December 19, 2003


No Trespassing: When teens vow not to have sex, the moral to their story isn't always clear (LEAH GERCHARIO AND MICHELLE MARTINEZ, Dec 18, 2003, Dallas Observer)

[M]any of these teenagers are distinctive in one unseen way: They are card-carrying pledgers of True Love Waits, a Christian-based abstinence program. To join, teens must sign a card reading, "Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate and my future children to a lifetime of purity including sexual abstinence from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship."

In fact, these kids are not that unusual. According to True Love Waits, some 1.2 million teens have made the pledge since the group's beginning in 1993. Programs like TLW, abstinence advocates say, are at least partly responsible for a drop in the number of high school students having intercourse: down to 46 percent in 2001 from 54 percent a decade earlier, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Richard Ross, the professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, spearheaded the True Love Waits program a decade ago and is now a TLW spokesman. He dislikes the term "founder," saying that God is the founder and the True Love Waits team merely God's instrument "for protecting the hearts of kids." He says True Love Waits is still a grassroots movement, although more than 90 Christian and secular organizations are listed as cooperating ministries, including Protestant and Catholic groups.

Many students commit to True Love Waits while they're in middle school or early high school and are urged to recommit every year. Ross says most of them do so because TLW articulates a goal to which many teens desperately aspire. "What many of them say on this issue is, 'I love God so much, I am choosing to obey what he has asked of me.'"

The Dallas Observer interviewed some 15 TLW teens and young adults, and indeed most of them speak highly of the program. Some, like Kenneth Sewell, have even married other TLW members. "I don't think kids even understand, until they get into a marriage relationship, the kind of trust that's needed in a marriage," Sewell says. "And when that is hanging over your head, you know, those past girlfriends, those past boyfriends, that really makes trusting in a marriage difficult. I guess I didn't understand the real importance of True Love Waits until I got married."

Others with whom the Observer spoke say what sounded like a simple commitment in their younger years became harder to stick with once they hit high school or college. Matthew (who asked that his last name not be used) signed the card as a junior in high school, before he'd had any sexual experiences.

"I got to college, and I realized there's a lot more out in the world than Killeen, Texas," Matthew says. "I started to realize that this whole 'waiting till marriage' thing wasn't necessarily the be-all, end-all of the way relationships should go." The woman to whom he lost his virginity is now his wife. "In a sense, you could say I fulfilled the promise of the pledge," he says. "Maybe not the wording, but certainly the spirit of it, since she's the only woman I ever had sex with and she's now my wife." [...]

TLW's Ross says that detractors and "adults who are just consumed with sexual expression" don't dissuade teenagers from abstinence--quite the opposite, he says. In the current "tsunami wave of sexuality" in America, he says, True Love Waits becomes a countercultural movement that naturally attracts young followers.

"I think teenagers today are standing up to adults," Ross says. "[They're] saying, 'You don't think we're capable of controlling ourselves. You think we are all going to live like barnyard animals...The only thing you can say to us is, "Here, take a condom. Protect yourself if you can."'

"I think there is a spirit within teenagers that causes some to say, 'We're not going to do what you think we're going to do. We are perfectly capable of making promises. We are perfectly capable of keeping those promises. So we're going to be different from you.'"

That choice, though, doesn't guarantee an adolescence free from emotional scarring and sexual temptation.

This represents a vacuous but all too common misconception about morality: recognizing the existence of moral laws does not inoculate you against breaking them or from the temptation to break them and following them won't necessarily make you happy. You try to follow them because that's the objectively right thing to do, not for your own personal gain, and you have to anticipate that you'll not be able to follow them consistently. Morality makes life harder, not easier. License is the easy way out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 19, 2003 10:31 AM

C.S. Lewis wrote that only the man who has resisted temptation knows how difficult it is. The lazy man gives up immediately. The man who wants to be holy must fight every step of the way. And the man who was perfect fought every struggle.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 19, 2003 10:47 AM

"That choice, though, doesn't guarantee an adolescence free from emotional scarring and sexual temptation."

I think this kind of story actually upsets a lot of people for reasons they can't quite articulate. So weird! Thus this final little sniffling shot. What emotional scarring are they talking about and what connection is there to sex? Do I detect a subtle suggestion that the scarring maight come from capping asll those "natural" urges?

Posted by: Peter B at December 19, 2003 6:33 PM