Saturday, December 21, 2013

Girl Guides ultimatum: Remove God from your oath or be expelled

A Girl Guides troop from Newcastle has reportedly been told that unless it removes any explicit mention of God from its membership oath, it risks expulsion from Girl Guides UK.

The national organisation adopted a new secular oath this year with the wording "to be true to myself and develop my beliefs" replacing the traditional promise to love God.

Leaders of the 37th Newcastle Guide Unit, based out of Jesmond Parish Church, have not entirely rejected the new oath but have said they would prefer to offer new Guides the choice using the original oath.

Glynis Mackie told the Daily Mail, "We would use this new form of words but we do want the children to have the choice to say the old Promise if they want to."

Ms Mackie is clearly unimpressed by the new oath that took effect from September 1, describing it as a "fridge magnet promise that doesn't really mean anything".

Despite that view however, she is not in favour of banning its use. Ms Mackie wants a set-up similar to that currently used by the Scouts, which made the decision in early October that any atheist who wished to could replace the God-referencing part of the pledge with a promise to "uphold our Scouts values".

"I understand why an atheist might not want to make a promise to God, and that is fine by me, but it has to be up to the individual," she said.

However, her position has apparently been rejected in a letter by the central leadership of Girl Guides UK.

Ms Mackie said: "This letter, which is surprisingly aggressive, says that we 'will not use' the new Promise and that simply isn't true."

Ms Mackie was also critical of how the Girl Guides leadership went about changing the historic promise.

She told The Chronicle: "This is the first substantial change to the promise in the 103-year history of the Girl Guides. The change they propose wasn't honestly investigated and we couldn't appeal the decision."

She was not alone in her displeasure, with 839 official complaints launched at the time of the initial proposal of the change. 

Although this prompted fears in some quarters of a split in the movement, Girl Guides UK pointed out that this number only represented 0.15% of their overall movement.

Chief Guide Gill Slocombe, quoted in the Daily Mail, disputed Ms Mackie's claims of inadequate discussion, saying that there had been "an extensive consultation with over 44,000 people".

She insisted that the current system employed by the Girl Guides was sufficient, as it "opened our arms to welcome even more girls and adults, of all faiths – and none".

"We hope the new wording will help us reach out to girls and women who might not have considered guiding before, so that even more girls can benefit from everything guiding can offer," she said.

"I think it's more important that all girls get included in Guides than just the ones that have religious affiliation.

"It's a new oath, and more leaders that are younger and perhaps less stuck in their ways should make Guiding more exciting for people that want to join that don't just want to go and sit in a church hall with women who are older than their mothers talking about whatever it is they're talking about."

The vicar of Jesmond Parish Church, David Holloway, wrote of his disappointment in the church's monthly newsletter: "The hard reality is that this new promise is, whether intentionally or not, a move for exclusion."

Mrs Mackie concurred, saying, "This is an example of people not realising the importance of faith, of all faiths, in our community… I would go as far as saying that it is an example of faith being sidelined in society."

A similar instance occurred in August, with the St Paul's United Reform Church troop in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. In that instance, despite support from the former Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali, the leaders of the troop backed down and agreed to accept the new secular wording.

Girl Guide's chief commissioner for the North East has told the 37th Newcastle Guide Unit that their membership of the organisation will be ended on December 31 unless a change is made.

In commenting on any wider dissent, Ms Slocombe said: "They're Christians, therefore they're capable of turning the other cheek."

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