September 16, 13 ( – Bishop Michael Nazir Ali, a Church of England former bishop of Rochester, has condemned a recent move by the British Girl Guides to abolish mention of God in their oath and force a small group of Christian dissenters to conform.

Girlguiding UK announced in June that members would no longer mention God or “country” in the oath, but pledge to “be true to myself and develop my beliefs,” and serve the “community”. Although the decision brought in a record 839 complaints, the organisation has refused to back down, saying that mention of God was deterring new members. The change was brought about with the “support” of the National Secular Society after a complaint by an atheist Guide leader, Jem Henderson. 

In August, a group of Christian Girl Guide and Brownie leaders in North Yorkshire objected to the new wording, saying that Guiding had always had God “at its core,” but were told by the Guide leadership they had to conform or risk being expelled from the organisation. 


Bishop Nazir-Ali said, “If there are others like this group – indeed I would hope that there are many others like it – why should they not be allowed to continue to have a reference to God? 

“If these people really believe in diversity they would allow them to do that. Why should they face expulsion from the Girl Guides movement which is rooted in the Christian faith?” 

The small group, based at St. Paul’s United Reformed Church in Harrogate, said in a letter addressed to the rest of the Guides, “The spiritual aspect is recognised in Girlguiding and ‘God’ has been part of the promise since it was founded. The divine is fundamental to everything it stands for. No one need join Girlguiding, so removing the reference to God in the interests of inclusivity removes much of what we stand for.”

A week after the Yorkshire group published their letter, they announced they had agreed to the new wording after meeting with Girlguide leadership. Gil Slocombe, Chief Guide, told media, they had “supported” the objectors into understanding that the change “is intended to embrace all girls, those with a faith belief and those without.” 

Slocombe said the group had agreed to start using the new oath as of September 1st. 

Henderson wrote on her blog, “We live in a society where [a significant proportion] of people say that they are agnostic or atheist, it is good that the Guiding movement themselves have recognised this. 

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“It is just unfortunate that there are little bastions left of people who are actually wrong about the Guiding movement – they think it is based on God but actually it is based on girls.” 

This is the first major change to the Guide oath in 104 years. The Girl Guiding movement, part of the Scouting movement, was founded in 1909 by Robert Baden-Powell, who made “duty to God” a core concept in Scouting. In the worldwide Scouting movement, this principle is interpreted variously in different countries, but all organisations recognise it.