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19 June 2013

God, the Guides and the myth of secular neutrality

God, the Guides and the myth of secular neutrality

The Evangelical Alliance has expressed its disappointment at the Girl Guides' decision to erase God from their pledge.

Yesterday, Girlguiding revealed that, following a consultation involving nearly 44,000 people, it had decided to update its Promise.

The updated Promise asks members to be "true to myself and develop my beliefs", which replaces the previous phrase "to love my God".

According to Girlguiding, different words were needed to include all girls, of all faiths and none, more explicitly in the Promise.

Commenting on the decision, Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, said: "The decision to remove reference to God in their pledge assumes that secularism is somehow morally neutral - which it obviously isn't.

"Given that faith is growing across the world - while secularism is in decline - the organisation will be out of kilter with the values of the majority of young people in the future.

"No doubt the Girls' Brigade will be the main beneficiary from this erroneous decision, because as the growing popularity of faith schools attests, parents will often seek to provide religious rather than secular humanist values for their children."

Gill Slocombe, chief Guide, said that young girls need space to explore their values and be true to themselves and that Guiding has always been a way for them to develop their moral framework both within and outside the context of a "formal religion".

She added: "However, we knew that some people found our Promise confusing on this point and that it discouraged some girls and volunteers from joining us. We hope that 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."

The board of trustees of Girlguiding decided to review the Promise in 2011, leading to the 11th change of the words in the pledge in the organisation's history.

According to the 2013 Girls' Attitudes Survey, 37 per cent of girls do not believe in a god, 13 per cent believe in a god at some times but not at others, and 26 per cent currently believe in a god.

Ruth Gilson, Girls' Brigade's national director and vice-chair of the Alliance's board of trustees, said: "Girl Guiding has obviously taken a thought-through step in altering the long-established basis of its promise to encourage girls to 'love my God'.

"While I agree with their assertion that 'formal religion' isn't the only route to develop faith, this step does seem to be an intentional shift away from having any Christian basis at the core of Girl Guiding as a movement.

"For Girls' Brigade, being a part of Church in the local community, committed to being people of Christian faith and providing space for girls and women to discover what this could mean for their lives is what we were founded to be.

"We welcome all girls, have lots of fun, are passionate to see girls and women grow, achieve and make a positive difference in their communities and we're excited to be part of the life and mission of Church."