Girlguiding: ‘splitting from God’ as they find their feminist feet

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Natalie Collins blogs on why she’s worried that the Guides’ move away from a faith basis and towards feminist activism makes it seem like the two can’t go together.

Last week an article in The Guardian detailed Julie Bentley’s first year as the Head of Girlguiding UK. The article focused on the organisation’s “split from God” and recent protests against sexism. The article seems to suggest the two are linked, as if it’s impossible to be a faith-based organisation, and engage in feminist activism.

Personally, I don’t have an issue with taking God out of the promise for girls who don’t believe in God, or who don’t want to make a promise to serve God. This, for me, is the same as struggling with Godparents who are agnostic or atheist stating that they believe in God and making commitment to raise a child in that knowledge.  The measure of a faith-based organisation isn’t whether people who are engaged with that organisation make a pledge to God or not.

However, it seems that Girlguiding distancing itself from a promise to God is not about the guides moving towards having more integrity in their practice, but is actually about distancing themselves from being a faith-based organisation. It also seems that there is a direct correlation between asserting the lack of any faith basis in the organisation, and the increasing amount of feminist activism done by the organisation – something which seems to further validate the idea that faith and feminism don’t go together. This both saddens and angers me.

As a feminist, the work I do to address inequality and work towards gender justice comes out of a deep prophetic tradition within the body of Christ to “proclaim good news to the poor…to bind the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners”.  It saddens me that an organisation that began so rooted in this tradition has needed to move away from a connection with Jesus in order to engage in such actions, and it angers me that it is most likely Christians, rather than non-Christians, who have perpetuated and possibly been responsible for the perception of many that feminism and Christianity are not compatible.

I don’t blame the guides from stepping away from their Christian roots in favour of a more multi-cultural, multi-faith image, and recognise the many challenges of being a person of faith in feminist spaces, but I wonder at the lost opportunity of this organisation which has equipped and valued girls around the world for over 100 years, to show that faith and feminism are compatible, or as we like to say at the Christian Feminist Network, that it is Christian patriarchy that is an oxymoron, not Christian feminism.

4 comments

  1. Sincerely, it is christian patriarchy that is absurd, not christian feminism; and even more, i think the girl’s guide are loosing their way; belief in Christ is the basis of morality, no one else, no other religion, no philosophy; look around our world and see. As christian feminists, we must uphold the banner of Jesus Christ in a dying world like our’s.

  2. Girl Guiding is not and has never been a Christian organisation – you can read more about the changes in the promise here: http://www.girlguiding.org.uk/about_us/key_information/promise_faqs.aspx
    It has always been a feminist organisation – Guiding began because girls had joined Scouts [a group gatecrashed a rally to meet Baden Powell]. http://www.girlguiding.org.uk/about_us/key_information/history.aspx
    through Guiding, girls have had opportunities to have experience which outside they would not have been able to do – whether that be enjoying life outdoors and learning how to be an aircraft mechanic [1910s] to addressing body image [1990s].
    The changes in the promise were asked for by members after a consultation – some 44000 took part. I’ve never been a member at any age – but I think if that’s what a membership organisation wants, then that’s their prerogative :)

  3. So you say that Christianity and feminism can go hand-in-hand. Where is your Chapter and Verse from the Bible that supports this? Did I miss it?

  4. I’ve been a member of Girlguiding for over 25 years, and it’s really frustrating to see so many inaccuracies in the article above. Girlguiding was never exclusively a Christian organisation. When Robert Baden-Powell wrote Scouting for Boys he talked about Christianity, since he was writing for youth groups in the UK within a context of a culture and society that was almost entirely Christian.

    However, his position changed shortly after the Scouting and Guiding movements began to grow rapidly around the world, and his writings and speeches allowed for all religions. BP always said that religion was a fundamental factor underlying Scouting and Guiding, but that “we hold no brief for any one form of belief over another”. So it’s not as straightforward as saying that Guiding is ‘stepping away from its Christian roots’.

    Because of the cultural and religious context in the UK however, many guide units developed strong links with churches, and continue to have such relationships. My own church is incredibly supportive of guiding, regardless of whether the promise specifically mentions God or not. Many of the activities and badges within guiding are faith based – faith and feminism are definitely compatible. I will carry on telling my guides I’m a Christian, and inviting them to take part in church services and events. Surely encounters with people rather than forcing then to make a promise to a God they know nothing about is the best way for people to learn about faith?

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