What is “Duty to God”?

On my honor, I will do my duty to God…

These familiar words open the Scout Oath, one of the fundamental guideposts of our movement and one which establishes our values. It’s always been part of Scouting, and was recently reaffirmed at the National Annual Meeting as a key part of all of our programs.

But although many units are chartered by a religious organization, we aren’t a church – so how are we expected to uphold duty to God outside of a religious framework?

To answer that question, we need only look to the words of our founder, Sir Robert Baden-Powell. In 1908, B-P wrote in Scouting for Boys :

“No man is much good unless he believes in God and obeys His laws. So every Scout should have a religion….Religion seems a very simple thing: First: Love and Serve God. Second: Love and serve your neighbour.”

Baden-Powell was a Christian and followed Christian principles in his life and his mentorship of youth and adult leaders. His religious beliefs helped guide his vision for what he felt a Scout should be.  With time, his Christian viewpoint transformed into a deference to the Scout and his family for the expectation as to how they observe duty to God. When B-P wrote Aids to Scoutmastership in 1919, he explained the relationship between religion and Scouting in greater depth:

“Development of outlook naturally begins with a respect for God, which we may best term ‘Reverence.’ Reverence to God and reverence for one’s neighbour and reverence for oneself as a servant of God, is the basis of every form of religion. The method of expression of reverence to God varies with every sect and denomination. What sect or denomination a boy belongs to depends, as a rule, on his parents’ wishes. It is they who decide. It is our business to respect their wishes and to second their efforts to inculcate reverence, whatever form of religion the boy professes. There may be many difficulties relating to the definition of the religious training in our Movement where so many different denominations exist, and the details of the expression of duty to God have, therefore, to be left largely in the hands of the local authority. But there is no difficulty at all in suggesting the line to take on the human side, since direct duty to one’s neighbour is implied in almost every form of belief.”

From its founding, the Boy Scouts of America has inferred a duty to God, which was codified in the Declaration of Religious Principle in 1916, and which we follow still today.

How, then, do we encourage duty to God in non-sectarian units with a diversity of faiths represented among our membership?

It’s not difficult. Recognize that religion, first and foremost, encompasses a belief that there is a higher power. Many call it God. Others, Yahweh, Allah or Kami. In all cases, it’s represented in us as our “good conscience” – the force that guides us to do good things for other people and to love one another.

All we need to do is encourage these values in our Scouts and provide them with opportunities to reflect on what they mean. It’s done in many ways, both overt and intrinsic in our everyday actions. Expressions of thanks before meals. Scouts’ Own observances at camp. Being helpful, obedient and cheerful. And always remember that our youth are watching us for cues on how to relate to others. The first eleven points of the Scout Law, in fact, all culminate in the twelfth.

Duty to God shouldn’t be swept under the rug, but it doesn’t need to be worn on your sleeve either. Just do Scouting the way our founder intended, and it’ll be there.


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