I am proud to be a member of Girlguiding. I start a lot of blog posts that way, but it doesn’t make it any less true. I am proud to be a member of a worldwide family that is committed to the betterment of self and society, a family that shares common values and beliefs whilst embracing and celebrating its differences. I am proud to be part of a member organisation of WAGGGS that offers opportunities for young people as participants up to the age of 26, puts them in the driving seat and champions their voice. I am proud to be a member of an organisation that puts its members first and adapts to their needs whilst retaining its core principles.
But today, my pride is wavering...
Growing up, I was forced to go to church. I didn’t know what I believed in, whether I really believed in God or whether He was just another mythical figure like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. Like many little girls, I made my Promise as a Brownie because that’s what you did as a Brownie... plus my Brown Owl never gave me much of a choice!
By the time I became a Guide, it was no longer “duty to God” but “love my God”, a concept that I found much more difficult to cope with. For me, a duty was easy; it involved polishing the brass in church, turning up at parade and saying grace on pack holiday. To love God was more personal, and a relationship that I didn’t understand with an entity I was only starting to believe as real.
As a member of Senior Section, I was more comfortable with who my God was, but still didn’t understand the concept of loving Him. I made the Promise in the spirit of commitment; I would try to love my God as best as I could, but I never knew if my beliefs were really my own or what had been forced on me as a child.
It was when I went to university and the things that followed that really changed the dynamic of my relationship with God, my beliefs and my spiritual journey. It was only when I made my Promise as a Leader that I truly meant what I was saying and understood it fully in how it related to me.
Maybe this all says more about how Leaders are discussing the Promise with their girls than the wording of the Promise itself. I mean, if I had understood that “to love my God” was equivalent to exploring spiritual beliefs then perhaps it would have been easier. Or maybe it would have made me bristle about the wording.
As an adult, I love the fact that I have friends from all sorts of backgrounds. From Guides and Scouts in France, Finland, Hong Kong and even Australia, to people from different religious backgrounds. But what upset me was when I found that friends of mine who were excellent Leaders, in areas that were short of volunteers, were told they either had to lie or leave, because there was no place in Girlguiding for atheist leaders.
It had always made me wonder. As a teacher, my own religious beliefs don’t matter when I teach RE, nor my sexual orientation matter when teaching about sex and healthy relationships. As long as I make a commitment to talk about these issues and explore them in an appropriate way that helps the young people achieve their full potential, and I provide balanced reasoning and evidence, my own beliefs are not part of that. So how is Guiding different?
Today it was confirmed that it’s not. Today, Girlguiding officially announced the rewording of the Promise. Instead of the connotation of “my God” as exploration of personal beliefs, it is explicitly stated in the new wording. Seven year old me wouldn’t have to blindly make a Promise she didn’t understand, but make one that accepts her lack of knowledge.
This new Promise is relevant to both the girls and leaders of today. It encompasses all the core values of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, and allows us to share a truly common standard with our sisters in Guiding, as alterations to the text are no longer necessary.
I have been completely and utterly shocked by some of the reactions to this news today. I am aware that change isn’t easy, and that this rewording seems (to some people) to completely change the Promise that people have made for generations. Despite the ten previous amendments to the Promise, this somehow seems the most drastic.
To see criticism and mindless comments from the general public, though upsetting, is understandable in many ways. And with some media outlets, we are never going to win. But when the vitriol comes from within (and I mean the hateful, insular comments, not just disagreement and disappointment), I start to wonder what has happened.
Speaking as a Christian, I wonder where this hatred comes from. The new Promise speaks of journeys and development, of the ever-growing and changing relationship that I (and my brothers and sisters) should have with Christ and with my father God. It is a perfect fit for what we learn as followers. And it encourages those of other faiths, those who are undecided and those who have none to explore and discover, a commitment that could potentially sow the seeds for the Holy Spirit to grow. Should we not encourage this? After all, we are told throughout the Bible that the joy of love is free will and our choice to love / worship. If adherence to God’s will and “love” for Him is prescribed without choice, discovery and growth, does it mean anything?
I also wonder how saying that those of other faiths and cultures don’t belong in Britain, that people should just go away, that there is no place for atheists in society would sit with Jesus and the apostles. I distinctly remember the story of the good Samaritan, the gospel of Matthew telling us to shine our light for all to see (and to lead our lives by way of example) and the passage of 1 Peter 3 that reminds us always to speak with kindness in our hearts, particularly when discussing matters of faith. It seems that in anger, this calling to love and kindness has been forgotten.
I know that I am not perfect, but I also want people to be aware that this vocal group are by no means representative of all Christians in Guiding. Debate is healthy and a wonderful thing, but it is also important to retain perspective and remember that we are talking about human beings with feelings!
You see, my pride in Girlguiding is not wavering as a result of the change, but as a result of people’s attitudes and reactionary statements to it. Because Girlguiding is not (and never has been) just a brand or a group of people in a pretty London building, but a family of thousands. My pride in Girlguiding is wavering because my pride in its members is wavering. Not all of them, not by a long shot, but just enough to shake my belief.