The Crime of Being a Girl Scout: The Sin of Raising Strong Female Leaders by Michele Stopera Freyhauf
Educated by the U. S. Vowed Religious
Support the U. S. Catholic Sisters
Support, Minister, and Live the Social Gospel
Theologian, Feminist, and Critical Thinker
Former Girl Scout Leader of Three Troops
Former Girl Scout
I am all of these things and more. By the recent attacks by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, I am beginning to think I am the problem. I seem to stand for everything the Vatican and USCCB seek to silence. Is it because of my organizational ties with the U. S. Vowed Religious and Girl Scouts, or my writings as a Feminist and Theologian? Maybe the answer is simply – because I am a woman.
According to the criticisms launched by the USCCB and the Vatican, I seem to be part of the problem rather than the solution. Why is this so? It was not until I started my journey in ministry that my idealistic “Catholic” bubble popped – not so much by me, but by those in ministry and leadership, by those that did not like laity to pose questions and think critically about their faith beliefs, and by those that do not like people who do not fit within the preconceived mold of what a “good Catholic” should be. This ideological construct is difficult enough when you are part of a Church community, but when you begin to embrace leadership as a woman, question teachings, exercise your canonical rights, your peers and even people you thought were your friends, no longer talk or associate with you. The betrayal is vicious and runs deep – it is behavior not becoming of a minister or one who professes the Catholic faith.
If the attack on you is not enough, these same people victimize your children through their words and behavior. It is a difficult position for anyone to survive spiritually. For children of the Church who bear witness to this hypocritical behavior, a journey begins – they search for meaning within the spiritual realm and become disgruntled with anything that resembles organized religion. A place where one seeks community and spiritual nourishment becomes a place of oppression and starvation. If attacking family is not enough, let’s start attacking groups that promote community – groups like the Girl Scouts of America.
So, what is the USCCB’s problem with the Girl Scouts of America? Basically, this organization is under fire for suspected deviant thinking and positions that stand opposed to Church teaching.
It must be emphasized that Girl Scouts of American is a non-profit organization that is secular and not associated with any one religion.
Girl Scouts of America is ecumenical in its approach and supports interfaith dialogue. In my many years as a leader and a scout, I recited the Girl Scout Promise and Law without so much as a question as to how those words impacted my own faith belief. These words seem consistent with Catholic moral and social teaching:
The Girl Scout Promise
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.
The Girl Scout Law
I will do my best to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and be responsible for what I say and do, and to respect myself and others, respect authority, use resources wisely, make the world a better place, and to be a sister to every Girl Scout
These words promote the same values that every person, through their baptismal call, is mandated to follow. These words do not contradict Catholic teaching, but rather supports ministerial leadership – service, respect, and making the world a better place. If one examines the Promise and Law, the focus is creating leaders who are responsible, respectful, and supportive.
The organization is inclusive and takes interfaith dialogue seriously. So not to alienate those that are not Christian, the definition of God in the Law and Promise is footnoted:
“The word “God” can be interpreted a number of ways, depending on one’s spiritual beliefs. When reciting the Girl Scout Promise, it is o.k. to replace the word ‘God’ with whatever your spiritual beliefs dictate.”
The Girl Scouts differ from the Boy Scouts in this way. The Boy Scouts actually ban agnostics and atheists from their organization and require leaders to sign a faith statement “putting God first.” However they do not define God, but rather mandate obedience to “God and obeys ‘His’ laws” in a manner that is consistent with Christian beliefs. The Boy Scout organization openly excludes, what is referred by BSA-Discrimination.org as the “3 G’s – Gays, the Godless, and Girls.”
The Church fully supports the Boy Scout Organization:
“We want our youth to develop their faith-based moral compass, to be strong in body and mind, to be good citizens, strong leaders, and to live their lives using the Scout Law and Scout Oath as their guide.”
“We encourage all Catholic Parishes, Catholic Schools and Catholic Organizations that do not have any chartered units to seriously consider making Scouting part of their youth ministry program. For those Catholic entities that have chartered one or more Catholic units, we encourage them to consider providing the whole BSA family of Scouting (Packs, Troops & Crews).
