Fair Play for the Girl Scouts!

A friend of mine, actually one of my old parish’s most accomplished busybodies, once talked her way into the hotel room of a 1950′s rock guitarist when he was performing in the Phoenix area. Her goal — her sole goal — was to get the legend’s autograph for a friend of hers.

After sizing my friend up, the man smiled. Cocking his head toward another man, who was holding a camera, he asked her, “Do you object to pictures?” When my friend looked puzzled, he asked again, “Do you object to pictures?” Finally, it dawned on her that he was really asking, “Is it okay with you if my friend here photographs us while we’re having sex?”

My friend bridled, took umbrage, flew into a state of the highest dudgeon imaginable. With finger wagging, she addressed the aging satyr: “Mister _____, I’ll have you know I was a Girl Scout. I’m no groupie! All I want is for you to put your signature on this piece of paper, for my friend, who idolizes you, though I can’t imagine why. He saw you play at _______.” She named a ballroom in Connecticut.

By this point in his career, this performer had made the transition to nostalgia act without downsizing his headliner’s ego. Even Keith Richards, who considered himself deep in the man’s artistic debt (and who had managed to get along, more or less, with Mick Jagger for over two decades) found him hard to take. He had also been convicted of a sex crime. But something about my friend’s straight-backed rebuke brought out the rake’s gallant side. Picking up her reference, he asked, “That place is closed now, right?” My friend nodded, and the two fell into a pleasant conversation. After about half an hour, he signed her paper, and she left triumphant.

Extracting the Girl Scout training from this friend of mine would have been impossible. Easier to deprogram a Moonie. In tandem with the Catholic Church, the GSUSA had poured the concrete that held her value structure together. “Always leave a place looking better than when you found it,” she’d lecture me, and had no sympathy for my argument that cigarette butts add reverse chic to picnic spots. Once, while catering a retreat — one of her chief charismata — she discovered she’d overestimated the amount of milk required by half. Me? I’d have yelled, “MILK FIGHT!” and it would have been on. This goody-goody-friend of mine insisted on hauling the overage down to Maggie’s Place, a local house of hospitality for expectant mothers.

Not only did this woman follow a neurotic compulsion to do the right thing, she insisted on doing it for the right reasons. If I rouse myself to throw someone’s discarded Coke bottle into the recycle bin, I expect to be inducted into the Orde Pour le Mérite. My friend, on the other hand, would warn, “Don’t do anything for the badges,” meaning merit badges. In her book, virtue rewarded hardly counted as virtue at all.

As grating as I often found this just-canonize-me-now attitude, I hope the bishops find generous traces of it as their Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth investigates GSUSA materials it fears are “problematic.” Exactly what sort of heterodoxy the committee expects to find is unclear; in his announcement, committee chairman Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Ft. Wayne, Indiana doesn’t say. But among culture warriors nationwide, the buzz against Girl Scouts has been building to a roar for some time.

The Huffington Post reports that a Colorado troop became a target for critics by accepting a biological boy who considered himself transgendered. Just this past February, GSUSA spokeswoman Michelle Tompkins issued a letter refuting what she says were false allegations broadcast via EWTN, in a program titled Women of Grace. According to Tompkins, GSUSA has no relationship with Planned Parenthood, and no plans for creating one. Neither did it have any hand in distributing a Planned Parenthood brochure that turned up at a United Nations event. The HuffPo identifies the brochure as “Happy, Healthy and Hot,” and says its purpose is advising HIV-positive young people “how to safely lead active sex lives.”

But for the Girl Scouts’ ciritcs, it may not be necessary that, in Girl Scout usage, the “head” in “head/shoulders/knees and toes/(knees and toes)” refer to the head of Baphomet, once venerated by Templars. The real problem may lie in a general orientation. Mary Rice Hasson, a visiting fellow in Catholic studies at the think tank Ethics and Public Policy Center, calls the GSUSA leadership “reflexively liberal.” Dismissing the generally positive review given the Girl Scouts by National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry executive director Bob McCarty as “whitewashing,” she predicts that the Girl Scouts and the Church are on a “collision course.”

I find myself hoping that this collision will not end too bloodily. It’s true, when it comes to ideology, the Girl Scouts are not the Boy Scouts. The GSUSA may not order its members to become atheists or homosexuals, but unlike the Boy Scouts, they leave room in the ranks for both types. If GSUSA has no formal relationship with Planned Parenthood, it does belong to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, whose spokespeople have called for “an environment where [girls] can freely and openly discuss issues of sex and sexuality.” It would be very hard for a Catholic Girl Scout to avoid concluding that people who contest Church teachings are worthy objects of fellowship.

