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The Rev. James Ellis III The Rev. James Ellis, III

The Rev. James Ellis III is Chaplain of Discipleship at Hope College in Holland, MI.

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Condoms for Pre-Teens? Really?

April 25, 2011

Due to the marathon that has been airing, lately I have watched a fair amount of MTV's hit series "16 and Pregnant." MTV does a decent job, I think, of chronicling the ups and downs of life for these young parents who generally are legally still children themselves. As the story goes, typically the young mother thinks that her pregnancy will improve her relationship with the baby's father, and similarly that fatherhood itself will put him on the fast track to maturity. Most of the time, at least to a significant degree, both hopes are dashed by the unforgiving reality of it all. Of course, there are exceptions to this sad dynamic, but not many. More often than not the young mother is left feeling dejected because of her newfound, unconventional motherhood, and rejected by her friends and the baby's father at the very least.

This brings me to the real thrust of this post. I read an article recently about the Philadelphia Department of Public Health's new initiative to offer free condoms to children as young as 11-years-old in an effort to combat the high incidence of STDs. I understand the reasoning behind this kind of venture and I don't believe that our society would be best served by a theocracy, Christian or otherwise. Still, it is deeply troubling to know that we live in a decidedly hedonist era where literally almost anything goes.

The issue of sexual activity has become one of theology versus practice. That is to say, the caricature is that teaching abstinence is silly because everyone (both children and single adults) has premarital sex these days. Therefore, various forms of birth control (i.e., condoms, morning-after pill, birth control implant/patch/pills/shot, etc.) are undeniably the more responsible, practical route. Contrary even to studies that prove otherwise, abstinence is viewed as a theological premise that is absolutely disconnected from today's dominant cultural norms.

For Christians, in looking to God for our sense of ethics and morality (which comes from the responsible use of biblical wisdom), shouldn't we be representing a different, better value system than that of the world? I fear, however, that instead we, too, are guilty of this hedonistic approach. We reason that since people are going to live as they please anyways, which means generally with minimal or no limits, then our focus should be on protecting them from the natural consequences of their actions. Louis Dupre commented that:

The west appears to have said a definitive farewell to a Christian culture. The Christian faith has been absorbed by the culture and has become simply another cultural artifact. Christianity has become a historical factor subservient to a secular culture rather than functioning as the creative power it once was.[1]

I am at a loss as to when for Christians abstinence became passé or unrealistic. Much of the problem as I see it is that Christians have not properly modeled to society or one another a healthy representation of godly values, most especially when it comes to sex and marriage, a point that rings loudly in Bridget Ravizza's 2004 article, "Selling Ourselves on the Marriage Market," in America magazine:

Christian marriage is a covenantal partnership that is rooted in, modeled after, and inspired by the love of God. This love is unconditional; this love is constant; this love is faithful; this love consistently wills the good of the other. This love is not given only to those who are "appealing" and who come in the right packages. It is offered freely and without calculating any sort of return. And so Christian married partners ought to practice virtues like love, faith, hope, forgiveness, mutual service, fidelity, courage and sacrifice. These are not exactly the virtues espoused in our capitalistic, individualistic culture. But a marriage that exhibits these virtues is truly authentic, truly intimate and truly worthy of imitation. We should model these graced relationships for our young people.[2]

Over the years as a youth pastor I have counseled a fair number of Christian parents who were puzzled as to if they should put their young daughter on the pill or supply their young son with condoms (their wording, not mine) as a deterrent (I say deterrent because only abstinence has a 100% success rate) or safeguard against any pregnancies. Interestingly enough, in my experience these parents were typically the one's whose own faith seemed to be nominal at best, and whose children were very marginally involved in the life of the church; clearly, something that they learned from their parents' poor example.

According to George Orwell, "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act." I am not trying to be a revolutionary, but it seems to me that we have misconstrued sex as primarily a matter of anatomy when it really is ultimately a matter of the soul. We can employ all of the birth control programs that we want from now until Jesus returns, but if we fail to seriously, and with a biblical ethic, address the issues of the soul that lead children and single adults to flippantly explore sexual relations, then in the end we are simply wasting our time, energy, and hard-earned dollars.

People are going to do what they want to do, as they choose to be led by their flesh or the Spirit. Cohabitation has become more of the norm than the exception. Premarital sex is commonplace. Divorce is now as easy and ordinary as taking a vacation. Yet, that truth doesn't somehow abdicate us from, in both word and deed, representing godly values. Or, put differently, for Christians God's truth ought to always trump reality, as odd as that may sound. Isn't that what a true life of faith is, though? Trusting that things can and will change to better glorify God in our lives and in the world, and then putting that faith into action on a daily basis? Walking by faith, not by sight?


[1] Louis Dupre, "Seeking Christian Interiority: An Interview with Louis Dupre, The Christian Century, July 16-23, 1997.
[2] Bridget B. Ravizza, "Selling Ourselves on the Marriage Market," America, September 20, 2004.


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