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.
31 thoughts on “The Crime of Being a Girl Scout: The Sin of Raising Strong Female Leaders by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”
I agree with you that the Vatican attack on Girl Scouts is an attack on girls’ independence.
However, your posting of the Girl Scout Promise reminds me that scouting originated in the British Colonial experience. I found this in the Wikepedia entry on the origins of scouting.
As a military officer, Baden-Powell was stationed in British India and Africa in the 1880s and 1890s. Since his youth, he had been fond of woodcraft and military scouting, and—as part of their training—showed his men how to survive in the wilderness. He noticed that it helped the soldiers to develop independence rather than just blindly follow officers’ orders.
I am a citizen of two countries and a patriot of none. I believe in diversity and difference but not nationalism. So I would urge the Girl Scouts to rethink service to country. How about:
“On my honor I will try always to remember that I am a child of the universe; I will strive to honor and respect all beings in the web of life: I will help others and work to preserve diversity and difference on our planet earth.”
Just off the top of me little head.
The thing about Girl Scouts is that they do listen and change. I have watched them reformulate programs, awards, organizational structures and policies – even their logo (their brand) based on how things change. Their law and promise is their mission, their mark, and is sacred. I love your suggestion, but I wonder if they would be moved to make such a change or will continue to footnote caveats in order to expand their scope of meaning and cater to all girls, no matter what.
I don’t usually go all “OMGthatwasamazingandIwanttoshareiteverywhere!” fan girl, but this article just made me do that.
As a former(?) Girl Scout in a troop at my Catholic grade school I remember religion being a part of it, but I also remember that when we got to do a whole project on Mary as a saint, our non-Catholic troopmates did a project on whatever their belief was. If anything, Girl Scouts is where I learned to respect other religions/people/nations, so I don’t understand the criticism being lobbed at them from the Catholic bishops. Well, technically, I understand it, but, as your piece points out, I don’t think it’s fair that it’s lobbed only in our direction when the Boy Scouts do the same types of things.
What people overlook is that the troop activities are individualized based on the leader and the troop. If the troop is associated with the Church, then the leader functions within the scope of the Church. The same would be true of non-Catholic faiths. The public school troops are not necessarily aligned with any one religion, because this can be a touchy issue. The rule of thumb there is education and inclusivity.. A leader cannot impose her values or religion on the troop.
This seems far reaching in scope and to attack a secular organization is over the top.
Because of the line wrap on my phone, at first I misread your title as “The Crime of Being a Girl.” On further reflection, I don’t think I misread it at all. Why do I keep feeling like we’re back with Aristotle and the “misbegotten male” perspective?
Because we are – we seem to be on a backward spiral here. Unfortunately, I think you read that tag line correctly.
As a former Girl Scout who dropped out and the daughter of a family with a Boy Scouts Den Mother, Troop Leader, and Eagle Scout (my brother, who came out of the closet about ten years after he made Eagle), I applaud you, Michele. Even during the 1950s, there were vast differences between the Girl Scout and Boy Scout organizations. My son dropped out of the Scouts in the 1980s because of the regimentation. I don’t know any Girl Scouts now, but I’m not the least bit surprised by this Vatican attack. The Vatican is a political government and a political force. The pope wants power over women. I hope the Girl Scouts stand up to him and teach little girls how to be strong and independent.
I agree with you. I listened to a reporter the other day refer to the Vatican as the “power of the church” who “leads over 5 million Catholics.” This statement bothered me, especially in light of everything that is going on within the church. The issue of power seems so contrary to the teachings of Jesus.
Reblogged this on Adventures and Musings of a Hedgewitch.
Your view of the problem parents are having with Girl Scouts of the USA is myopic. Your feminist ideology is clouding your vision. What most of us current Girl Scout parents are seeing is the Girl Scout Law is being broken by GSUSA’s executives. “Honest and Fair”, they are not, as they continue to lie about not having pro-abortion connections, when they do; not taking politcal stances, when they do; not promoting homosexuality, when they do. See the problem here? My troop has raised thousands of dollars selling cookies for Girl Scouts, yet they continue to shut down services, host events at the United Nations, pay their CEO more than the President of the United States, boast about selling record amounts of cookies and refuse Day Camp camperships for disadvantaged girls in my area. Honest? Fair? Those of us on the ground level, the unpaid volunteer parents, are starting to wake up to the fact that GSUSA merely sees our children as free slave-labor cookie-mongers, hocking and buying their logo-stamped wares to line GSUSA’s and WAGGGS’ pockets. $760 million last year in cookies along. Millions in membership fees, books, uniforms and badges. Another corporate-style greed story. It is about to change.
