Erika Harold, Miss America 2003, has just emerged victorious from a very public struggle over sex. Erika, a professed Christian, announced after winning the title that she would be using her year in the spotlight to promote sexual abstinence for teenagers. For reasons best known to themselves, the Miss America pageant organizers in Atlantic City ordered her not to do so. Then, in the face of controversy, they reversed their decision but made Erika promise that she would couch her message in the more politically correct theme of "teen violence."

One look at the multi-billion-dollar television industry upon which the Miss America pageant feeds should make clear the pageant promoters' difficulty. How many premarital and extramarital sex acts are shown or implied each year on American television programs? How many times does a message of abstinence make it onto the airwaves—outside of Christian stations? Hmmm.

Probably the most obvious and counter-cultural ethical position of Christians today—one shared by the other "peoples of the Book," Jews and Muslims—is the proscription against premarital sex.

Abstinence has not had a higher-profile or more appropriate spokesperson in modern America than Erika Harold. But her message is rooted in the earliest history of the church. Not a single church father can be found who did not assume that Christians should remain chaste before marriage.

In the early second century, the Roman governor Pliny questioned some ex-Christians, who reported that Christians met before dawn for a secret ritual that included an oath to refrain from moral no-nos, including sexual sins. The ritual so described is generally considered to have been baptism, which, as Justin Martyr described a few years later, did require ...

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