Friends’ concern over Guides and army

Quakers voice concerns over a new partnership between Girlguiding and the British army

Quakers have voiced concern about the new partnership between Girlguiding and the British army. Girlguiding is the operating name of the Guide Association.

The joint venture, which sees the army sponsoring a lead skills builder section of the Girlguiding programme, has been condemned by some of its own members and by peace and human rights groups. A number of Friends have expressed their concern about the initiative.

Rhiannon Grant, a member of Bourneville Meeting and a Brownie leader, has been in talks with Guide volunteer Pippa Gardner, who started a petition calling for the partnership to be scrapped. They plan to meet with the Association to discuss their concerns. The petition says that the army tie-up was bought in without consultation and is at-odds with the ban on Guides participating in war games.

Rhiannon Grant told the Friend: ‘As someone who has been a life-long Quaker and member of Girlguiding since I was seven, I find this partnership is not compatible with my Quakerism and goes against its ethos of international friendship and peace-building.

‘I used to find Guiding completely compatible with my Quaker faith. For example, we have a rule against firing at a human-shaped figure. You can’t even shoot at a teddy bear in archery.’

Rhiannon Grant added that the decision was made with ‘no discussion involving the broad membership, unlike the decision several years ago to drop the word “God” from its “Promise”... It would pain me to leave, but, if it’s no longer compatible with my faith, I would have to.’

Other Quakers who volunteer for the Guide Association have also spoken to the Friend about their dilemmas. One, who wishes to stay anonymous, said: ‘I’m finding it really difficult to decide what to do.’

The Christian organisation Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR) said the partnership is ‘another example of the creeping militarisation of society’.

Quaker Oliver Robertson, development manager of FoR, said: ‘We support the main goal of the partnership, giving guides the skills to be leaders. But the army doesn’t have a monopoly on these skills, so it shouldn’t have a monopoly on delivering them. The armed forces model of leadership, involving strict hierarchies and unquestioning obedience, is entirely out of synch with most of the leadership situations people find themselves in.’

He added: ‘On their website, the Guide Association states that the army provides “a safe and secure environment for everyone to live and prosper”, but the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan would surely have something to say about that.’

Philip Austin, from the Northern Friends Peace Board (NFPB), told the Friend that he also questioned what type of leadership is being promoted.

He said: ‘Leadership is a relatively neutral concept, but linking it to the army seems to be another way of making the latter seem more normal and acceptable.’

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