Scouting and religion
By Larry Coppock
Chartered by an act of Congress in 1916, the BSA has served as an important civic youth-serving agency for more than 100 years. Founded by Lord Baden-Powell, a British general, scouting included religious components. The Scout Law ends with “A Scout is reverent.” Scouts regularly recite at weekly troop meetings, “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country.”
The charter concept (of ownership) allows religious partners like the UMC to integrate religious principles and religious education. Many offer PRAY programs that are age-appropriate and used for confirmation classes, prayer before troop meetings, annual Scout Sunday recognition services, chaplain aide support and more.
The first official relationship with the BSA and the UMC is found through a letter written by James V. Thompson, superintendent of the Young People’s Department in February 1920.
He notes in a letter to James E. West, the first Chief Scout Executive, “I am sure that the use of the Boy Scout program… as a basis for mid-week activities would greatly improve the work of our Methodist Sunday School teachers leading classes of adolescent boys.”
Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts
Baden-Powell said “There is no religious side to the movement. The whole of it is based on religion, that is, on the realization and service of God. Religion is essential to happiness. … This is not a mere matter of going to church, knowing Bible history, or understanding theology. . . .Our objective in the scouting movement is to give such help as we can in bringing about God’s Kingdom on earth by including among youth the spirit and the daily practice in their lives of unselfish goodwill and cooperation."
Seventy percent of BSA units nationwide (packs, troops and crews) are chartered by religious organizations and related faith groups, the largest of any charter partner.**
Over 6,500 UM churches charter at least one scouting unit and house 327,000 youth weekly. It is our hope and prayer that scouting and religion may continue to flourish as an integrated concept, knitted into the very fabric of our church’s outreach to its surrounding community.
* Excerpt from BSA Publication
** Dec. 31, 2016 BSA reports
Larry W. Coppock, director of scouting ministries,
General Commission on UM Men