Why Purity Pledges Don’t Work

We’ve all been there.

That summer camp, youth conference, or special guest speaker at church that passionately communicates God’s best for your life and body, telling you their special secret to enjoying the great married sex life that God made you to have, and the the sure consequences that will come to those who chose not wait.  The atmosphere is worshipful.  Your Pastor and leaders are all there with you. You’ve spent 4 days on a remote campground free from worldly distractions while a whole church full of people back home have been praying for you.

Then, the invitation comes.  Will you make a decision to wait?  Will you take the pledge, promise the Lord, and sign the form?  There’s an awesome “pure” rubber wrist-band and/or wallet card in it for you if you do, in addition to the guarantee of an awesome future marriage, of course.  You stand up and take the vow.  I mean, who could pass all that up?

There’s just one problem.  This whole process has absolutely nothing to do with reality.

It’s not a bad thing, or even a thing that should be stopped.  But the process by which these pledges have been “sold” and implemented for decades is not only ineffective,  but can actually contribute to destructive sexual decisions.  Not because of what is said, but because of what isn’t said or done.  And those missing pieces are huge, if not the most important.

1.  The pledge is typically where the conversation ends, even though desire and hormones don’t end there.  We too often look at having the talk with our kids as something we “just get it over with it, then we’re done.”  But we’re never done.  You can’t ensure the sexual health of your child or student in one 30 minute sermon once a year, then ignore the fact that they have a sin nature the other 364 days.  Once we begin to have honest conversations about sexual issues with our students, those conversations shouldn’t stop.

2.  The timing sucks. It’s really easy to commit to starting a diet at the end of a Thanksgiving meal when you are stuffed and can’t stomach the thought of more food, but come Monday, when your co-worker walks in with KFC and fills the office with the aroma of crispy chicken, your diet commitment is a whole different story.  In the same way, I don’t often hear young people say at the end of an emotionally charged service, “You know, after everything that God has done for me this weekend and all that I have experienced, I still think I’m going to have sex before I get married”.  Of course they don’t say that.  They can no more fathom it then a stuffed stomach can fathom a cheeseburger.  I have to wonder if that is the time or place to bring that up at all.  What if “the talk” was instead a regular part of ongoing discipleship?  What if it happened when real life and real temptation was happening?

3.  It gives people a false sense of invincibility.

“Oh, you want to wait until marriage to have sex?  That’s great.  What’s your plan“?

“Plan?  Well…I signed this promise card and wrote a letter to my future spouse”.

Face palm  “You need to establish your boundaries ahead of time and surround yourself with people who are going to be able to help you carry those boundaries out.”

“That’s not necessary, I really love Jesus”.

Oh good for you.  Did He also create you without hormones”?

A look at 2 Samuel 11 shows us something interesting.  King David, “A man after God’s own heart”, sees a married woman bathing on her roof, has his people bring her, sleeps with her, gets her pregnant, murders her husband to try to cover it up, and is busted by the prophet Nathan.  Waaaaa??????  The passage starts off saying, “In a time when kings went off to war, David was looking out on his balcony” (or something).  If the kings were supposed to be at war, and David was king, why was he at home on his balcony?

Sin often begins in us when we’re in places we shouldn’t be.  Many people, who earnestly love Jesus and want to live for him break boundaries because we trust in our own righteousness and create an opportunity.  Never, of course, intending for it to lead to sin.  But the enemy of our souls is ‘crouching like a lion’ and never misses out on a good opportunity.  And all that righteousness of ours? The bible says our righteousness is like fifthly rags before the Lord, and for good reason.  It can’t be trusted to keep us from sin, because we’re sinners.

The hope of saving yourself for marriage is only as good as your boundaries and the accountability you seek out, no matter how many pledges you sign or how big your purity ring is.

4.  It creates shame when the mark is missed.  Imagine for a minute that you are a 19 year-old college sophomore, away at school, and even though you had pledged to wait, you’ve recently started having sex with your boyfriend.  You want to talk to someone about it because inside, you still want to please the Lord, but who do you go to?  The youth leader who was standing next to you when you signed your card and told you how proud of you she was?  The speaker who said that the only way to have a good marriage is to wait?  Your parents?  Probably not. The shame from not living up to your commitment can be so strong that many young people just stop going to church all together.  Now, youth leaders, pastors, and parents are exactly the people to go to when we’re struggling with any kind of sin.  But the famous 30-minute “purity sermon” can’t establish the relationship that is needed to be a safe place for people to share their struggles.  We have to clearly communicate to our young singles that 1.  There is nothing they can say or do that is going to make us be ashamed of them and 2. There is no such thing as “too late”.

