Paul’s instruction in 1Thessalonians 4:3-8 seized my attention the other day. Paul writes:

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress or wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us to impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but GOd, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”

Young evangelicals are faced with a significant challenge in our sexually charged culture. Maintaining sexually purity of mind and body in today’s world is like trying to scale the heights of Mount Everest. It takes discipline, courage, singlemindedness and determination. The footholds leading to safety are often difficult to navigate. One reason for this is that sexual imagery and conversation are pervasive in our world. An random moment of channel surfing can quickly (and rather innocently) turn into a Beyonce peep-show (who boasts to where the name of Jesus while often wearing little else).

What I found even more compelling and frightening about Paul’s instruction is that not only are to fight for personal purity, but we are to fight for the purity of others. When we give into impurity, it may initially reveal itself privately through mental fantasies, internet chat rooms, sexually-charged movies, and perhaps (sadly)even pornography, but eventually these means of sexual exploration will energize a restlessness that desires to express itself toward the opposite sex (which it naturally should). Here is the warning in Paul’s instruction: Your purity is important; but equally important is that you do not lead others into sexual deviance or impurity.

I came across an interesting article about a book called Forbidden Fruit written by Mark Regnerus which reveals that evangelical teens are actually more likely to be sexually active than mainline Protestants and Catholics. However, to be fair, Regnerus’ research reveals that one reason for this is that evangelical is a broad term, and that those evangelical teens that consider themselves serious about their faith are far less likely to become sexually active before marriage.

But for the sake of discussion and to provoke thought, check out some quotes from the article below revealed from Regnerus’ book.

Teenagers who identify as “evangelical” or “born again” are highly likely to sound like the girl at the bar; 80 percent think sex should be saved for marriage. But thinking is not the same as doing. Evangelical teens are actually more likely to have lost their virginity than either mainline Protestants or Catholics. They tend to lose their virginity at a slightly younger age—16.3, compared with 16.7 for the other two faiths. And they are much more likely to have had three or more sexual partners by age 17: Regnerus reports that 13.7 percent of evangelicals have, compared with 8.9 percent for mainline Protestants.

Who are these evangelicals? They are clearly nominal believers.

How is that possible? What happened to all those happy, young Christian couples from the ’90s swearing that True Love Waits? Partly, the problem lies in the definition of evangelical. Because of the explosion of megachurches, vast numbers of people who don’t identify with mainstream denominations now call themselves evangelical. The demographic includes more teenagers of a lower socioeconomic class, who are more likely to have had sex at a younger age. It also includes African-American Protestant teenagers, who are vastly more likely to be sexually active.

But partly the problem lies in the temptation-rich life of an average American teenager. The fate of the True Love Waits movement, which began with the Southern Baptist Convention in the ’90s, is a perfect example. Teenagers who signed the abstinence pledge belong to a subgroup of highly motivated virgins. But even they succumb. Follow-up surveys show that at best, pledges delayed premarital sex by 18 months—a success by statistical standards but a disaster for Southern Baptist pastors.

For evangelicals, sex is a “symbolic boundary” marking a good Christian from a bad one, but in reality, the kids are always “sneaking across enemy lines,” Regnerus argues.

Do the “serious” Christians teens fare any better?

Among the mass of typically promiscuous teenagers in the book, one group stands out: the 16 percent of American teens who describe religion as “extremely important” in their lives. When these guys pledge, they mean it. One study found that the pledge works better if not everyone in school takes it. The ideal conditions are a group of pledgers who form a self-conscious minority that perceives itself as special, even embattled.

I recently spent a year among some evangelical teenagers who belong to this elite minority, and I can attest to the inhuman discipline they exert over their hormones. They can spend all evening sitting on the couch holding hands and nothing more. They can date for a year, be alone numerous times in a car or at the movies, and still stick to what’s known in the Christian youth literature as “side hugs,” to avoid excessive touching.

But Regnerus makes a very interesting observation about the resolve of these Christian teenagers, particularly the males. They may be less likely to give into sexual pressure, but they aren’t getting any help from their Christian female counterparts:

Muslims have it easy compared to them [evangelicals]. At least in Saudi Arabia the women are all covered up, so there’s nothing to be tempted by. But among this elite corps of evangelicals, the women are breezing around in what one girl I know called “shockingly slutty conservative outfits” while the men hold their tongues

You can check out the article in its entirety here.

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