Shock, horror! The Girl Guides have dropped all reference to God from their pledge. I have to confess that I feel almost guilty at the fact that I am relatively unperturbed by this development, despite many Christians whom I admire and respect being utterly appalled. Yes, it is another example of the politically-correct brigade eradicating anything that could be deemed remotely offensive to a small minority, and offending the majority in the process. Yes, it is symptomatic of the trend towards secularising society. But, in reality, the Girl Guides, and the Scouting movement can scarcely claim – certainly in recent history – to be Christian organisations.
I joined the Cubs over fifty years ago at the tender age of seven, and even then sensed a certain oddness about having to promise to "do my duty to God and the Queen" (as the wording was then), considering that I lived in colonial Africa and had only the vaguest notion of who the Queen was. As a child of Christian parents, I also noticed that although God was "mentioned in despatches", the Cub activities never had any spiritual content, except perhaps a one-off recitation of the Lord's Prayer at the annual regional jamboree.
Many will no doubt reply that the original ethos of the Guiding movement founded in 1910 under the leadership of Agnes Baden-Powell was Christian-based, and that those roots are now being lost. Personally, I think they were lost a long time ago. Without a specifically Christian agenda, and without Christian leadership, I take the view that, in relation to God, the Promises or Oath of Loyalty are, at best, pretty meaningless to today's young people. Many will have very little idea of what is the character or nature of the God they are required to love or give allegiance to.
In that regard, the words of Leviticus 5:4 may have some relevance – "If they make a rash vow of any kind, whether its purpose is for good or bad, they will be considered guilty even if they were not fully aware of what they were doing at the time." (New Living Translation)
Now of course, before anyone starts protesting that this is Old Testament Mosaic Law, I do recognise that in Christ we are no longer under Mosaic Law, but my observation relates to the fact that not being fully cognisant of the meaning or implications of the vow (as many children may not be) was not an acceptable defence. The principle appears to be retained in the New Testament, when Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, "Do not swear at all… Let your word be "Yes, yes" or "No, no"; anything more than this comes from the evil one" (Matthew 5:33-37). The same instruction is given in James 5:12.
My dismay at the recent changes to the Girl Guides vow, therefore, has less to do with omitting God from the wording, but the utterly inane wording of what is the replacement. Instead of pledging to love God, Guides must now aim to "be true to myself" and "develop my beliefs". It is manifestly obvious that you can make that mean whatever you want it to mean. In a culture where Christian values have become an endangered species, this is a carte blanche to do whatever you feel comfortable with. Whereas the Bible teaches that we have a fallen, sinful human nature that needs to be crucified, not indulged. It seems to me that if we are to define what the generally meaningless phrase "being true to myself" actually implies, we can hardly escape the conclusion that this is a commitment to indulge my own self-willed human nature and, as Ann Widdecombe has observed, it promotes the "Me Society".
Secondly, the "beliefs" that Guides are now committed to developing are utterly undefined – it could refer to political, social or cultural beliefs rather than anything spiritual. The Guiding hierarchy jettisoned the old Promise on the grounds that it was 'confusing'. So what is 'confusing' has now been replaced by what is utterly bewildering! Jesus once spoke about a blind person guiding another blind person, resulting in both falling into the ditch. To guide someone is to steer them safely to a desired destination. Perhaps it is a change in the name of the Girl Guide movement itself that is of greater need of revision!
Tony Ward is a Bible teacher and evangelist who was ordained in Zimbabwe. He ministers mainly in Cardiff and Bristol.