Guides' concession over God pledge
The Girlguiding movement offered a concession tonight to Christian campaigners over its decision to adopt a secular promise as the Church of England called for Brownies and Guides to be allowed to continue to pledge to love God.
A Girlguiding spokeswoman said it remained committed to one promise for all and the wording of its new pledge of allegiance which drops the promise to "love my God" in favour of the phrase "to be true to myself and develop my beliefs."
But she said the organisation had taken on board the views of a "minority" of its members who "struggle" with the new wording and has suggested that they can provide the "context of their own belief" if they wish before making the promise.
The spokeswoman said:
"We remain committed to one Promise for all and the wording that resulted from our extensive consultation.
"This wording has been in place since September last year and has been welcomed by many members both of faith and no faith who have embraced the inclusivity it enables.
"Girlguiding has taken on board the view of a minority of our members who struggle with the new wording and suggested those members can provide the context of their own belief if they wish before making our Promise.
"This suggestion ensures the wording of our Promise is unaltered and, rather than having an alternative, ensures we maintain our one Promise for all that celebrates shared values and embraces all beliefs."
The announcement was made after members of the General Synod congratulated the Girlguiding organisation on its work but said women and girls should be able to continue to promise to love God when enrolled.
Under proposals backed by the Church of England, Guides who chose to do so should be able to preface the new promise with the phrase "In the presence of God I make my Guide promise."
Alison Ruoff, from the London Diocese, called for the old promise to be reinstated as an alternative to the new pledge.
She said many Guide units meet on church premises and to be banned from saying I "love my God" "cannot be right."
Mrs Ruoff said units in Jesmond church in the Newcastle Diocese have said they want to only use the old promise. "I have to say the pressure on their leaders to change to the secular promise has been enormous," she said.
"Further, I understand that there are many units who have no intention of using the secular promise at all but have said nothing openly."
She said the Scouts had kept their promise mentioning God and also introduced a simple secular pledge allowing a choice to both leaders and young people.
"Leaders and girls who are Christians and I am talking about the Christian faith in particular, are faced with choosing between their faith and Guiding," she said.
Alison Wynne, from Leyland, in the Blackburn Diocese, said the expression to be "true to myself" could lead to chaos.
"We all know of course that human beings are all sinful and a promise to be true to yourself, to do what is right in my own mind will only lead to chaos," she said.
"I wonder where being true to myself leaves Guides or Brownies to disregard their leaders' instructions on camp and wander off into the woods late at night or refuse to wear their uniforms because the colour doesn't suit me or choose to bring alcohol along to group meetings?"
But the Rev Jeremy Fletcher, from Beverley, in the York Diocese, praised the "fabulous" "superb and sacrificial" work of Girlguiding.
"It does seem to me a bit rude sending Girlguiding's homework back and saying they could do better. I don't know whether it is our place to do that," he said.
"The way to get God into this is to build on all the involvement we already have and not to worry about these particular words."
Andrew Dotchin, of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocese, also questioned the criticism.
"Girlguiding does good work in our communities which we should applaud and encourage rather than questioning their motives or challenging their own democratic processes," he said.
"It is all too easy for the Church to sound like 'disgusted of Tunbridge Wells'."
Girlguiding has said that nearly 44,000 responses were received to its consultation on changing the promise last year. An analysis of the responses showed a preference for a single promise rather than alternative versions, it said.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: "It really is very arrogant of these churches to put such pressure on an entirely independent organisation.
"The fact that some Guide groups meet in church halls and perhaps receive some other kind of 'sponsorship' does not mean that they are beholden to comply with every demand from the church.
"As in so many other areas, the churches seem to think that they have a right to impose their own rules on to other people, some of whom just don't want them."