I’m a Guide. Not a godless fascist – or communist, for that matter…

I was so trying to leave this topic alone. My restraint knew no bounds. Unfortunately, Peter Hitchens has raised my blood pressure to such an extent that I feel the need.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, this week, the news came out that Girlguiding is changing its promise. Where we once promised –

“I promise that I will do my best
to love my God,
to serve the queen and my country
to help other people
and to keep the Guide law”

we will now promise

“I promise that I will do my best
to be true to myself and develop my beliefs,
to serve the queen and my community
to help other people
and to keep the Guide law”.

This has followed an incredible consulation undertaken by Girlguiding, taking in an almost unbelievable 44,000 responses.The overwhelming response was that we needed to change the promise, to make it more relevent. Working with young people and adults of all beliefs and none, many felt uncomfortable promising to “love my God” when they were either developing and questioning their beliefs, or had simply come to the conclusion that they did not believe in God.

The media response to this issue has been – special. Everything from “Guides are awesome” to “Guides are evil and they’re ruining the country!” Peter Hitchens today managed to compare us to the Hitler Youth – since he’s previously compared us to the Young Pioneers, the mind boggles, but never mind. For what it’s worth, as a very, very long term member of the movement, and a Christian to boot, here are some of the reactions I’ve heard – and my responses to them.

“but you’re a Christian organisation!”

I’m beginning to think I need a t-shirt which states “WE ARE NOT A CHRISTIAN ORGANISATION! WE NEVER HAVE BEEN!”. Girlguiding really and truly has never been a Christian organisation. When we were founded, one of the aims was to develop spirituality – same for the scouts. Because this was 1910, at the time what that meant, by default, was empire-centric Christianity. In other countries, the default spirituality was different – hence, at the moment, for example, Guides in Japan promise to do their duty to Buddha, and Guides in Pakistan promise to do their duty either to Allah or their religion. In the Netherlands, they promise to “go consciously in search of the spiritual value in my life”. In all honestly, I think this change in promise reflects what Baden Powell, who wanted to encourage individual thinking in young people, would have valued – not a blind parrotting of words but a promise to actively develop what it is a person believes in.

“But you’re a Christian!”

No. Really? Yes, I am. Very passionately so. And I see nothing at all in the new promise that gets in the way of that. I had no problem with the old promise but for me, the new promise simply means that I will promise to develop my Christian beliefs. Nothing wrong there at all!

“Surely being true to yourself just encourages selfishness?”

Possibly, if you are either a tool, or you don’t look at the whole promise and guide law in context. However, we’re talking about an organisation that encourages active citizenship, respect for those around us, and the empowerment of young women. So no, it doesn’t encourage selfishness. What it does is to encourage girls and young women to develop their moral code, and to stand up for that which is important to them. I think we’re at risk of suggesting that young people are inherantly self centred and crap. Actually, years of guiding has showed me that the complete opposite is true.

“Aren’t you eroding traditions?”

Baden Powell also advised administering laxative to scouts on camp, kicking wild dogs under the jaw, and never, repeat never breathe through the mouth – it could lead to being incarcerated in a “lunatic assylum”. Later on, the Guide handbook suggests washing ones knickers “every few days”. None of which, surprisingly enough, features in the programme these days. The whole point of the organuisation was that it was radical then – giving young people opportunities, especially girls, which they would never have had before. That’s exactly what we’re doing now, but trying to do it in the same way as before will just make us stupid. And, given the knicker advise, somewhat smelly too.

“Why aren’t you promising to serve the country any more? Are you no longer patriotic?”

Well, for me, that seems fairly summed up in the idea of serving the queen. Since I’m not likely to become her footservent, the general gist is that we serve her by respecting and supporting the country over which she is head. The addition of the community is not a replacement – it adds to the promise.

So, just my convulted thoughts. I’m proud, still, to be a Guide. To be part of an organsiation that takes the views of its members seriously, and is willing to risk controversy to include people – sounds rather like Jesus, to be honest. I don’t think I’m more or less of a Guide simply because I’m a Christian – I’m just glad that my non-theist guide friends can now say their promise and feel it really does reflect the way they feel – whilst at the same time, I can do exactly the same thing.

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