Friday, 3 June 2011

Don't allow scouting to be dishonoured

As I mentioned at some length last month, the Scouting Association has introduced a “sex and relationships education” programme which promotes contraception and the youth abortion referral service, Brook.

The programme is called My body, My choice.

A number of visitors to my blog asked me to provide a summary of the detailed critique of the programme I published. Please find such a summary below.

And please encourage anyone you know who is involved in the Scouting Association to make their objections to this programme felt. The Association has defended the programme but say that the use of it is not compulsory. Nevertheless, it clearly will be used, and sends out very strong signals about how Scout leaders are expected to deal with issues of sex, sexuality and relationships.

(For information – the Scouting Association is the main scouting body in England, but other groups such as the Baden-Powell Scouts’ Association and the British Boy Scouts and British Girl Scouts Association also exist.)

Parents may wish to withdraw their children from Scouting Association troops, and would be well-advised to do so. However, the Association is not likely to reconsider its policy unless it receives protests from Scout Troop leaders. (Most scout troops have waiting-lists for children to join, but cannot take them on because of a shortage of leaders.) Ask the Troop leaders of your local Scouts if they share our objections to My Body, My Choice and if so, ask them to demand that the Association drops the programme and apologises.

If you know of non-internet users who would like a printed copy of the full critique I published last month - let me know and I will send you copies to pass on to them.
The Scout Association has a long and respected history. Founder of the Scouts, General Baden-Powell (pictured above), saw in Scouting a way to encourage young people to develop into mature adults, and when it came to sexual behaviour, to act with due respect for the power of sexual instincts and to honour their proper role. He would no doubt have recognised that an authentic sexual ethic was comprehensible on the grounds of natural reason and therefore was understandable and accessible to those of any faith and none. Baden-Powell was from a different time, but the essential truths about human sexuality are timeless.

One would have expected that when the Scout Association ventured into new territory to provide a programme on sexual health it would have done so in a way that was consistent with its ethos. However, what has resulted would make Baden-Powell turn in his grave. It should also make anyone committed to encouraging sound ethics on sexuality for developing hearts and minds deeply worried.

The Scout Association has recently disseminated a programme entitled My Body, My Choice: Promoting Good Sexual Health Within Scouting. Elements of the programme include a handout, leader’s notes, website content, and links to certain agencies like Brook, the Family Planning Association (FPA), the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), Marie Stopes Clinics, and Catholics for a Free Choice.

The overall ethos of the programme is not only highly individualistic but attempts to promote a ‘value-free’ approach, even though any attempt to do so merely promotes different values.

The handout, a central element of the programme and what will primarily end up in a scout’s hands, blithely states “you might be surprised to know that about 70% of young people wait until they are 16 or over before they have sex.” No mention is made of the illegality of sexual relations with a child under 16. Nor does the handout mention abstinence or the role of sexuality in marriage and family. There is lip service to relationships, but without any content. And that a central role for sex is to produce offspring hardly rates a mention.

Into the moral vacuum steps the agency Brook, heavily promoted with no less than seven mentions in the one page handout. Scouts encouraged to go to Brook’s website will find values that promote contraception with an emphasis on condoms as the answer to pregnancy risk and sexually transmitted diseases. It is hardly surprising that the My Body, My Choice programme thereby encourages condoms given that the condom-marketing company Durex is a sponsor and stands to gain financially from such promotion. Scouts visiting the Brook website will also learn that masturbation is normal and not harmful, watching pornography is ‘natural’, and that anal sex can be enjoyable.

Scouts encouraged to visit other sexual health sites promoted by the programme will receive advice on the provision of abortion from agencies vociferous in their call for the removal of any legal restraint on abortion. There is not one link to any group upholding the value of abstinence, the importance of marriage, the wrongfulness of abortion or emergency contraception, or indeed to any group which might provide guidance on traditional sexual ethics.

The leader’s document encourages leaders to provide information about local sexual health services, or even to arrange a visit, thereby placing scouts in even more direct contact with agencies which promote what is antithetical to traditional sexual morality. Under certain circumstances, leaders are told they may provide contraception without parents’ knowledge or consent. Leaders are told not to “project [their] personal beliefs onto the young people”, and in a programme of this nature, such a restriction is likely to only affect those who operate from a traditional position on sexual morality, for they are the ones who will diverge from the overall ethos of the programme.

The programme does address sexuality and religious belief, and in a section on Catholicism, only mentions contraception and abortion, failing to deal with the Church’s teaching on marriage, pre-marital sex, homosexuality and many other relevant matters. It is some consolation that the Scout Association is making available the Catholic Church’s publication Cherishing Human Sexuality, even though any influence it might have is seriously undermined by the overall tenor of the programme.

The programme has been given a warm endorsement by Bishop Moth of Britain’s military diocese. In doing so an opportunity has been missed. Bishop Moth missed the chance to expose a programme which perpetuates an ideology about sexuality that is deeply flawed and has plunged our community into the mess on sexual health it now suffers. More importantly an opportunity has been missed to promote an understanding of sexuality to young people which is grounded in an authentic vision of the human person, and in the end, one which is genuinely life-giving. The opportunity to expose the programme and provide that vision remains open.
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