My husband and I were engaged for 18 months, which turned out to be about 12 months too long, if you catch my drift.  As the “poster children” of each of our youth groups, we had made enough of these pledges that I could have made sleeves out of my “Pure” arm bands.  But because all of the things above were missing, those were just words with good intentions. If we really want this generation of Christians to experience God’s best for their relationships, we have to change the conversation.  We have to be involved, honest and transparent.  We have to both continue the conversation in discipleship, and establish ourselves as safe places.  We have to talk about the how-not-to and the restoration when it happens, because purity doesn’t stop at “I do”.  It’s a process we’ll walk out forever.

Like what you read?  Then check these out, too!

That Lovin’ Feeling – The Key to an Incredible Marriage

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  1. This is a great piece. Thank you for taking the time to get the words out with such passion. I find that I am quite passionate in this topic, as well. I especially liked the part that read, “Purity doesn’t stop at “I do”. It’s a process we’ll walk out forever. So true… so very true.

  2. Great read, great insights, and great steps!
    An unprotected life is problematic. A pledge is only as good as the resolve and fortitude of the pledger AND the commitment to surrounding and immersing the life in a biblical ethos; it is the best terms and conditions for success.

  3. The false underlying premise here is that if we can’t live up to a standard, there must be something wrong with the standard. Surely, God would not doom us to fail by imposing such strict mandates on our feeble souls. If and when we fail, we then feel justified in compromising the standard. This knee-jerk reaction does not consider that the purpose of “the law” is to point us toward our need for a savior. Of course we can’t be “holy” as God is “holy.” But instead of falling on our knees in humble dependence on God, we tumble into the throes of sin, then try to make ourselves feel better with blame-shifting. We fall for the schemes of the devil, who wants us to sacrifice genuine spiritual freedom in Christ in exchange for a counterfeit that is really bondage. There is nothing wrong with the standard of sexual purity, premarital abstinence, purity pledges, etc. The fault lies in our pride. We must repent of our unwillingness to genuinely humble ourselves and embrace sanctification from Christ, who is our source of true joy.

    • Hi Paula,
      Thank you for commenting. I am always happy to have input on my pieces, especially from those who have worked in the field related to the topic. It really means a lot. I think, however, that you may have misread the whole purpose of the article. Specifically,
      “The false underlying premise here is that if we can’t live up to a standard, there must be something wrong with the standard”
      In no way is there an implication that God’s standards should be changed anywhere above. Instead, the challenge is to the current delivery method of abstinence education. It’s incredible failure rates can be contributed to the fact that it has relied heavily on an annual sermon and signed pledge and that’s it. If we really want singles to have God’s best for their lives as laid out in scripture, they also need PRACTICAL HELP and on-going discipleship. I would encourage you to re-read the article and I hope that you can see that it in no way strays from a biblical view of sexuality.

  4. The bigger problem actually is for those of us who take that pledge so seriously that we defend ourselves against any sexual urges and then are shocked to find how difficult it is to not feel guilty and struggle with experiencing any passion in our marriages. There are many blogs that have been written about the damage of these pledge drives and the culture that surrounds them, and I am loving this battle right now, frustrated that I never really feel “good” about sex, even inside my monogamous marriage. I actually wish now I would have been more rebellious or less chaste. The idea that your marriage hinges on your premarital purity is misinformed. You might start to see it as a good thing your hubby and you couldn’t “wait”, the “safeguards” that waiting would have required would likely not have set you up for intimacy in your marriage. That standard was not unreasonable when youth married in their teens, but with most of our culture waiting until their late 20s or even 30s to wedd, I now biebe this to be a damaging teaching.

    • Dear Anonymous,
      I am sorry that you are experiencing this right now in your marriage. I don’t know you, but will be praying for you to be able to experience all the beauty that God intended marriage to be. Thank you for your comment.

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