In less than two weeks, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) will turn 108 years old. For 108 years, the BSA has stood by the core beliefs that were established from its founding in 1910, rooted in the Scout Oath and Scout Law.
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.
A Scout is …
trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly,
courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful,
thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
The Scout Oath and Law have not changed in 108 years but society has changed dramatically. So what does a modern Scout look like? How can the Oath and Law have stayed the same through all of the changes in society? For a long time, the BSA maintained the same beliefs and standards, regardless of what changes occurred in American society. However, in recent years, the BSA has made significant changes in what it has held as necessary “to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law”. Just since 2013, the BSA has lifted the ban on homosexual youth and adult leaders, allows transgender youth, allows girls into Cub Scouting (and girls into a Boy Scout equivalent program in 2019), and allows atheists and agnostics as well.
Surprised by that last one? Yeah…me too. In 2016, the BSA and Unitarian Universalist Association restarted their relationship by signing a new Memorandum of Understanding which would encourage Unitarian Universalist congregations to form Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops, and Venture crews. So what’s that about allowing atheists and agnostics? Well, the foundation of the Unitarian Universalist Church is that ALL are welcome, no matter what their background, lifestyle, or beliefs may be. Visit a service at a Unitarian Universalist Church and you’ll find members who are Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Wiccan, atheist, agnostic, gay, lesbian, transgender, and just about any other type of person you can think of. So how does the Unitarian Universalist Association come to terms with the BSA’s “Duty to God” requirement? Let’s take a look at a piece of the Memorandum of Understanding that the BSA and UUA signed in 2016:
“Whereas, Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote sources for wisdom, reflection, and spiritual growth, including: direct experience of mystery and wonder; words of prophetic people; world’s religions; Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves; Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science; spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature; and
Whereas, one of the seven Principles that Unitarian Universalists affirm and promote is “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning” and have many ways of naming what is sacred; some believe in a sacred force at work in the world, and call it “Love Eternal,” “Deepest Mystery,” “Wondrous Creation” or “Spirit of Life,” and the UUA respects the individual’s journey to finding and understanding their own meaning and existence of God and the sacred, and do not seek to define it for them;”
The MOU lists “Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science” as comparable to Jewish and Christian teachings as well as Earth-centered traditions. The MOU also states that there are many ways that Unitarian Universalists name what is sacred to them including “a sacred force at work in the world (love)” and that individuals should find their own meaning of God and the sacred without defining it for others. Take a look at another piece of the MOU:
“and be it further Resolved, That the BSA will respect the spiritual and moral responsibility of UUA member congregations with the understanding that there is no Boy Scout or UUA authority which supersedes the authority of the leadership of the congregation in any phase of the program affecting the spiritual welfare of those who participate; and be it further
Resolved, That it is agreed all member congregations of the UUA may rely on the stipulations in this Memorandum of Understanding in operating under any charter they sign with the Boy Scouts of America.”
As it states above, neither the BSA nor the UUA itself has authority which supersedes the authority of the individual congregation in determining the spiritual welfare of those who participate. Remember, this Memorandum of Understanding was agreed to and signed by the Boy Scouts of America! So while you might not have seen it in the news, non-theists are no longer banned from being members of the Boy Scouts of America’s traditional programs. Want to see the full UUA/BSA Memorandum of Understanding? Check it out here: Unitarian Universalist Association and BSA Memorandum of Understanding. Want to know a secret though? Atheists and agnostics have been allowed since long before March of 2016. How so? The Boy Scouts of America has had Buddhist Boy Scout troops since 1920. The BSA does not distinguish between different forms of Buddhism, including the growing number of secular Buddhists who do not believe in any god.
So what is a 21st century Scout? He is honest and can be relied upon to keep his word. She is loyal to her family, friends, and country. He helps those in need without looking for reward. She understands that she can never have enough friends and seeks to understand those who are different. He is polite to everyone regardless of their attitude or behavior. She is kind, gentle, and respects all life. He follows the rules of his family, school, and Scout leaders. She follows and respects the laws of his community and country. He works to maintain a positive outlook at all times and helps lift others’ spirits. She understands the value of pulling her own weight and protects and conserves the natural world. He faces challenges with determination and heart and stands up for what is right, even if it is unpopular. She keeps herself clean in mind and body and helps to keep her community clean. He seeks to understand the world around him and the forces that act upon it, whether natural or supernatural. Most importantly, she respects and seeks understanding of the beliefs of others, no matter how different they may be.
So…who wouldn’t want to know a 21st century Scout?