This family excludes girls, gays, and the godless. Is this what the Church defines as family? I do not believe so (and I pray that I am right). So why is this group supported over the Girl Scouts? Is it gender? Is it affiliations with outside organizations? It is both.
The first criticism of Girl Scouts is another “G” word – gender. Last year the Girl Scouts of Colorado allowed a 7-year old transgendered child into the troop. Gender theory states that gender is not biologically rooted, but, in the words of Judith Butler, performed. Because of this child’s biological sex, the Girl Scouts are criticized for welcoming this gendered girl into a troop. Fundamentally, excluding and ostracizing someone for any reason is a violation of what the Girl Scout organization stands for – respect myself and others, be honest and fair, be a sister to every Girl Scout. Moreover, I dare state that marginalizing and oppressing an individual, for any reason, is immoral and a direct violation of Catholic social teaching. It lacks any pastoral fiber and diminishes a person’s humanity.
Another criticism by the USCCB is the Girl Scouts’ organizational ties with groups that support family planning and contraception, specifically – Doctors with Borders, the Sierra Club, and Oxfam. These organizations serve the sick, promote ecological sustainability, and feed the poor. Ironically, the Boy Scouts also support and work of these same organizations but with the Church’s blessing. This seems inconsistent and poses the question: Why? Should the USCCB withdrawal their support of the Boy Scouts? Why aren’t the Bishops criticizing the Boy Scouts in the same way they are interrogating the Girl Scouts? I cannot help but wonder if this is another example of the Church marginalizing and discriminating women.
Besides this unequal treatment between girls and boys, I find troubling the continued mandate of forcing a group’s ideological belief on others. I think Anastasia Pantslos, in “Catholic Bishops are the U. S. Catholic Church’s Worst Enemies” makes a valid observation – the Bishops are forcing “religious viewpoint(s) on non-Catholics that they can’t even persuade Catholics to accept.” While this comment was originally directed toward the issue of contraception, it is applicable here as well. The Girl Scout mission (law and promise) looks at service, respect, and responsibility. Maybe this is the problem. If it is, I must ask – are we not called to reach out to all in service and live as Jesus did, by example?
Serving others and making the world a better place resonates with the social gospel that the U. S. Catholic Sisters, who are under fire from the Vatican, embrace. According to spokesperson, Michelle Tompkins, “We’re just trying to further girls’ leadership.” Is it a crime or a basis for criticizing an organization that seeks to form, promote, maybe even create girls to be leaders and critical thinkers – to instill the values of charity and service? Jesus calls us to serve the poor, minister to the sick, and to help the least of these.
Being responsible for what I say and do are Christian mandates as well as part of the Girl Scout Law and Promise. So is making the world a better place, being respectful and supportive, and serving others. All of these characteristics are qualities of good leaders and advocates. These values would cause the church to be more effective pastorally. The Girl Scouts should be an example to the Church. I would rather imagine a world where the fundamental values of the Girl Scout Law and Promise were followed instead of teaching our children to bully those that do not fit within our own ideology. A world that does not oppress or condemn those that reach out to the poor, educate children, and minister to the sick. A world that does not punish those, regardless of gender, who are trying to make the world a better place for all.
According to Deacon Nearmyer, “at some point, if parishes are looking for something that’s a more substantial faith organization, Girl Scouts is only going to be able to carry them so far because they’re a secular organization.“ In essence, the Church needs to stop attacking people and organizations. It is time for the hierarchy to take a long hard look in the mirror and figure out where the problems are within their own organization.
Michele Stopera Freyhauf is currently at the University of Akron doing post-graduate work in the area of the History of “the Americas” focusing on Religion, Gender, and Culture. She has a Master of Arts Degree from John Carroll University in Theology and Religious Studies and is an Adjunct Instructor in Religious Studies at Ursuline College. Her full bio is on the main contributor’s page or at http://johncarroll.academia.edu/MicheleFreyhauf. Michele can be followed on twitter at @MSFreyhauf.