The Boy Scout Oath

I have been involved with the Boy Scouts since I joined Cub Scouts in 1969. At the beginning of every Boy Scout meeting, we recited the Boy Scout Oath and Boy Scout Law. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized the connection between the values of Scouting and the Bible. Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouting movement, once said, “Scouting is nothing less than applied Christianity” – (Scouting & Christianity, 1917). When asked where religion came into Scouting, Baden-Powell replied, “It does not come in at all. It is already there. It is a fundamental factor underlying Scouting…” (Religion and the Boy Scout and Girl Guides Movement–an address, 1926).

This is the continuation of the series of blogs examining the connection between the values of Scouting and the Bible.

The Boy Scout Oath

On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

The Scout Oath is the foundational statement of the values of the Boy Scouts of America. Every activity, rank advancement, skill, and value in Scouting points toward the Scout Oath. Although the Scout Oath is not a Christian statement, per se, it was designed and built upon Biblical values.

On my honor…

Honor is a matter of integrity and respect. When a person says, “On my honor…,” they are putting their integrity on the line. The trust, respect, and value that others hold them in is at stake. The Bible talks about integrity and honor:

Proverbs 10:9 – He who walks with integrity walks securely, But he who perverts his ways will become known.

Proverbs 20:7 – The righteous man walks in his integrity; His children are blessed after him.

Titus 2:6-8Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.

1 Kings 3:13 – And I have also given you what you have not asked: both riches and honor, so that there shall not be anyone like you among the kings all your days.

1 Timothy 5:17 – Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.

…I will do my best…

In the Bible, God always expects the best from His people:

Acts 24:16

16 I always do my best to have a clear conscience toward God and men.

In the Old Testament sacrificial system, God always required the best portion of whatever was being sacrificed (see Numbers 18:25-32, for example). Failure to give the best resulted in God rejecting the sacrifice (see Genesis 4:3-5).

…to do my duty to God and my country…

Throughout the Bible, duty to God is a key theme. Duty to God involves not only our behavior, but also our hearts and minds.

Duty to our country is also taught in the Bible:

Romans 13:1-31 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.

1 Peter 2:13-1713 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— 16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

Matthew 22:21 – …And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The order of “God” and “country” is significant. When there is a conflict in loyalties, both Scouts and Christians are to hold loyalty to God above loyalty to country.

The phrase, “duty to God,” has been a source of controversy for the Boy Scouts. Because of this phrase, official Boy Scout policy has been to deny membership to atheists, because an atheist cannot perform duty to a god he does not believe exists. Over the years, several atheists have sued the Boy Scouts over the policy, but the Scouts Oath has always been upheld by the courts. The policy has cost the Boy Scouts funding from organizations that oppose this policy, but the Scouts have chosen to uphold their principles rather than to give in for funding. I applaud the Scouts for their integrity.

…and to obey the Scout Law;…

I have written about the Scout Law elsewhere in this series on the values of Scouting and the Bible, so I won’t repeat it all here. To summarize: Although not exclusively “Christian” in nature, the 12 points of the Scout Law come directly from Biblical principles, and were designed to promote character development that is in line with Christian values.

… To help other people at all times;…

This portion of the Scout Oat is very similar to the third point in the Scout Law – A Scout is Helpful – as well as the Scout Slogan – Do a Good Turn Daily. The Order of the Arrow, Scouting’s honor society, states that one of their primary purposes is to “crystallize the Scout habit of helpfulness into a life purpose of leadership in cheerful service to others.” Since I have already written about, “A Scout is…Helpful,” I won’t repeat it here.

…To keep myself physically strong…

Taking care of one’s physical body is a major emphasis in Scouting. It is also a Biblical principle: Romans 12:1 states, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 states, “19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

…mentally awake…

Building the mind is a key value of both Scouting and the Bible: Romans 12:2 states, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

…and morally straight.

Having a high moral standard is a major emphasis in Scouting. Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouting movement, recognized that without the Bible, morality is meaningless. Without the absolute standard of the Bible, morality can mean anything one wants it to mean; it becomes meaningless, for all practical purposes.

The phrase, “morally straight,” has been the basis for the Boy Scouts of America policy banning membership to homosexuals. The Boy Scouts have always viewed homosexuality as an immoral choice rather than a genetic predisposition. Numerous lawsuits have been filed, and the Boy Scouts have always been vindicated. As a privately funded organization, The Boy Scouts have every right to deny membership to those who do not conform to the ideals and values it holds. As in the case of denying membership to atheists, upholding the integrity of its principles has cost that Scouts millions of dollars of support. However, maintaining the organization’s values and character is worth the cost. Christians, likewise, are called to refuse to compromise their beliefs. Both Scouts and Christians are called to set themselves apart from others by upholding higher moral standards based not on popular opinion, but on Biblical values.

As a Christian and a long-time Scout, Scout leader, and Eagle Scout, I have found that the Scout Oath is a succinct statement of many of the values I maintain as a Christian. For me, the Scout Oath is no longer just a statement recited at the beginning of Scout meetings; it’s become a habit, and a part of my Christian way of life. It’s a practical way to implement my Christian principles into my everyday life.

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