LifeWay Relaunches Abstinence Program to Fight Culture Where 80% of Unmarried Christians Have Sex

The Southern Baptist-based LifeWay Christian Resources is relaunching its abstinence program "True Love Waits" in 2014. | (Photo: AP Images / Daniel Miller)

Facing data that suggests that the overwhelming majority of unmarried Christian young adults do not practice celibacy, the Southern Baptist-based LifeWay Christian Resources has relaunched its youth abstinence program, True Love Waits (TLW).

"The True Love Project," a video-driven Bible study, was created by youth evangelist and pastor Clayton King and features appearances from pastors Steve Furtick, Derwin Gray and author Jefferson Bethke.

The program seeks to discuss issues like "pornography, lust and social media" in the larger context of faith and the Gospel, said Ben Trueblood, director of student ministry at LifeWay Christian Resources.

"[Millenials need] to clearly see how the Gospel impacts their purity and how their choices in purity are about more than their sexual decisions," Trueblood said in a statement.

Trueblood also said that the goal's movement is to point people to Jesus—not just convince them to change or maintain a particular sexual behavior.

"God has used True Love Waits in an incredible way for two decades, and now He has opened the door for the True Love Waits message to be restated, to once again point people to the Gospel through this very important issue in our culture," he said.

TLW began in 1993 as a campaign to encourage Christians to pursue abstinence and called upon those who had lost their virginity to remain celibate until marriage. A year after the campaign started, more than 210,000 cards from teenagers committing to refrain from sex until marriage were displayed in the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The movement's message superseded denominational ties and its curriculum was adopted by some Pentecostal Assemblies of God and Catholic churches and groups. Over the course of its 21 years, TLW estimates that 3 million teenagers signed a pledge.

Among these teenagers were Disney Channel celebrities. Joe Jonas of the Jonas Brothers admitted last month that he and his brothers had made pledges through TLW and donned "purity rings," public tokens of their commitment to abstinence, because of this promise. His colleagues Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus also flashed their own rings at the beginning of their careers.

But the evidence that an overwhelming number of young, unmarried Christians have slept with someone outside of marriage, suggests that the movement has struggled to convince its target population of its message. Not only has nearly every star ditched his or her ring, a 2011 Relevant Magazine poll revealed that 80 percent of "young, unmarried Christians have had sex" and that "two-thirds have been sexually active in the last year."

Facing the reality of these numbers, King said he wants to make sure that the new curriculum preaches a strong message of grace.

"I want people to know they are pure because Jesus purified them from sin, not because they have perfect behavior and have never had intercourse or looked at porn," King said in statement. "The good news is that temptation, lust, porn, sex, shame and guilt are no match for the grace Jesus offers us."

Richard Ross, who co-founded TLW and now works as a professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he sees sexuality as ultimately an expression of faith.

"This is about a lifetime of purity," Ross said in a statement. "This is not a temporary thing, hoping a husband or wife will show up. Rather, this is something that I can do for my King."

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