When asked where religion came into Scouting and Guiding, Lord Robert Baden-Powell (the founder of Scouts) replied,
“It does not come in at all. It is already there. It is a fundamental factor underlying Scouting and Guiding." (Religion and the Boy Scout and Girl Guides Movement– an address, 1926).
God has always been a part of Scouts and from an early stage, anyone’s understanding of God has been welcomed. Unlike modern Western society, Scouts hasn’t been ignorant in the role spiritual beliefs play in the lives and development of young people. Humans, unlike anything else in the universe, are spiritual beings, having the capacity and inclination to consider concepts not tied to the material universe – undoubtedly tied to being made in the image of God. It is fortunate that Scouts hasn’t followed the broader Western culture into its scorning of the spiritual reality of humans.
Scouts tries to foster the spiritual side of all young people, no matter what their spiritual orientation (what a horrible turn of phrase – Ed) is, found in core idea of Duty to God. Whether you are Anglican, Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Baptist or pantheist – you have a home in Scouts. Duty to God, no matter how God is defined, is one of the bedrock ideas in Scouts and it is the role of adult leaders to help foster the spiritual awareness of their young charges.
However, despite this helpful emphasis on the spiritual side of people, there lurks a dilemma for gospel-centred evangelical leaders – relativism. Relativism (finding its roots in pluralism) is the concept that there is no absolute truth, having only subjective value (that is, it only has meaning to me as an individual). Relativism means that essentially all points of view are equally valid, instead of having only one true point of view, and has become widespread in the West, particularly as individualism has taken hold in the moral and ethical realms of the West.
Relativism is particularly manifested in a specific phrase used in the Australian version of the Scout Promise – duty to my God. I don’t have a duty to your God, or anyone else’s idea of God; I only have a duty to my God, whoever or whatever that is. God is confined to my own personal spiritual realm. I am the one who defines who God is and therefore what my duty to him is. Likewise, the only reason your idea of God would have any impact on my idea of God is if I decide to accept it. God becomes utterly bound to my own perception of reality, a plaything of my mind.
This couldn’t be in any more contrast with the real God, YAHWEH. As Psalm 86:
8 Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord;
no deeds can compare with yours.
9 All the nations you have made
will come and worship before you, O Lord;
they will bring glory to your name.
10 For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
you alone are God.
As far as the Bible is concerned, the only God who exists is YAHWEH, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, revealed ultimately in the person of Jesus. God is ultimate reality, the person who controls and binds the universe together through his powerful word. The Bible has no concept of relativism, of each person dictating the nature of his own subjective universe. God is the one who has determined the nature of reality.
Not only that but because God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, God is the one whom all owe their allegiance. All people are to turn and submit to him, trusting in Jesus alone to get to God. God will not tolerate us giving our devotion and praise to any other god.
It is here we find the dilemma for the evangelical Scout Leader, for on one hand, we operate in an organisation that encourages youth to, rightly, take responsibility for themselves and to develop all aspects of their lives – socially, physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. We want to mould youth so they can take charge of their lives and forge a path in the world for themselves, spirituality included.
On the other hand, we don’t want to seem to being giving credence to any religious belief but that Jesus Christ is the true and complete revelation of the true God. If people are to be rescued from God’s judgement against our rebellion against God, they need to come to Jesus and put him as their Lord and Saviour. We are to be witnesses to the truth of who Jesus is and what he has accomplished for us on the cross.
This dilemma creates a tension in the evangelical Scout Leader – the desire to serve within the confines of a organisation that promotes a lie while at the same time, to testify to the truth of who Jesus is and the exclusive claims he makes on the lives of every person on earth. In future posts, I will hope to explore the right response that allows for evangelical Leaders to faithfully serve Jesus in the context of a relativist organisation.