"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."
At the time, the whole thing felt a bit coerced and contrived, and after some reflection, I still don't know if it was the best way to biblically teach sexual purity. Despite the card's wording, the program implicitly seemed to put too high of an emphasis on the V-card, rather than teach a sustained view of purity. Perhaps that is why all of my friends who signed the pledge that day broke their pledge later. Without fail, almost everyone one of them developed this attitude: "Well, I already lost my virginity, and I can't get it back. Might as well enjoy myself now."
Having played their one and only V-card and broken their pledge, they were remorsefully free to continue pursuing pleasure at will. Maybe their stories simply display human nature and our innate propensity for sin. Or perhaps, they illustrate a sweeping failure of the most pervasive Christian abstinence programs available. I don't think I can personally say for sure.
Last month, however, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released a large study showing that teenagers who make abstinence promises like TLW are just as likely to have premarital sex and less likely to use protection. Unfortunately, as the Washington Post points out, this data has reignited the sexual education debate that has cooled in recent years. Barack Obama has promised to release millions in funding for sexual education with an abstinence emphasis, and it seems to me that many want to block that funding before the administration releases it.
The question remains whether or not these programs are effective. Many, including a very reputable public health organization, say no. Others, including LifeWay Christian Resources--the organization responsible for distributing TLW cards and selling TLW-emblazoned resources including rubber bracelets, watches, apparel, and a line of expensive silver jewelry--say yes.
My gut tells me that the answer lies somewhere in the middle. There are a whole list of things I don't like about programs like TLW. For example, they assume that teenagers won't see through the contrived program, they come across kitschy with their product lines, and they seem to miss the mark on instilling a holistic approach to sexual purity like the scriptures teach. At the very least, these things have collectively contributed the ineffectiveness of these programs.
Yet, the Church must never give up teaching that God wants sex to be reserved for two people who have been biblically married. This is our responsibility as parents, siblings, friends, citizens and Christ-followers. Rather then recoiling at the criticism, we should use this as an opportunity for reflecting on and retooling these programs. It is imperative that we find a better way to communicate moral truths to teenagers in the 21st century.
What do you think? Are the researchers at Johns Hopkins just out to get us? Do we need to wake up and retool these programs? Do you think TLW-style programs work?
**Update: A different opinion from the WSJ**