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January 26, 2002
Column #1065

A Case for Chastity

     Since the Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion 29 years ago, 40 million children have been aborted. 

     ''On September 11th we were horrified as we watched the destruction of more than 3,000 innocent human lives,'' says Family Research Council President Ken Connor. ''In an instant, our government responded to protect the country from further loss. But the sad reality of American life is that more than 4,000 children die every day in this country at the hands of abortionists.''

     Yet there is no comparable sense of alarm - nor any clear strategy, even among those passionately committed to the vision of Psalm 139: ''You knit me together in my mother's womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;''

     On this issue, a stalemate exists between those who are pro-life, committed to saving babies from destruction - and those who are pro-choice, committed to the freedom of the woman.

     I'd like to suggest to pro-lifers, that they shift their focus from the baby to the couple.

     Many churches persuade teenagers to remain chaste. For example, Southern Baptists have convinced a million teens to sign a pledge that ''True Love Waits.'' And the result is that for the first time in 20 years, a majority of high school kids are virgins!

     But what about making a case for chastity with singles who are in their twenties, or older? What about those who are even engaged? Certainly, Scripture is clear: ''Abstain from fornication'' Paul wrote to the Thessalonians (I Th. 4:3)

     My wife and I have mentored 44 couples who are preparing for marriage. We dare to bring this issue up. I begin by saying, ''We are not asking what your present level of physical involvement is. That is your private business. But we do want to make a case for chastity from now until the wedding.'' 

     I plunge ahead: ''Are you aware of a University of Maryland study which shows that those who marry as virgins have much lower divorce rates? For example, of those who were virgins when they married in the 1960's, only 30 percent are divorced today. But among those who were sexually active, half are divorced! That's a divorce rate which is two-thirds higher! 

     ''And of those who married from 1980-1983, by 1988 only 14 percent of those who remained chaste were divorced vs. 24 percent of those having sex. Again, that's two-thirds higher. Thus, secular evidence backs up Scripture.

     ''In other words, If you want God's blessing, you need to play by His rules.

     By this point of the conversation, only ten percent of couples tell us that, ''Oh, we have already decided to wait until we are married.'' 

     Therefore, I wrote an exercise in a ''Mentor's Guide'' used in many churches called an ''Optional Premarital Sexual Covenant'' (301 469-5873). It begins with Scripture, and then outlines what the ''Sexual Revolution'' has done to our culture. Between 1960 and 2000 the number of babies being born out-of-wedlock has soared from 224,000 to 1.35 million; the number who are cohabiting skyrocketed from 430,000 to 5.5 million. And the number of divorces tripled.

     We then ask the couples to consider signing the Optional Premarital Sexual Covenant inspired by a therapist, Dr. Jim Talley, in which they pledge to keep their physical involvement on a 10 point scale, to #7, French kissing. ''Should you go beyond that level, we are asking you to call us up. If the man does not call me within 24 hours, the female is to call my wife, Harriet. 

     ''Our church does not have sexual police with ladders, flashlights and cameras! It works on the honor system. But it does have teeth. No one wants to make that embarrassing phone call. However, it is optional. Whether you sign it or not, is confidential between you and us. The pastor will never know. And we're not asking for an answer tonight.''

     If couples say they don't want to sign it, we say, ''Well, you pray about and let us know in a couple weeks.'' Remarkably, about 80 percent of couples eventually sign it! 

     I asked the first couple to do so, a year after they were married, what was its value. Dave, aged 34, replied, ''When we got into arguments, we would become physically involved to restore a sense of intimacy. But it was a hollow intimacy. By holding off sex, it forced us to talk through issues that we needed to talk about. We actually built a deeper relationship!''

     Chastity pays dividends. But it this sex-drenched culture, a case has to be made for it. That's the job of the religiously committed.

Copyright 2002 Michael J. McManus.

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