Churches take up the role of mediating the issue of premarital sex among families and their teens. Though the teenage pregnancy rate has been declining steadily since 1991, the US still has the highest rate in the developed world. A growing number of denominations are taking up the fight against premarital sex through various sex education methods.
United Methodist Church reports that it was disturbed by the lack of communication between parents and their children about this touchy subject, and has set up comfortable seminars where the teens and adults gather to talk openly. The seminars allowed youth to find the support within the church that is often lacking in the world to make decisions such as abstinence.
"Usually at church when we talk about it, it¡¯s usually in youth group or Sunday school and it stays in the room," Erica Mayer, 16, says. She mentions that the church has given her a venue to talk to those who support her.
Not only do churches provide the support that the youth of today need in order to make life-altering decisions, they also provide strong values to overcome the confusion of embedded in this issue.
This Bible-centered approach is markedly different from secular sex education, which advocates the use of contraceptives as an alternative to bad choices. Churches, on the other hand, emphasize abstinence as the only truly biblical and healthy way to address teen sex. The programs declare success as greater numbers of participants pledge abstinence.
Gillian Lisenby, 18, attributes her decision of abstinence to a sex education seminar. "God told us in the Bible, [sex] was for a man and woman in marriage," she said
This approach has been flourishing due to government funding, and President Bush has made this a priority, promising a doubling of that funding to $273 million in January¡¯s State of the Union Address.
Dottie Lou Colby, a sex educator in UMC said, "It¡¯s more and more really necessary to wake up and say, ¡®OK, this is the society you are living in. You need to deal with it.¡±
In fact, the UMC¡¯s Book of Discipline discourages promiscuity and calls on congregations to offer "full, positive, age-appropriate and factual sex education.¡±
"The kids are learning all about sexuality on the streets and in the schools, and most of it isn¡¯t healthy," says Lynn Hamilton, a pastor who has organized sex education seminars for over 21 years. "I believe teaching it in church and letting kids know it¡¯s OK to talk about sex in church is a good, healthy way of teaching sex."
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, about 860,000 teenagers become pregnant each year, and about 425,000 give birth in 2002, the latest year for which data is available.
Besides the seminar, churches are combating this high rate in several ways. For example, the United Methodist Publishing House has produced materials that stress abstinence. In addition, the materials introduce the subject of contraceptives in the context that it does not offer complete protection against STDs.
Harriett Olson, senior vice president of publishing says that the curricula address the role of sex in popular culture, and juxtapose the decisions of sexuality with healthy spirituality to urge teens to make decisions that accord with United Methodist beliefs.
Some congregations put a bigger emphasis on abstinence, but all should address the subject, says Mary Jane Pierce Norton, who works in marriage and family ministries for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.
"Just because it¡¯s a hard topic doesn¡¯t mean we shouldn¡¯t be working with it," she said.
In February a national seminar was held, and 35 youths and their parents attended the candid discussions on issues of sex, dating, love, peer pressure, drugs and alcohol. However, perhaps the most important achievement was simply opening up communication within families.
Some families are just aching to open up, Colby said but lack an effective means of communication.
Lloyd Lewis, a United Methodist and assistant dean at the Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tenn., teaches a course on religion and sexuality. He believes churches should continue with sex education.
"There is concern about what schools teach about human sexuality, and there is a responsibility of the communities of faith to ask the question, ¡®What do we believe as persons of faith about sexuality?¡¯" he said.
For Erika, the seminars are informative and help her cope and make decisions responsibly with the support of her whole family.