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Some Say Girl Scouts’ Break With Tradition Breaks From God

October 24, 1993

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Promising to serve Allah instead of God, or simply to serve, is now OK for Girl Scouts, but the decision to allow the choice was not universally cheered Sunday by people outside the scouts.

″This is one more organization that has become morally relativistic and that’s deeply disappointing,″ Tom Minnery, a spokesman for Focus on the Family, said Sunday. Focus is an evangelical Christian organization based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The Girl Scouts national convention delegates voted 1,560 to 375 Saturday to allow girls to pledge service to the spiritual power of their conscience - or none at all.

″I believe that Girl Scouts are an inclusive organization, and the idea is that we are across all lines, not just focusing on one group or religion or race,″ 18-year-old Angie Greiling, a delegate from Roseville, Minn., said last week.

The measure, which takes effect immediately, keeps the Girl Scout promise’s official wording intact, but allows individual girls to substitute for God another word or words they deem more appropriate.

The official wording reads: ″On my honor, I will try to serve God and my country, to help people at all times, and to live by the Girl Scout Law.″

Minnery said that’s exactly the way it should stay - for all girls.

The new flexibility springs from ″a rather small movement within the leadership that is trying to act on what it sees as a politically correct position,″ he said.

The group’s leaders said the change acknowledges growing religious and ethnic diversity among the nation’s 2.6 million Girl Scouts. Regions with large Asian and American Indian populations have had trouble recruiting girls whose religious tradition doesn’t include a Judeo-Christian concept of God, said Ellen Christie Ach, a spokeswoman for Girl Scouts of the USA.

However, Dean Gupta, a Hindu board member of Geeta Ashram Church in Brooklyn Park, Minn., said the word ″God″ is not exclusively Christian.

″Saying the word ‘God’ I think creates some kind of uniformity,″ Gupta said. ″Lately, with crime and other things ... the word ‘God’ might be a little bit of a calming influence.″

But such pleas for uniformity often translate into something less benign, according to a theology professor from Georgetown University in Washington.

″God does not stand in for everything,″ Diana Hayes said. ″That’s like saying ‘man’ stands in for everybody, which we have discovered is not true also. ... Often, uniformity is in the mouth of those who believe that their understanding should be the one everyone should accommodate.″

Hayes, a former Girl Scout, said the organization’s decision ″opens the gates to young women who can benefit from being Girl Scouts and the values of Girl Scouting without having to give up the values of their own culture as well.″

Ed Sellner, a St. Paul, Minn., theologian, likened the more flexible promise to the broad concept of a ″higher power″ used by Alcoholics Anonymous.

Flexibility ″attracts many people who might disagree theologically with each other in an understanding of God, but in terms of practice and in terms of ideals, could work together,″ said Sellner, director of the master of arts in theology program at the College of St. Catherine.

The Girl Scouts, modeled on the British Girl Guides, were founded in 1912. The preamble to the group’s constitution lays out a spiritual motivating force, but has never defined that force as Judeo-Christian.

Like the Girl Scouts, the Boy Scouts of America have always pledged service or duty to God. The organizations are separate, and a spokesman said the Boy Scouts have no plans to change their oath.

Boy Scouts will continue to say the word ’God,″ Richard Walker said. But ″we understand that that may mean something different for you than it does for another scout. ... The deity is between the scouts and their parents.″

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