My wife and I have been looking for a purity ring for some time for our daughter Hannah. She is now 13 and it has always been our goal to be very proactive when it comes to issues of sexuality and moral purity. We've also considered taking her through a program that ends with the signing of an abstinence covenant. This is what makes this article written by Covenant Seminary Professor, Anthony Bradley so interesting. In it he shares how statistics show that young people who sign abstinence pledges are no less likely to have premarital sex than those who don't.
It honestly doesn't surprise me that this is the case, but it was pretty eye-opening to think about. In the article Bradley points out that covenants like this can be legalistic and don't really address the heart of the issue behind good moral choices. The more I've grown to understand the Gospel, the more I've realized that moral transformation does not come from rules and signed documents. The root of our growth comes from us being Gospel-disciples, understanding more deeply from God's Word who God is, what He's done in Christ, and who we are as a result. If this is the case, then helping our children to grow in their understanding of God's grace and in their love for Jesus Christ is the best way we can set them up for moral success.
The biggest problem isn't the moral covenant, but the fact that so many hide behind those covenants as some form of magic modern chastity belt. To be frank, moralistic authoritarians who primarily nurture their children with strict rules and regulations tend to raise either future moralistic authoritarians or moral anarchists.
Statistics show that signed pledges don't solve the problem. If this is the case, then let's put our energy into that which really makes a difference. Below is a clip from Anthony's article.
A recent abstinence pledge study has produced competing interpretations of pledge effectiveness. What the media seems to miss is that the study—conducted by Janet Elise Rosenbaum, published in the journal Pediatrics, and titled “Patient Teenagers? A Comparison of the Sexual Behavior of Virginity Pledgers and Matched Nonpledgers”—is about sexual behavior in young people after high school. The latest findings reveal that five years after abstinence pledges are made, pledgers and non-pledgers alike are equally promiscuous. The sexual behavior of young adults five years after taking abstinence pledges should not surprise us, regardless of their constrained sexual activity during their high school years.
The study also demonstrates that teens from supportive religious communities are much less likely to engage in premarital sex in high school. But is being less bad necessarily good? Here’s an idea: Let’s stop teens from making pledges altogether. The problem in our divorce culture is that marriage has been devalued to the point that abstinence until marriage makes less and less sense to many people.
I have never been a fan of abstinence pledge programs and generally see them as pharisaical and utilitarian when churches adopt them. In general, these programs are designed for teens to get through high school without losing their virginity, as if losing one’s virginity at 16-years-old is morally inferior to losing it at 21-years-old outside of marriage. Deep spirituality, however, should not be confused with participation in extra-biblical church programs. Many parents seem more concerned about their children’s sexuality than their children’s love for Jesus and dependence on the Holy Spirit. If teens are not in love with Jesus, what’s an abstinence program on a Sunday night, with pledge cards, purity rings, workbooks, and an annual conference going to accomplish in the long run?