Certainly all organizations have their issues and the point of this article was not to flesh out the issues with the organization but rather to point to the Church targeting a secular non-profit organization. The leadership in Girl Scouts have been challenged by the very girls that belong to the group. If you look into the issue of palm oil and the change made with protests from troops, you see an organization that is willing to change.
If this organization was branded Catholic or exclusively an extension of the Catholic Church, then the issue is not as big (though the disproportionate treatment still is). By taking an ecumenical interfaith approach that embraces everyone, you cannot possibly capture and abide by faith beliefs of one group without infringing on one faith of another – it is a slippery slope. Anyone who examines ethics in a world religions context can clearly see issues. Interaction, education, and community can help mend fences divided by religious tensions or disagreements.
Bottom line whether you agree or disagree – this is a secular organization. If you disagree with their policies and procedures, then advocating, petitioning, and doing what you can to educate why this is a problem is proper. Pointing out inconsistencies with their mission statement, the law, and promise is also appropriate. However, branding a secular organization as Catholic, alienating all other religions, is simply wrong.
As a girl scout and an atheist I love this. Probably the fondest experience I had as a girl scout was learning about other girls faith. We had Catholic girls, Muslim girls, Baptist girls, and all of their parents were involved – I think this gave me a strong ability to accept others faith and gave us all an opportunity to learn about other people’s beliefs before we were too old to learn prejudice. I am so thankful for my time in Scouts.
I think it’s ridiculous that the church has decided to demonize an organization that is focused on making the world we live in a better place. The church could learn a thing or two from girl scouts.
I feel that is so necessary to learn about other religions and glad you had that experience. Tolerance and understanding mends fences and puts us a little closer to peace.
The focus on the Girl Scouts and women in general is heartbreaking and perplexing – is it smoke and mirrors to detract from the bigger issues in the Church? By focusing on women, does that excuse the hierarchy to examine their own structure? I would not be surprised.
I just roll my eyes at these discussions sometimes. Women need to create something away from that place, and women need to walk out of that church. As long as the colonized continue to beg for crumbs, continue to donate their labor, and continue to support that place, we’ll be dealing with what this institution is really all about. It is about the worship of male supremacy, it is about the hatred of women. It deems the life of a new born baby worthy, it deams the life of the mother expendible. If that doesn’t tell it all, I don’t know what does.
There is nothing new in any of this, just a whole new generation who seem to not know about it until they finally wake up. We go through this over and over and over again.
Well, the thing is that even when one is not part of the church, i.e. Girl Scouts, the catholic church comes in to meddle and harass…sigh.
No, the Catholic Church is not harassing nor meddling…It is investigating to make a decision as to whether or not to remove the Church’s official endorsement of the GSA. Holy Mother Church is looking out to protect her flock…that’s it. All the secular folks keep doing your thing and the Catholics will only use their endorsement for organizations that are truly in keeping with the Church teachings. Unfortunately, GSA is not and the endorsement should be removed immediately. GSA is putting up a huge fight b/c of all the money they stand to lose if Catholics leave. Catholics make up more than 28% of the GSA current troops…that translates into millions of dollars and that’s what this is about for GSA…money.
I agree with Xochitl, but I also might suggest that this is a process. While these issues may be “old hat” for some, we have generations unfamiliar with these issues. Re-hashing and bringing these issues to the forefront will hopefully spark conversations and motivation to facilitate change. Education is never a bad thing and like history, we have so much to learn from our past so we do not continue to repeat the past over and over again – I hope we can break that cycle (in my lifetime).
Now I want feminist women on this site to read Mary Daly. She dispatched with the patriarchal churches decades ago! Decades women. Come on! This discussion is decades old, decades out of date. I know het women can’t possibly be THIS OUT OF IT can you???