That conclusion seems like nothing more than common sense. It’s the opposite conclusion — that one rejected doctrine anathematizes an organization the way one drop of African blood was once thought to make a person black — that looks persnickety. If the Bishops’ Conference wants to cut its own ties to organizations like the Leadership Conference of Civil and Human Rights, which supports same-sex marriage and abortion, that’s one thing. If it wants to prohibit Catholic universities from honoring public figures who buck the Church’s line, it’s at least operating within its jurisdiction. But to reach outside of its own organizational limits to make demands of institutions that include Catholics, but which never claimed to be Catholic, is to reach into strong-arm territory. If this is evangelization, it’s not a style of evangelization I see winning many converts.

Indeed, that may not even be the bishops’ goal. Implicit in their latest move seems to be a fear that no young person could remain an orthodox Catholic if exposed to any opposing point of view — roughly, “How are you’re going to keem ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree”? If I were a young Catholic, I’m sure I’d find that inference unflattering, to say the least. Lately it’s become fashionable among Catholics to claim persecution, Cardinal George’s prediction that his successor would die in jail being only the most melodramatic example. But I cannot find an instance where the GSUSA, acting in odium fidei, shunned, harrassed, or even denied preferment to a Catholic. If the barbarians won’t come to the gates, then, it seems, we’ll drag the gates out to the barbarians.

Among their merit badges, the Girl Scouts offer one called “My Promise, My Faith.” According to the GSUSA home page, “A girl earns the My Promise, My Faith pin by carefully examining the Girl Scout Law and directly tying it to tenets of her faith.” It represents a lesson on living in a pluralistic society; only though a complementary badge with a name like “You Heretic Knuckleheads Are My Cross” could that lesson be more thorough.

Cervantes — whom I’m quoting via Florence King — once defined a lady as someone so determined to be respected that she could make herself so even in an army of soldiers. Change “army of soldiers” to “horny rock has-been,” and you’ll have a fair picture of my Girl Scout friend. Throw in stewardship and (occcasionally) a sanctimoniousness that made me want to garrotte her with her own kerchief, and you’ll have your case that Catholicism and the Girl Scout Promise can go together like milk and Peanut Butter Tagalongs.

  • http://dormitantius.blogspot.com Laura

    1. I doubt modern women meet an unwelcome proposition with “I’ll have you know I was a girl scout!” Your friend may have gotten moral instruction through her Girl Scout affiliation, but back when I was a girl scout, they didn’t sell sex with the Samoas.

    2. The bishops’ investigation is pastoral and reflects fatherly concern for their precious daughters who have to make tough choices between culture and counter-culture. The bishops will not order that Catholic girls can’t be Scouts. This is simply false: “Implicit in their latest move seems to be a fear that no young person could remain an orthodox Catholic if exposed to any opposing point of view.” You have to re-read Gaudium et Spes! The bishops *may* well conclude, though, that Catholic Churches won’t subsidize programs that advocate contraception and abortion.

    While Catholic colleges, serving grown girl scouts, remove their health insurance for moral reasons, it would be illogical to simultaneously require Catholics-in-the-pews to fund Girl Scouts in their own parishes while they break bread with Planned Parenthood.

    3. At church-sponsored functions we shouldn’t have to worry about our daughters needing to be Salt and Light or risking being mauled by the wolves of an over-sexualized culture. They get sex propositions everywhere they turn… they don’t have to go to has-been rock stars. At a church function, they should be exploring the non-sexual sides of themselves for a change, and learning from the Girl Scouts how to say no, rather than how to prevent the outcome of saying “yes.”

  • RebeccaK

    Anecdotally, my experience with the Girl Scouts (through middle school – I’m 26 now) was a resounding ‘blah’. I really didn’t find it to offer anything of particular value. The values ‘learned’ at Girl Scouts really paled in comparison to my family culture and Catholic schooling. We did crafts. We earned badges. I earned the Catholic badge, whatever it is, and it was presented to me by the bishop. I cannot for the life of me remember the requirements I completed to earn it. We camped. It was all. . . fine (except the zip line, which was AWESOME!). . . it was just not great or amazing or life-changing or particularly compelling. Certainly some of it depends on the leaders, but my (Catholic) leaders were pretty into GS. They were both heavily invested in their daughters seeing it through to earn the Gold Award, which they did.

