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The Boy Scout oath makes a difference when you live the words

The Boy Scout oath makes a difference when you live the words

Leadership Missions and Outreach

"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 Boy Scout Oath

For more than a century, Scouts all over the United States repeated that oath. Those are strong words to live by, speaking of faith, service, self-care, and high morals.

And despite the much-publicized scandal that rocked the Boy Scouts of America, those higher goals remain.

"Leadership development and servant development are important values that Scouts can learn. Scouting does lift up one's duty to God and country," Rev. Dr. Sharon Austin said. "It enhances your faith and shows what it means to be a good citizen."

Rev. Dr. Sharon Austin

Dr. Austin, the Director of Connectional and Justice Ministries for the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, has first-hand knowledge about the impact of Scouting.

Her father was an Eagle Scout. Her husband received a citation for starting a troop of Scouts with Down Syndrome, all of whom were adults. The couple's son was a Scout, and their daughters, along with Dr. Austin, were Girl Scouts.

The United Methodist Church has a lengthy history with Scouting. Many churches throughout Florida chartered Scout troops, allowing them to meet on church campuses. Some congregations recently celebrated Boy Scout Sunday, where Scouts participated in the services.

The Florida Conference Scouting Coordinator, Randy Nunley, has served as a volunteer for the Boy Scouts of America for the last 16 years.

He was a Den Leader when his oldest son joined the Cub Scouts in the first grade. For two years, he was a Cubmaster, then became an Assistant Scoutmaster when his son moved on to the Scouts BSA Troop.

In addition to various leadership roles, he serves as the Troop Chaplain for a Scouts BSA Troop at a UMC in the Central Florida Council of BSA and has received the BSA's District Award of Merit and the Silver Beaver Award.

"The Boy Scouts of America provide the connections, programs, and opportunities for youth to apply the practical lessons of character," he said.

"They not only learn about faith, leadership, and character but have the place to apply the lessons.
This will include successes and safe failures. The lessons shape a more resilient life in the future."

However, the headlines lately for the Boy Scouts told a sobering story. About 82,000 former Scouts say they suffered sexual abuse from adult leaders and others. A $2.6 billion fund is being organized to compensate victims.

The money comes from the Boy Scouts of America, local Boy Scout councils, insurance companies, and chartering groups, including the United Methodist Church.

Randy Nunley

In December, church leaders approved a settlement plan to contribute $30 million to the fund over the next three years.

"Truth-telling about what happened is a good lesson for the Scouts and the Church," Dr. Austin said. "It will lead to repentance where needed and reconciliation for the survivors. It's a good model for the church, too.

"When I heard about this, I remember thinking of the Boy Scout oath. It makes a difference when you live the words instead of just saying them."

Indeed, that "truth-telling" she spoke of with today's issues parallels what her family members endured during their involvement with Scouts and the Church.

"The Boy Scouts and Methodism have both had the journey of segregation and then integration," she said. "And both are in a particularly divisive season now."

"Scouting can give lessons in civics and the responsibility of citizenship. That provides the foundation for a gracious, inclusive society with regard for all." - Rev. Dr. Sharon Austin

Her father, Edgar Nicholas Austin, was in a segregated troop in the late 1930s and early 1940s. When asked if she could provide a photo of him in his Scout uniform, Dr. Austin gave a sobering reply.

"We don't have any photos of him like that," she said. "In some instances, African American Scouts weren't allowed to wear the uniform."

Particularly in the South, the practice of "separate but equal" was the excuse for segregation, except it was more "separate" than "equal." It wasn't until 1974 that troops throughout the South began to integrate more than 50 years after the Scouts were founded.

The abuse horror has led to a steep decline in Scout membership today. However, the words of the
Scout oath provide the road map to reconciliation—both for the Scouts and society.

"We're in a season where citizenship has come to mean patriotism cut from a certain cloth," Dr. Austin said. "Scouting can give lessons in civics and the responsibility of citizenship.
"That provides the foundation for a gracious, inclusive society with regard for all."

Nunley said that he still sees great value in Scouting despite those issues. But he also urges churches that affiliating with a Scout troop to take precautions.

"While the Boy Scouts of America's youth protection program has changed over time, there is still room for improvement," he said.

"Society has learned more about the deep impacts of abuse. We have learned about keeping youth safe. We all can work to do better. We must."

Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for

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