By Darryl Alder
Sep 01, 2019

Scout Ambassador Toolchest: Why Should Churches Charter Units with BSA? (Part 5)

Scouting Rewards Religious Learning

Scouting has always had “duty to God” as a major tenet of its philosophy, which is presented both in the Scout Oath and the 12th point of the Scout Law; A Scout is reverent. And to encourage Scouts to grow stronger in their own faith, religious groups have developed religious emblems approved by the Boy Scouts of America for use in pack, troop, and crew programs.

“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.” — Lord Baden-Powell

Duty to God as a Youth Ministry

To encourage individuals to do their duty to God, religious groups affiliated with Scouting have created religious emblems programs available to BSA members. Each award encourages youth and adults alike to grow in their faith.

These religious groups — not Scouting itself — have developed and administer their own program. The Boy Scouts of America has approved them and allows each faith’s recognition to be worn on the official uniform.

Most of these faith traditions carry out programs for Cub Scouts, Scouts, Venturers, and adult volunteers “to strengthen their faith-based journey within Scouting,” according to Bryan Wendell, editor for Scouting Magazine.

“While the BSA is secular and members are not required to belong to any religious organization, BSA members are required to acknowledge a belief in God. Earning a religious emblem helps turn that ‘acknowledgment’ into something deeper and more meaningful,” Wendell continued.

Why are religious emblems important?

Jason Noland, CEO of Programs of Religious Activities with Youth, or PRAY, answers this way:

“Religious emblems are important because they help connect young people deeply to their faith and implement Scouting as part of a congregation’s youth ministry within the denominations where they belong,”

What are Scouting’s religious emblems?

Religious Emblems Programs Available to Members of the Boy Scouts of America

Scouting explains, “They are medals created by the various religious groups represented in Scouting. Their purpose is to encourage youth and adults to grow stronger in their faith as part of their Scouting experience.

“Studies by the BSA have shown that Scouts who earn a religious emblem stay registered longer in Scouting’s programs.

“Considering that nearly three of every four units is chartered to a faith-based institution, this connection is vital to sustaining those relationships.”

How are these emblems different from regular advancement?

Noland explains, “In one sense, they are not different at all. Just like earning a merit badge, a Scout has to take the initiative to start the process to earn a religious emblem.

“However, a young person doesn’t ask his or her Cubmaster, Scoutmaster or Venturing advisor to help with that process. He or she contacts the religious institution. At most institutions, there’s already a process in place for earning these emblems.”

“The Boy Scouts of America does not define what constitutes belief in God or practice of religion. Neither does the BSA require membership in a religious organization or association for membership in the movement. If a Scout does not belong to a religious organization or association, then his parent(s) or guardian(s) will be considered responsible for his religious training. All that is required is the acknowledgment of belief in God as stated in the Declaration of Religious Principle and the Scout Oath, and the ability to be reverent as stated in the Scout Law —Guide to Advancemnt.”

What role do adult leaders play?

Noland explains the importance of adult leaders as they, “encourage young people to earn the emblems, connect them with the appropriate faith leader and present the awards in a meaningful way.” And every unit would benefit from designating an adult to serve as a Religious Emblems Coordinator. This adult volunteer “promotes emblems and tracks which ones have been earned.” suggested Nolan.

What resources are available?

Many faith organizations also have their own websites, including the National Jewish Committee on ScoutingNational Catholic Committee on Scouting and more.

What are the steps to earning a religious emblem?

Scouting Magazine lists these seven steps:

  1. “Obtain the specific booklet for your religion by checking with your local Scout Shop or contacting the religious organization directly.
  2. “Ask parents to review the program guidelines.
  3. “Become a member of your religious institution, if necessary. Note that some programs require participants to be official members of the religious institution and that age and grade requirements vary from program to program.
  4. “Find a counselor. Each program sets its own guidelines as to who may serve as a counselor. Some programs require clergy to serve as counselors; other programs allow parents or other family members to fill the role.
  5. “Complete the requirements and obtain the proper signatures.
  6. “Order the emblem. These emblems are not available from your local council Scout Shop. Follow the instructions in your booklet to order the emblem” for your faith.
  7. “Receive the emblem in a meaningful ceremony, preferably in the member’s religious institution.”

How do you get the medal itself?

Noland reminds, “Unlike other advancements, these emblems are not purchased through the local council Scout Shop. You buy them through the faith organization that administers the emblem program.

“The instructions for ordering are highlighted at the end of the booklet. Emblems should be presented in a meaningful ceremony, like any other award in Scouting,” which units can do anytime, but which are especially meaningful on Scout Sunday, Scout Sabbath or Scout Jumuah. But, Wendell cautions, “Depending on the grade and emblem, it may take anywhere from 6 to 14 weeks for the emblem to arrive. So plan accordingly.”

What about adult religious emblems?

Unlike the youth religious emblem awards, “adult awards are based on service to Scouting and their faith.” Nolan continues, “Most require a nomination form, letters of reference and clergy signature. Their approval also goes through the appropriate faith organization. Because most units are interfaith and multi-denominational, it is not uncommon for adults to receive the emblem of other faiths in recognition of their service.”

How/where are religious emblems worn?

The emblems or medals from each faith may be worn as part of the official uniform at special events, but a silver knot on purple cloth worn by youth members who have received their religious emblem is appropriate all the time.

For adults, this knot is reversed with purple on silver cloth and if you earned both, you may wear both at the same time the appropriate device for the program of service.

To learn how to organize a Scout unit for your church’s youth program, contact your local Scout Council They have resources to help you get started with your own religious emblems program.

<<Growing Leaders          |           Duty to God>>

Author: Darryl Alder is a retired career Scouter with more than 30 years of service. However, his pride in Scouting is his volunteer service as an Associate Advisor, Varsity Scout Coach, Scoutmaster, Cubmaster, Chartered Organization Representative, and Commissioner. He currently serves on the Utah National Parks Council Executive Board and is a Scouting Ambassador.

For other articles in this series see:

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