and services that the Scouts normally attend. Do your best to plan around religious observances and activities. A calendar of religious observances is included in Appendix B to help you avoid planning an activity on the same date as a religious observance. You may also want to consider varying weekend activities between Saturday and Sunday to avoid always having events on the same day as Saturday Sabbath or Sunday worship.
When conducting an overnight activity or attending summer camp programs, allow time in camp for religious observances or services. Remember that you should allow time, but should not require attendance. This is a good time to remind Scouts to respect different religious practices of other Scouts.
Finally you can encourage your Scouts to participate in religious growth programs. In Scouting we refer to these programs as Religious Emblem Programs, because a Scout who has completed a recognized program of religious growth can wear a religious emblem and/or religious emblem square knot on his uniform. These recognition devices serve as a lure and may help encourage other Scouts to participate in religious growth programs. The square knot also serves another very important function: it identifies the wearer as having completed a very important step towards becoming an adult. Most Scouts have seen adults wearing various knots on their uniforms and for most Scouts this will be the first time they also can wear one of the square knots on their uniform, signaling a link to adulthood. And you can believe that in the Scout's eyes that knot is about two feet long and one foot high when he looks down at his uniform with pride.