    I’m curious – did your friend have other sources of compelling character/value education? I know the Girls Scouts really focus on a lot of that, but it really did pale in comparison to the other things I had access to. It tried to be compelling, and just wasn’t particularly so. And I feel like I need to add that I didn’t just accept/love all of my value education – I rebelled much harder than many friends with lukewarm value education, for sure. But I have always had high standards for what I find compelling. I’ve always been quick to roll my eyes and to argue.

    My 2 college-age brothers are Eagle Scouts, and have a much higher opinion of the skills they developed in Boy scouts than I do of my Girl Scout experience.

    I find the GS connections with those organizations perfectly logical. It’s hard for a secular organization to do a good job supporting girls’ and women’s interests to everyone’s satisfaction given the irreconcilable differences between the liberal/secular view and the religious/Catholic view of womanhood. Secular feminism in addition to the ‘my body, my choice’ and ‘abortion at any time for any reason’ is placing an increasing amount of attention on the ‘sexual rights’ of children.

  • RebeccaK

    “It would be very hard for a Catholic Girl Scout to avoid concluding that people who contest Church teachings are worthy objects of fellowship.”

    I think the question is not of ‘fellowship’, but of ‘source of value education’, which GSUSA most certainly presents itself as.

    As I mentioned, my value education was thoroughly orthodox Catholic, and I was not taught to only have fellowship with people who shared my beliefs. My Catholic school class wasn’t even all Catholic. I was taught the importance of choosing your company wisely, but that was not presented as ‘only associate with real Catholics’. At all.

  • Robster

    I ssuspect there is a great difference between the national organization and local troops.
    Like a lot of mainline churches, the national org. does not always represent the values of the local affiliate. For example, there were 2 Presbyterian churches within 5 miles of each other near me. The one in my town was a nice, broad-minded sort of place; the other was more evangelical and theologically conservative. In fact the latter disaffiliated itself from the Presbyterian church.

  • Holly in Nebraska

    I think RebeccaK is onto something: “It’s hard for a secular organization to do a good job supporting girls’ and women’s interests to everyone’s satisfaction given the irreconcilable differences between the liberal/secular view and the religious/Catholic view of womanhood.”

    Feminism invades organizations that deal with the development of girls to the point where they usually included support for contraception, abortion, and alternative lifestyles. You can’t even buy dolls anymore without supporting this agenda. (See American Girl Dolls. Here’s a story link: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-10-14-american-girl_x.htm). Dolls for Pete’s sake! It is not surprising that the Girls Scouts are tainted in this way. It isn’t always in-your-face. I doubt there will ever be a Contraception badge. (Please tell me there isn’t one.) The views are just accepted by the secular world as normal. Therefore, the reaction against it by religious types is characterized as extreme. “What’s a few dollars to PP? What’s the big fuss? We do so much good! Evolve already.”

    And how is is “strong-arm territory” to say that if you are going to corrupt our girls, we aren’t going to support you? Nobody is holding a gun to their heads. But if they want Catholic support, they can evolve.

  • http://catholicsensibility.wordpress.com/ Todd Flowerday

    “The bishops’ investigation is pastoral and reflects fatherly concern for their precious daughters who have to make tough choices between culture and counter-culture.”

    This is fair enough. But …

    If EWTN and other Catholics are found to have circulated misperceptions, misunderstandings, and even lies about the GSUSA, then one would hope in the interest of pastoral concern, that the investigation would widen. Can we count on that?

  • Elizabeth

    I find it a bit incredible that anyone would benefit quite so much by her Girl Scouts experience as suggested here. Girl Scouts do not get the intense experience offered in other clubs. It’s pretty mundane actually & the emphasis is mostly just on activities & crafts with a bit of camp here and there. It’s a bit far-fetched to think Girl Scouts could actually somehow forge a girls character some how. This article also implies that investigation by the Bishops is somehow wrong or unfair. I’d like to point out that as a mother of 3 daughters I’d appreciate the peace of mind in knowing that my dollars and/or volunteer hours as well as my trust in sending my daughters to GS were not in any way tainted by their complicity in something so intrinsically evil as Planned Parenthood.

  • Howard

    It sounds like doublespeak and plausible deniability to me. I would love to think otherwise, but it would take much more than this to be persuasive.