I can almost guarantee that anyone writing for this blog has read Mary Daly. In fact many have written about her on this blog and some even knew her personally. I use her works in my classes. However there are some that have not read her or know who she is (readers). Plus there is a whole host of works on this subject by other great feminist writers (even our own writers here). Hopefully we can help educate and prompt discussion. So I don’t view it as a rehashing of old, but educating about the past and hoping to facilitate change for the future.
But this is THE oldest form of oppression of women, and why is everyone so surprised that the pope is attacking Girl Scouts and nuns? What is surprising about any of this? Why is there shock over male supremacy, it is shocking always, it never changes in its hatred of women, and it always attempts to co-opt women into supporting institutions that blantantly exclude women from all leadership positions. The vast majority of church attendees on any given Sunday are women, and this brainwashing and colonizing of the female mind has gone on a long long time.
So only women can change, only women can pull the energy plug out of all those places and shut them down. They have always been evil!! But what angers me the most is women still going to those evil places every Sunday in the first place, still continuing to fuel the bible babble, still refusing to see that they are the enemy, that there is no reform possible.
I think women are changing by standing up, banding together, and saying – ENOUGH! Women are raising their voices and when enough do, they can no longer ignore the sounds. Reform is possible but people must stop complaining in private, educate themselves, and stand up for what is right. With the U. S. Catholic Sisters, movement is happening because women are standing up as well as men (including priests). People are gathering and praying for these women who gave everything. WIthin this context, they are also interrogating their own faith belief and understanding.
What you all need to realize is that the Catholic Church is investigating the Girl Scouts based on factual information presented by parishoners…info found on the Girl Scout web site and in the Journey books. Girl Scouts is secular…Catholics couldn’t care less what they do. What Catholics care about is that the Holy Mother Church offered a formal endorsement of the Girl Scouts many years ago…when Girl Scouts were in keeping with the Church teachings. Since then, GS has changed dramatically. We are only asking that the Church remove the endorsement…nothing more. GSUSA does not care what Catholics believe…I was told that personally. What they care about is the millions of dollars in cookie sales that happen every year by Catholic troops, meeting on Catholic Church property…and who is buying the cookies????…Catholics. We just want our Faith removed from endorsing this secular group. Catholics will go where they are respected and embraced. The name of the new organization is American Heritage Girls…18,000 girls have joined with more joining every day and they are partnered with Boy Scouts of America. No more cookie sales and no fund raisers required! AHG offers what GS used to…outdoor activities, camping, kayaking, archery, cooking, all with a focus on community service. That’s where you will find me and my former 52 Girl Scouts!.
First, the materials used by troops are individually picked by the troop leaders. You can choose not to do a single one of those books and stick with badge work or other social justice projects that comply with how you want your individual troop focused. Second, you can choose not to sell cookies. We did not participate in the Fall product sale but did participate in the cookie sales. However with our troops disagreement about Palm Oil (which has now been modified), we took our troop profits and put them toward helping children in Haiti and do enrichment projects for animals impacted by global warming. It was a way to recognize a negative and teach about it as well as show how the girls can help to make a difference.
If people chose to join a group that caters to their belief systems, then they have that freedom. However, I simply cannot stand when others force their faith beliefs on me. Moreover, we do not live in a Catholic nation and honestly (and as much as people may want to) children are not raised in a homogeneous environment. By having girls engage and be part of a secular organization, they learn about their faith and how to operate within their own faith in the real world (among non-catholics) as well as learn about other faith beliefs, because after all we live in a global society.
