More than two-thirds of children born to American teenagers today are born out of wedlock, and the rising teen birthrate is creating a new zeal to promote the familiar message of sexual abstinence before marriage.

Organizers of a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) abstinence campaign hope some healthy peer pressure can help turn the tide.

"There was a girl here in Nashville who got up in front of a group and gave testimony that she thought she was the only virgin in her high school," says Jimmy Hester, who developed the program with Richard Ross at the SBC. "She'd had that feeling until she said something about this, and others rallied around her to say, 'I believe the same thing.' It's that support from their peers that's really making a difference in their lives."

The roots of the current program were planted five years ago when the SBC'S Sunday School Board prepared a curriculum for Christian sex education and began hearing from parents and teenagers seeking denominational guidance on abstinence. From their interest grew True Love Waits, a campaign to promote biblical sexuality and premarital abstinence for teens. "Parents were hearing messages—whether it be safe sex messages or whatever—that they just didn't believe were true to their faith," says Hester.

The program quickly grew beyond its SBC origins, even though organizers had not planned to take it outside the denomination for at least a year after its April 1993 unveiling. "Well, it didn't take 48 hours before that started happening," says Hester, "and the momentum since then has been unbelievable."

At the SBC annual convention in Orlando, Florida, last month, more than 102,000 signed chastity cards were placed in the lawn outside the meeting site.

That momentum will receive a major boost July 29 when as many as 500,000 signed abstinence pledges will be displayed on the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C. Also featured will be a concert by contemporary Christian musicians such as DeGarmo & Key, Steven Curtis Chapman, the Newsboys, and DC Talk, some of whom also contributed songs to a True Love Waits compact disk recently released on the Genevox label.


Though press coverage of the campaign has been largely positive, one sign of broad support was its adoption by Roman Catholics in the United States. Len Wenke, executive director of the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry, says True Love Waits is "a new way of sharing an old message for us."

Through Wenke's group, the True Love Waits message is being made available to diocesan leaders, who can choose to use it in the nation's 23,000 parishes and reach millions of Catholic youth.

Also adopting True Love Waits are the Wesleyan Church, Assemblies of God, the Pentecostal Church of God, and Youth for Christ.

True Love Waits, which already has been translated into four languages, "really has become a worldwide movement," says Hester.

Covenant cards from the Washington, D.C, event will join cards from around the world at a 1995 Baptist World Alliance meeting in Buenos Aires.


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