In a world of moral drifting, it often is wise to look for bedrock—something so secure that it doesn’t move an inch over time. In Boy Scouts, the Utah National Parks Council has done just that by “Putting the First Duty First”—and the first duty of Scouting is the duty to God.
The program the National Parks Council developed a few years ago to get back to basics is called “The Heart of Scouting,” and it emphasizes the first ideal of Scouting: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God …”
The Heart of Scouting program came after those leaders responsible in the council to make Scouting work saw “impressive results” in some units. According to the Heart of Scouting presentation, the Scouts in these units had more “kindness, obedience, helpfulness, congeniality, friendliness, courtesy, brotherhood, reverence, cooperation and awareness of who they are” and less “vandalism, fighting, criticizing, disciplinary problems, confrontations, pranks, arguing and put-downs of peers.”
Volunteer committees gathered what these Scouters were doing that led to these impressive results, and the program was born.
Yet the program was simply harking back to the foundation principles of Scouting.
Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, was a happy man and, being an artist and a scout, he was also a careful observer of things and people. He knew from a lifetime of observing people how happiness comes, and many of his messages focused on happiness—especially how to promote happiness worldwide.
Simply put, a young man who is trustworthy is happier, and the people in his life are happier with him, than a young man who is not trustworthy. The same is true of all of the other points of the Scout Law, including “reverent.”
Baden-Powell is quoted in his biography by E. E. Reynolds as saying, “Guide others to happiness, and you will bring happiness to yourselves, and by doing this you will be doing what God wants of you.”
He said even more, showing how the higher aims of Scouting yield happiness: “The higher aims of Scouting—aims which bring you happiness … are to do your duty to God, to your Country, and to your fellow men by carrying out the Scout Law. In that way you will, each one of you, help to bring about God’s kingdom upon earth—the reign of peace and goodwill. … Will you do your best to make friends with others and peace in the world?”
He said a Scout’s first duty is to God because “God is the one Father of us all” and Scouts are a “brotherhood” with “a higher mission” to “promote the kingdom of God.” He adds, “Our objective in the Scouting movement is to give such help as we can in bringing about God’s Kingdom on earth by including among youth the spirit and the daily practice in their lives of unselfish goodwill and cooperation.”
He said in summary of Scouting: “There is no religious side of the movement. The whole of it is based on religion; that is, on the realization and service of God.”
Baden-Powell thus made it clear that religion is “the fundamental factor pervading Scouting.”
Accordingly, the Heart of Scouting Leader’s Guide says that the Heart of Scouting program “will help everyone emphasize Baden-Powell’s vision of the heart of Scouting. When Scouts, Scouters and parents catch this vision, the ‘first duty’ will become the heart and soul of Scouting. It will become the centerpiece. It will become the main reason to do everything else.”
The program was developed by “leaders from several religions” working together to create a program “for all faiths.” As Baden-Powell said, “In the Scouts each form of religion is respected and its active practice is encouraged.”
The current council president, Rondo Fehlberg, said they had to “fix the problem from the top down” because “we were the problem.” He said 97 percent of the units in the council are sponsored by the LDS Church, and these units had gone out of their way to focus on “activities” instead of “spirituality.” “We had to repent as a council,” he said, and they went to those units not sponsored by the LDS Church to get their feedback on a return to a more spiritual focus. They were supported “across the board,” Fehlberg said.
Thus, this program, and the current re-emphasis in the council on duty to God, not only includes spirituality but gives it “the primary role.” As the leader’s guide states, “All of the things that have endeared Scouting to youth for a century will continue, but the spiritual parts of meetings, hikes and camps will be expanded and get more attention. ‘My duty to God’ will get more time, emphasis and focus.”
The council recognized that the challenge will be to help Scouts and Scouters see how “character, values, morality and service” are “important parts of God’s plan”—important because they show our individual duty to, and love for, God; important because they are not a one-time requirement to be checked off on the way to a Scouting badge.
Scouting leaders who are helping plan activities are given this invitation in the leader’s guide: “A spiritual link can usually be attached to most everything we do, and the responsibility lies with the leaders to bring that link to the forefront.”
For instance, to foster spirituality, Scouts are encouraged to bring their scriptures and journals to activities, and leaders are encouraged to pray with the Scouts and to discuss with Scouts such things as, “what duty to God means and what they can do to do it,” “how God influences the decisions and actions in daily life” and “how God guides people in making life’s choices.”
Varsity Scouts are encouraged to seek God, cultivate thanks, commune with Him, give Him reverence, express praise to Him, comfort others, share what is received from Him and respect God’s creations.
In addition to earning the religious emblem of the Scout’s personal faith, such as the Duty to God award for those of the LDS Church, the Heart of Scouting pin can be earned by Cub Scouts and any older Scouts. Even leaders and family members can earn it.
To earn this pin, each age group has different requirements to choose from in the Heart of Scouting brochure. For instance, one of the requirements for Cub Scouts is, “After saying prayers for one week tell [your leader] how prayer has helped you feel closer to God.” For Venturers, one requirement is, “Participate in a discussion about how duty to God changes at different stages of life. Write down three things you plan to do as a young adult, as a parent and as a senior citizen to do your duty to God.”
Fehlberg mentioned one way the new emphasis shows itself in units sponsored by the LDS Church. He says whole LDS stakes in the council now hold encampments where all of the young men and their leaders from each ward can be included, and they call these encampments “Leaving Jerusalem”—referring to how Lehi and his family (as recounted in the Book of Mormon) left the corruptions in Jerusalem and headed into the wilderness on their journey to the promised land of America—a holy land reserved for those who serve God.
Fehlberg has met Scouters from Sanpete County and said, “The folks of Sanpete County are wonderful. They’re salt of the earth Scouters.”
Mark Baldwin of Fairview, district executive of Scouting for the Sanpete area, said one of the recent efforts to re-emphasize duty to God in the LDS units is called “Come, Follow Me.” This is a Savior-centered approach for teaching and puts a great deal of the responsibility of the teaching and learning upon the youth. (It can be found at www.lds.org by clicking on Resources at the top of the home page and then Youth.) Both the council’s blog (blog.utahscouts.org) and the Youth webpage at www.lds.org have categories for “duty to God” and “Come, Follow Me” with plenty of food for thought—and plenty to move one to act.
According to the council’s blog, “the council started an Applied Gospel Principles in Scouting (AGPS) Committee to develop resources for adult leaders and young men in Scouting, helping them apply, in the weekly laboratory of Scouting, doctrine and principles taught and learned by the young men on Sundays.” This resource is called “Come Follow Me & Scouting Activities” and is available at the council’s website (www.utahscouts.org) under Volunteer Helps.
Baldwin said not only has duty to God been re-emphasized in the Utah National Parks Council, it has been re-emphasized nationally, especially since the centennial of Scouting, and he said future manuals will include materials showing this renewed emphasis.
According to the Heart of Scouting presentation, the program will be considered a success “when young men look back at their Scouting experience and believe that duty to God was the most important part.”
The heart of Scouting, thus, is to cheerfully love and serve God and to cheerfully love and serve His children, leaving happiness in one’s wake. And keeping happiness and “the higher aims in the forefront” is what Baden-Powell envisioned.
More on The Heart of Scouting program can be found at utahscouts.org