Girlguiding's New Direction - Is It Really Wanted?

Subtlety and deception

The Chief (UK) Guide still opposes the use of the old Girlguiding promise at Jesmond Parish Church (JPC) and has threatened closure. At the date of writing, discussions continue between JPC’s (church sponsored) Girlguiding groups and the Girlguiding authorities over the new promise which the JPC units oppose. This new promise has substituted “myself” for “God” as though that was a generous and inclusive move. It is, of course, nothing of the kind (see the JPC Coloured Supplement for October 2013, The Religion of the Self).

All this brings to mind a lecture given not so long ago in the United States on the secularizing of universities by the Christian social scientist, Richard Neuhaus. He pointed out that from the Middle Ages to the present – from Bologna and Oxford to Yale and Princeton …

“… the university was explicitly constituted and inspired by Christian faith. In Harvard Yard one can still see the original seal with the word Veritas surrounded by the words Pro Christo et Ecclesia (for Christ and the Church). By the beginning of the twentieth century, that motto was reduced to just the one word, Veritas, and at Harvard there is obviously no consensus on what that truth might be, or even on whether there is such a thing as truth … When a university decides not to say that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, it is not saying nothing. Rather, it is saying that adherence to this way, this truth, and this life is not necessary to, or is a hindrance to, being the kind of university it wants to be.”

Neuhaus is arguing that such action does not make a university an open inclusive organization as though “secular” was a synonym for “neutral”. Rather it becomes subtly (and quietly) anti-Christ and anti-Christian. It then becomes pro “living-as-if-Christ-had-never-existed”; and this has ethical implications.

Something similar is happening with Girlguiding. By removing the theistic promise, not only ideas but ethics will change. Nor should we be surprised now that Julie Bentley is the relatively new (charity) Chief Executive of Girlguiding UK. Known as a pro-abortion campaigner and seeing Girlguiding as “the ultimate feminist organization”, her previous job was as CEO of the “sexual health charity fpa” (formerly the “Family Planning Association”) and whose large website has virtually nothing on marriage!

It is, of course, a free world. However, let no one be deceived about what is happening. Julie Bentley, and her supporters, are wanting to take Girlguiding in a positively secular and, therefore, exclusionary direction. But this is disfranchising church sponsored units as at JPC. Interestingly Julie Bentley says Girlguiding will not admit boys into the groups as it is very important that the Guide units “remain a safe girl only space.” So surely it would be particularly discriminatory to enforce the closure of conscientious Christian units with the option for a theistic promise being through joining the now mixed Scouts.

From “my country” to “my community”

But is this new direction in which Girlguiding is being taken what parents (and church sponsors) want and socially responsible? Many will say “No!” and this is not just because of the change from “God” to “myself”. For more than just committed Christians will be concerned about the second substantial change, namely the substitution of “community” for “country”.

The promise that has been discarded, except by Girlguiding units like those at Jesmond Parish Church, is as follows:

“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 Brownie/Guide Law.”

Instead every new girl member and leader is supposed to say these words:

“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 Brownie/Guide Law.”

For her stand in opposing this promise, Glynis Mackie, our senior Guide Leader received over the pre-Christmas and New Year period, unpleasant letters and e-mails from various Girlguiding officials. These were to force her and the girls to change their minds and convictions. On the other hand, there was considerable media (including national media) and individual support from around the country including Northern Ireland.

For myself, as the signing sponsor of our units, over this period I simply wrote to the Chief Guide explaining how our units were being forced to act not only contrary to their consciences and faith, but also, in one particular, illegally.

Unfortunately, I had to be more concerned over this period for what was happening in the South Sudan. That was because of my involvement as a trustee of Anglican International Development (AID) in its appeal for $750,000 to help the International Christian Medical and Dental Association (ICMDA) set up an Institute of Health Sciences in Bor, in the South Sudan.

No one can be ignorant of the terrible suffering at this time in the South Sudan and especially in Jonglei State, with Bor (its capital) having some of the worst fighting.

We at AID have been receiving e-mails from the area reporting the shocking conditions and the horror of such civil strife; and there has been phone contact with our micro-finance office in Juba, the South Sudanese capital. In October four of us from JPC were in Juba (where the fighting started) and, Alice Madgwick with John-Inglis Jones, the AID Executive Officer, at that time were seeing in Bor health officials and filming for the appeal (and having an encounter with armed young men in the process).

So, on the one hand, I was receiving copies of e-mails to and from the various parties regarding the enforcement of a Girlguiding promise that had to stop promising to serve “my country” and start to promise to serve “my community”. On the other hand, at the same time, I was receiving horrific e-mails and reading other reports from the South Sudan. But the irony, indeed tragedy, was that the conflict in the South Sudan was precisely because many South Sudanese were putting “my community”, whether tribal, army or regional, before “my country”. They were now killing and displacing people (desperately poor, sick and, too often, bereaved people) and serving (lethally) “my community” and not “my country” which was being torn apart by such community and not country loyalty.

Communities 'taking law into their own hands'

My fear over this narrowing down of social loyalty for the UK was then confirmed by a report in The Guardian on 18 January, the day before JPC Girlguiding was to be “deregistered” by the new-broom Girlguiding authorities (however, there was a last minute stay of execution). The newspaper quoted Tom Winsor, the new (police) chief inspector of constabulary, as saying some communities in the UK now are “taking law into their own hands”:

“There are some communities born under other skies who will not involve police at all … I am reluctant to name the communities in question but there are communities from other cultures who would prefer to police themselves … There are cities in the Midlands where the police never go because they are never called. They never hear of any trouble because the community deals with that on its own ... They just have their own form of community justice.”

This is hugely serious for social cohesion. So do not girls in such places need to learn a loyalty to their country rather than to their community?

There is a political argument that democratic government requires national loyalties to be working and effective; and these loyalties need to be shared by government, opposition and electorate alike. For without that higher loyalty, opposition to the government can be seen as subversive, since with no higher loyalty chaos can result from the collapse of any government. Hence, some governments may rightly or wrongly cling to power to prevent such chaos. That may be true of the South Sudan which is a new nation and such nation building-up needs care and time to provide a shared history and culture. Raymond Johnston, former Church Warden at JPC and the founder of CARE, in his book, Nationhood: towards a Christian Perspective, tells of visiting broadcasters from developing countries to London asking of BBC broadcasters:

“how can we reinforce (or even create) a sense of national consciousness and foster a deeper awareness of our social solidarity as a new nation?”

Certainly such people, including those from the South Sudan, do not need to be forced to have something like the new Guide promise! They need the old one. They need loyalty to their country before loyalty to their tribal, army or regional communities, or “communities that take the law into their own hands”.

Back to top