President John F. Kennedy powerfully proclaimed in his inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” This clarion call should ring particularly loud for young men involved in Scouting, who pledge in the Scout Oath to do their duty to their country. President Kennedy promised, “The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world” (Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961).
Citizenship in the community and citizenship in the nation should be more than mere merit badge titles to Scouting young men. Responsible citizenship in one’s community, state, and country is the duty of every Scouter. I fear we often gloss over the real purpose of the citizenship merit badges and minimize the experience just to pass off a required step on the trail to Eagle. In doing so we marginalize what should be a Scout’s second duty in the Scout Oath—to his country—which is exceeded only by his first duty to God. In LDS Scouting we may be so focused on a young man’s duty to God—and his duty to his fellowman and himself—that we neglect to instruct him properly on how he can fulfill his duty to his country.
One of the three aims of Scouting is citizenship training. If each of these three aims has equal importance, perhaps one-third of your Scouting instruction and activities should be targeted toward teaching a young man how to better serve his country. Instilling patriotism in LDS young men—particularly an appreciation for our nation’s Constitution and Bill of Rights—ought to be a key component of your Scouting program. Our youth need to learn what it takes to defend their freedoms. We need a nation of patriots who, like Captain Moroni in the Book of Mormon, “seek not for honor of the world, but for the glory of my God, and the freedom and welfare of my country” (Alma 60:36).
Having served in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War, I have a deep, personal regard for the freedoms this country offers. I have an emotional attachment to our country’s flag that is tied to my service to this country. I am saddened when I see Scouts who nonchalantly or lackadaisically participate in flag ceremonies or, worse yet, shun the opportunity to patriotically present the colors of our nation. We need to teach our young men respect for our nation’s flag and all it represents. In my opinion there should be a willing Scout honor guard at as many town council, county commission, and state and national legislative meetings as possible to allow those in attendance to faithfully pledge their allegiance to this country. In my opinion, faithful allegiance to the country—rather than oneself or one’s political affiliation—is greatly needed today.
In the Book of Mormon, Pahoran, the chief judge over the Nephites, declared, “My soul standeth fast in that liberty in which God hath made us free” (Alma 61:9). I believe young men involved in the Boy Scouts of America need to stand fast in supporting and defending the liberties of this country. Our youth should be taught their duty to vote, to give service to their country, to hold public office, and to defend the Constitution. Young men should be encouraged to stand up for that which is right. They should learn through their Scouting experiences that they can make a difference when they do their duty.
In 1912 Theodore Roosevelt said, “This country will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in” (Theodore Roosevelt Association). That is one of the roles of Scouting young men—to make our communities and our country a reasonably good place to live in by the duty they perform.
LDS young men have been instructed to be anxiously engaged in a good cause (see quote below). There are many good causes in the community that go beyond an Eagle project. Often boys lose interest in Scouting once they attain the Eagle rank. Perhaps we could maintain the commitment of our boys to Scouting if our Varsity and Venturing units were more involved in good causes in the community. The JustServe.org website created by the Church lists community service opportunities that should appeal to the various interests of young men. LDS young men ought to be the light of the world that provides hope for a brighter future through the service they offer.
Harry Emerson Fosdick, a Protestant ministered, said, “Men will work hard for money. They will work harder for other men. But men will work hardest of all when they are dedicated to a cause. Until willingness overflows obligation, men fight as conscripts, rather than following the flag as patriots. Duty is never worthily performed until it is performed by one who would gladly do more, if only he could” (Vital Quotations, comp. Emerson Roy West, 38).
We are living in a time when many young people in our country seem to feel a sense of entitlement and believe the country owes them an easy life. Too few people are focused on what they can do to give back to the country. Scouting provides opportunities to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6) so a young man can learn how to serve his community and country. It is our responsibility as adult leaders to instill within the hearts and minds of our youth the values of duty, honor, and country. Let us resolve to help our young men keep the promise they make when they recite the Scout Oath and swear to do their duty to their country.
Take a Moment to Reflect
- Are you teaching your young men to serve their country?
- Do you delve deeper into what citizenship in the community and nation mean so your boys see beyond just completing the requirements for a merit badge?
- Have you taught your young men about this nation’s history, Constitution, Bill of Rights, and what it takes to defend one’s freedoms?
- Have you instilled within your young men a love for this country?
- Are your boys anxiously engaged in good causes in the community?
Turn Your Reflection Into Action
- What will you start doing, stop doing, or do better as a result of your reflection?
“Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward” (D&C 58:27–28).
-Mac McIntire is a dedicated Scouter who has blessed many lives through his service and acute understanding of the Scouting program. He currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.