Catholics and the Girl Scouts

The first part of my article about the Girl Scouts for the National Catholic Register has just gone up. The second should be up tomorrow.

This one took a long time, partly because I was interrupted by several health and family problems, but also because there was just a mountain of data, and much of it is very, very sketchy. Some of the evidence and accusations are not at all clear-cut, and the GSUSA regularly deletes or moves problematic materials and web links.

I have a son who is a Boy Scout, and a daughter who is a Girl Scout, and the two organizations are night and day. My wife is very active in the Boy Scouts, and we’ve both volunteered for each group, so we’ve had a chance to see how things are done. BSA is a well-run organization with a set of national standards by which local councils must abide. They never have to play rhetorical games about what they do or do not support because their standards are clear. I’m not aware of a single relationship, teaching aid, position, or practice that would ever give a Catholic parent cause for concern. Morality, character, faith, and patriotism are all part of the experience.

The GSUSA, however, is a mess. Their loosey-goosey organizational structure sets general policies at the top, then allows councils and troops to do pretty much whatever they want. Your council wants to have Planned Parenthood in to teach sex ed, use WAGGGS resources that encourage the girls to make safe sex displays and distribute condoms in order to earn their AIDS badge (AIDS badge?!), and admit mentally ill boys who are under the delusion they’re girls? Whatevs!

You go to a Boy Scout event, and you know what to expect. If the local leadership is paying even a tiny bit of attention  to national BSA standards (and I’ve never seen any that wasn’t), you’ll find a coherent structure in which boys can participate in activities and have fun while being boys. Too many Girl Scout events are run with all the precision of a 9-year-old’s birthday party in a bouncy tent.

Boy Scouts have common sense approaches to issues like environmentalism, multiculturalism, country, and service. They are encouraged to be good stewards of the environment, treat everyone fairly and show a natural curiosity about other cultures, respect their leaders and love their country, and dedicate themselves to the service of other people and the community at large.

The resource material that comes out of the GSUSA, however, can be the worst kind of politically correct pap. Global warming, we-are-the-world, feminist, multiculti messages are everywhere. The BSA is unapologetically American. With the GSUSA, you get a sense that America is nice and all, but the UN … now that’s awesome!

The local experience can make or break a Girl Scout troop. My daughter’s troop was run by a great and patient mom who put in tons of time and effort to give the girls a fine experience. We had not a single problem, and it was a good experience because it was a group of girls from school doing fun things. GSUSA barely ever entered the picture. All was well.

The fact that some of my daughter’s dues money goes to national, and thus to WAGGGS, does bother me. As she transitions to middle school, I’m discouraging her from continuing as a Girl Scout, and her participation in 4H is already leading her in other directions. The choice, in the end, will be hers, and we’ll watch what goes on very carefully and intervene if necessary.

I believe the next couple of years will decide for sure whether or not the Church can continue its relationship with GSUSA or not. It’s possible for the USCCB to examine all of the educational materials and resources created by the GSUSA and create a set of guidelines governing Catholic use of these materials. That leaves the problem of dues going to WAGGGS, and some may find that too much to bear. Since my money already goes to fund a host of radically offensive things (eg, the US government), I don’t worry about this too much.

There is absolutely no question that the leadership of the national organization is larded with people who support all kinds of things at odds with our faith, and who tack to the left politically. That worldview makes itself known throughout the organization.

But I don’t believe we benefit by disengaging from the culture. We are not here to build walls and withdraw into a little Catholic bubble. That may be the temptation (and it’s certainly mine), but neither side benefits from that approach. The Girl Scouts was founded in part by one of the great men of the 20th century, Lord Baden-Powell. It seems unwise to abandon his organization to the forces of moral relativism. If Catholics turn away from the organization en masse, who is left to keep them in line, and make sure other girls don’t have their values compromised? Right now, our numbers give us a seat at the table and allow us to affect real change in the materials and positions of the national organization. We need to be out there, changing hearts and minds.

Parents need to weigh the evidence and make up their own minds about the suitability of their local groups. It’s wholly possible to be a Girl Scout without  much more than a passing interaction with the national organization, with leaders using only wholesome materials and avoiding the nonsense. In the end, though, our children aren’t shock troops in the culture war. We need to do what’s best for them.

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.


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