USSSP: A Scout's Duty to God and Country

A SPEECH BY THE CHIEF OF GILWELL PARK IN 1961

 

The following are excerpts from a speech given to the 18th International Conference of the Boy Scouts World Bureau in September 1961.  The speaker was John Thurman, Camp Chief of Gilwell Park, England.  It was printed in the May 1962 issue of The Scout Leader [Canada].

 

The Spiritual Training of Scouts

 

B.-P. said: "An Organisation of this kind would fail in its purpose unless it brought its members to a knowledge of religion."

 

In 1957 the 16th International Conference passed a Resolution which came to be known as the "Faith and Endeavour Resolution", in which it reaffirmed its faith in the fundamental principles of Scouting, putting duty to God as the first of these principles. . . .

 

It is vital to remember that entry into Scouting is entirely voluntary but that the making of the Promise is a condition of membership for each individual boy or man . . .

 

If we believe and accept these Conference Resolutions, . . . then it seems to me obvious that we can admit and use only those adults who are prepared to accept the principles, including the religious principles, upon which Scouting is based. . . .

 

I have always welcomed the spiritually active young seeker who in the process of running a Scout Troop finds the right spiritual road for himself.  The genuine seeker I know we can use, and I believe we should use him, but deliberately to allow into contact with boys the militant agnostic, the declared atheist, or the middle-aged spiritual lay-about is, I suggest, unwarranted, unfair to boys and their parents, and a betrayal of Scout principles. . . .

 

I conceive it possible that if we abandoned all our principles we might recruit more leaders and consequently could handle more boys and perhaps -- although I doubt it -- in ten years we might double the number of registered Scouts, but we would have lessened a hundredfold the true strength of Scouting for we would end with something that had betrayed its past and in so doing had betrayed its purpose. . . .

 

My overriding fear in regard to Scouting is that it will die of respectability, having lost the urge to attempt the difficult and ending as a rather nice middle-class Movement.  It is more important to be proud of what Scouting does for the boyhood of the world than to be proud of Scouting.

 

. . . I want to appeal too that we strengthen our tolerance towards other faiths.  "None has a monopoly of truth."  Tolerance does not mean weakness or a weakening of your own faith, for it says in effect, "This is what I believe but I respect your right to be different," but that is not the same thing as tolerating the right to be spiritually lazy or to believe nothing. . . .

 

Why should a Movement like this set out to please an agnostic or an atheist adult?  Why should we allow him to contaminate (and I use the word deliberately) the efforts of tens of thousands of adults who accept the principles of Scouting without question and who try to carry them effectively into the lives, the hearts, and the spirits of their boys?  Don't tell me that it is brotherly to countenance evil.  I believe that Scouting must be militant in its approach to fundamentals, and the fundamentals of Scouting without duty to God are worthless.

 

Our Founder gave us a Promise couched in no uncertain terms and presented in an order of descending loyalties: God, country, other people.  That order remains vital. Our efforts should be aimed at its maintenance.

 

I have not attempted to define God.  I know what I mean; You know what you mean -- and unless I am very much mistaken we know what each other means, but our predecessors in Scouting, at the International Conference in 1949, had this to say, and I commend it to you:

 

It does imply the acceptance of the highest that we know as a guide to life and the recognition that behind all life lies a spiritual reality which provides the purpose and direction.  It carries with it also the duty of service to others as part of our duty to God.  However impossible the individual may find it to say precisely what he means by such terms as spirit, soul, and conscience, the recognition of these in experience is a step towards fuller knowledge.  The man who sincerely finds it impossible to accept one creed, or to join any one church, yet at the same time continues his search for the truth, can in all honour take the Scout Promise."

 

. . .  I believe we have the faith.  Now, personally and -- I pray -- unitedly we must make the endeavour.

 

 


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