FIRST-PERSON: How much sex before the promise?
Before we pray, here is what they often say: “Bro. Richard, we are just thrilled with what God has done through True Love Waits. What a powerful movement that literally has brought positive change to the U.S. and now to the world.”
(So far so good, but then comes the following:)
“In fact, we so believe in True Love Waits that we provided a beautiful promise ceremony here three years ago.”
Though I keep a smile on my face, thoughts whirl through my mind. Three years ago? During that span, teenagers who entered puberty at 11 or 12 have reached ninth grade with no opportunity to proclaim publicly their promise of purity. Seventh graders fascinated with oral sex have gone all year with no invitation to promise purity to God. Eighth graders who go to parties where the girls give the boys “rainbows” (don’t ask) have gone yet another year with no promise. High school juniors gloriously saved graduate with no opportunity to stand tall for purity in a worship celebration. Families with teenagers join the church, but then wait three years before they are challenged to slip a promise ring on their teens’ fingers.
Perhaps church leaders shy away from an annual promise ceremony because they don’t want to ask a student to sign six cards while young. They have missed the point. We never ask teenagers to make multiple promises. In fact, it offends Christian students when they are asked to promise again. In their minds, their original promise was a promise to God and that promise stands to their wedding day and beyond.
The annual invitation to participate in a promise ceremony is made to middle schoolers who are being promoted into the student ministry, to all students who have made commitments to Christ in the previous year, and to students who have joined the church and have no background with True Love Waits. But students who have made promises in previous years participate in Bible teaching on purity and attend the ceremony to support the first-timers –- no one places another card in their hands.
Few churches highlight international missions only once every few years. Few would decide to offer Vacation Bible School only once every few years. Churches give annual attention to those initiatives because they have kingdom importance. Those initiatives matter in people’s lives –- in the same way that a lifestyle of absolute purity matters.
We all are thankful schools are giving more attention to abstinence. Two or three health classes that present the advantages of waiting are far better than what was done before. But that is no substitute for True Love Waits. At school, students make a promise to a program. At church they make a promise to God Almighty. At school Christian students can feel alone in their lifestyle choice. Through True Love Waits they lock arms with several million peers who live as they do. After the unit in school, no one offers much help until the following year. Through True Love Waits, parents and youth leaders provide instruction, warmth and encouragement year-round.
During the Valentine season, tens of thousands of churches will provide beautiful, moving services and ceremonies built around promises of purity. Some churches won’t. When churches go more than a year without inviting their teenagers to settle this issue before God, they are placing those kids at risk.
Maybe someone should place this on the agenda for the next church staff meeting.
Richard Ross is professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and a spokesperson for the international True Love Waits campaign.