In my opinion, the most significant reason for the Catholic Church to question and investigate Girl Scouts is the fact that we are allowing Girl Scouts to recruit girls from our Carholic schools. As a parent of children who attend a Catholic school, I can say that my husband and I assume that if the Church and school is allowing an organization to recruit and set up troops within it, that the organization must be in line with our Catholic faith since the first and foremost reason for paying to send my children to a Catholic school is to get a Catholic education and to foster the Catholic faith. In the past, The Girl Scout agendaand programming did not go against our Catholic faith, so we took it for granted that it was a spiritually safe organization for our girls. However, now that Girl Scouts recommends websites, books, movies, role models, and participation and fundraising for and with organizations that oppose our beliefs, it is time to either stop allowing Girl Scouts to form troops within our Catholic schools or, if the Girl Scout organization is afraid to lose the membership, then the Girl Scout organization needs to realign itself with our beliefs. We should absolutely not be compromising the faith of our children for an organization that chose to promote an anti-Catholic play. In addition, there are plenty of other places for girls to go to learn about sex education. In the past, Girl Scouts was never about sex education. As a leader of 14 years for 3+ troops and a service area coordinator, I have never heard any girl or parent saying they were registering for Girl Scouts so they could get sex educated. There is no place for it in Girl Scouts. I will not be reregistering as a leader in the future until or unless Girl Acouts returns to its original roots.
First, let me thank you for your input and conversation. While I am a firm believer that dialogue can mend bridges as well as close divides, I understand that we also may agree to disagree – and there is nothing wrong with that.
My first thought is the approach amounts to making public schools comply with Catholic teaching. It cannot and will not happen, nor should it. That is why parents educate their children, teach them about their faith and point out the differences.
For Girl Scouts associated with the Catholic Church, my response is simply to look at the leaders. The leaders associated with the Church are required to undergo additional training, like VIRTUS, in order to comply with Church requirements. I would expect that those troops should comply or plan their activities consistent with the Church’s teachings just the same that I would expect a Jewish troop to comply with dietary and other restrictions (i.e. Sabbath) with their troops. For a national umbrella organization, there is absolutely no way anyone can expect that they comply with each of their groups rules, laws, or teachings – it would completely take away interfaith or ecumenical nature of the groups. I think even you exam inter-faith or ecumenical prayer services in the Church, those are modified to be inclusive – for example, communion is withheld so not to alienate our friends from other faiths.
As for you point about sex education, I was a troop leader of three troops over the last 14+ years and never once did sex or any type of sex education come up. Public schools teach sex education, it is up to me to educate my children about what our faith dictates about that.
Michele, thank you for your thoughtful and eloquent reply. I’m wondering if you attend a church somewhere in the Akron area, and if so, which one. I ask because I live in Akron, and for several years now have struggled with the pervasive and oppressive patriarchy in the church, making it hard to attend Mass. And yet, I miss being a part of a spiritual community.
I understand if you choose to keep that information private, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask. Either way, thank you for your post
Thank you for your response. I will e-mail you off-list.
bookteacher says: “And yet, I miss being a part of a spiritual community.” I don’t understand women at all sometimes. I don’t understand how women can miss woman hating so-called spiritual communities. There are a million ways that women can create sacred space free of the priests and oppressors. Lesbians have been creating powerful male free space for decades now. We know how to do this. We create woman centric worship groups of all kinds, we create on the boundaries, and we don’t tolerate this kind of hatred of women. We won’t put up with it, we won’t sit in pews and listen to those men lecture at us from pulpits.
But this creative force is powerful, and once you leave, it is good to strike and create anew elsewhere. Tomorrow downtown in L.A. there is going to be a meeting of women in the Occupy movement and it’s called “Smash Patriarchy”— all these young energetic women are staging this, and creating small group discussion on how to end patriarchy, how to destroy it forever. I can’t wait to see this new generation of radical women standing their ground, preaching a message of powerful freedom.
Join in the exodus out of patriarchy women, you have nothing to lose but the patriarchal mind bindings and chains!
I understand where you are coming from, however why wave the white flag and surrender by leaving? To me that is giving up and allowing the hierarchy taking another piece of me. My Catholic identity is important to me and despite the mis-interpretation by some and oppression by others, I stand firm that this is my Church and my faith. I think sometimes concessions can bind you more than standing firm and fighting for what is right.
As for community, you are right as well, but community is missing from so many Churches these days. Lack of pastoral abilities (because we ordain on biology) and the fact that the Church has become more of a business, the “family.” To me Church used to be an extension of family – no longer is that the case. There are so many striving for that sense of community and belonging which is another reason why people leave the Church and find a more “feel good” religion.