The method proven 100% effective

"The method proven 100% effective" Continued...

Issue: "Global shame," June 15, 2002

Overall, legal experts seem agreed that as long as overt religious content is excluded, programs that focus on abstinence as a means of birth control and disease prevention are safe in court. Many abstinence educators also deal with psychological, emotional, and morality issues, either as part of their presentations or in response to students' questions. It's here where church-and-state watchdogs lie in wait.

Undeterred, Mr. Richey presses ahead. His goal is to establish abstinence clubs in all 425 of Louisiana's public high schools. The idea, he told a reporter, is to get youths to spread the abstinence message to other youths, "so then it's not 50-year-olds giving messages to high-school kids.... What better person to do that than a healthy, virile 16-year-old?" In many schools across the country, abstinence clubs are springing up from the grass roots-from initiatives by the students themselves, some with assists by concerned teachers and other school personnel, like school nurse Darlene Workman in Plano, Texas (see sidebar).

Helping to fuel this explosion of interest at grassroots level are a variety of national, regional, and local ministries that encourage teens to make public their pledges to be chaste and to reserve sex for their future mates. One of the best-known is True Love Waits (TLW), an 8-year-old effort sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention.

"We simply provide a way for teens to express their beliefs," Jimmy Hester, TLW's national coordinator, told WORLD.

At rallies and in special media campaigns, TLW challenges young people to make a for-the-record commitment to remain sexually pure. Those so committed sign cards pledging to remain abstinent until marriage. So far, Mr. Hester said, TLW has handed out 1.2 million cards in response to requests, either directly or through cooperating ministries. (Nearly 100 ministries have blended TLW into their own programs; they include Youth for Christ, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Josh McDowell Ministries, the crisis pregnancy center network, other Protestant denominations, and the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministries.)

At the 1996 SBC convention in Atlanta, 350,000 signed TLW cards were stacked to the roof of the Georgia Dome. A 1999 event saw 1,500 young people in a "prayer walk" carry 100,000 signed cards across the Golden Gate Bridge. In a recent TLW "Seize the Net" campaign, more than 1,000 youths attended a TLW rally at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth that was televised by satellite. It marked the end of a two-year campaign inviting young people to go to the truelovewaits.com website to sign online pledge cards. About 82,000 signed.

Richard Ross, TLW co-founder and a professor at Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth, explains the reason for TLW's splashy events: "In most of the schools [kids] go to, their impression would be that hardly anyone lives with abstinence. So, when they go to a rally with thousands or when they see hundreds of thousands of cards in a display, it helps them feel, 'I'm not alone. Lots and lots of people share my values.'[And] secular culture finds [all this] interesting."

No longer feeling marginalized, many students reached by TLW and similar ministries have been organizing abstinence support clubs on high-school and college campuses. Still, the liberal naysayers-including former surgeon general David Satcher-remain unimpressed. Their chorus has two main themes: abstinence-only approaches are ineffective, given the realities of modern-day teen sex attitudes and behavior patterns, and no research backs the notion that abstinence programs work.

However, increasing numbers of young people are coming forward to report an abstinence commitment is working for them. One study by the Centers for Disease Control found more than half of the country's high-school students saying they practice sexual abstinence. And researcher Robert Rector at the Heritage Foundation documents 10 scientific studies of specific abstinence programs that have had a degree of life-changing impact on teens (www.heritage.org/Research/Family/BG1533.cfm).

Even some staunch liberals acknowledge the impact of such programs. "Abstinence-only education is one of the religious right's greatest victories," the National Coalition Against Censorship warned last year in a paper posted on the Planned Parenthood website.

But Leslee Underwood, president of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, applauds the abstinence efforts, and not just for its health benefits. Teens need to be discouraged from having sex because they aren't ready for the emotional consequences, she said. "We can't give them a condom for their heart."

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman


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