If you are conducting your Scouting program properly you probably have your young men stand at the beginning of each weekly troop, team, or crew meeting to recite the Scout Oath, particularly since this oath is now the same pledge for all three units (and also the cub pack). Over the next several weeks of blog messages I wish to explore the meaning and significance of the Scout Oath. But first I wish to focus on the Scout sign and what it means to raise one’s arm in a pledge to do one’s duty.
The Scout sign is made by holding the right arm out to the side, raised to shoulder height, elbow bent at a 90-degree angle to form a square. The three outstretched fingers represent the three main parts of the Scout Oath—duty to God and country, duty to others, and duty to self. The circle between the thumb and little finger represents the bond uniting Scouts throughout the world. This sign is used whenever someone makes or renews their Scout promise.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ought to be used to raising their right arms to the square as a gesture of their commitment. We do so when we commit to sustain Church leaders and members who are called to serve in various capacities in the Church. We raise our right arm to the square when we commit to keep sacred promises made in the temple. When we raise our right arms we indicate our willingness to faithfully fulfill our promise. This sign is a symbol of our sincere resolve.
The upraised right arm is used in courts of law when witnesses swear to tell the truth. This same sign is used to swear in public servants to their appointed office. This symbolic act is also employed as an oath of allegiance for military personnel who pledge to give their all in defending our country and the Constitution. The raising of the right arm is a solemn gesture of a person’s veracity and integrity.
Elder Loren C. Dunn said, “When a person goes through the sacred act of raising his arm to the square, he should remember, with soberness, that which he has done and commence to act in harmony with his sustaining vote both in public and in private” (“We Are Called of God,” Ensign, July 1972, 43).
Raising one’s arm in the Scout sign should not be a casual gesture for LDS young men. It is a symbolic action that should not be taken lightly. Adult Aaronic Priesthood and Scouting leaders should stress to their young men that the Scout sign is a tangible indicator of one’s resolve to keep the promises made in the Scout Oath. The raising of one’s arm in the Scout sign is as significant as the words that follow when a young man recites the Scout Oath. The Scout sign is the certifying symbol that a boy will fulfill the promises he makes.
I hope the reciting of the Scout Oath, Scout Law, slogan, and motto is not a rote action in LDS Scouting units. We are a covenant making people. We know what it means to make an oath as we resolve to keep covenants. We know the significance of raising our arms to the square and pledging to do our duty.
In each of my blog messages I’ve tried to explain the why, or meaning, behind the various elements of the Scouting program. Everything in Scouting has been uniquely designed to have specific or symbolic connotations. Young Men leaders can help their boys understand the meaning and significance of these elements by explaining how they apply to a young man’s current and future life.
Scouting is a program that provides meaning and purpose in the lives of young men. But it only provides meaning and purpose if we make our Scouting programs meaningful and purposeful. You connect the dots for your young men.
Take a Moment to Reflect
- Do you know the meaning and significance of the symbolic elements of Scouting? Have you taught these things to your young men?
- Have you made the connection between the symbolic elements of Scouting and the doctrines, principles, or practices of the Church?
- Do you have your boys repeat weekly the Scout Oath, Scout Law, motto, and slogan as they raise their arms in the Scout sign?
- Do you raise your arm to the square in the Scout sign and pledge to do your best to do your duty? Do you keep your pledge?
Turn Your Reflection Into Action
- What will you start doing, stop doing, or do better as a result of your reflection?
“Be it known that whatever the risks, whatever the temptations, whatever the state of the world around us, as our forefathers were faithful, so we will be. Like those who have gone before, we will turn away from self-aggrandizement and set aside personal gain in order to build a peaceful society, governed by God. At all times and in all places, we will be true to our pledge” (A pledge made by the young men of 19 stakes in California, shared by Gordon B. Hinckley, “To the Boys and to the Men,” Ensign, November 1998).
-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.