By Chuck Colson @ www.breakpoint.org
Sometimes we would rather not face the truth. It makes us far too uncomfortable. Recently, Mark Regenerus, a sociologist and a Christian, has put an unwelcome truth right before our eyes. In his new study called Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teens, he shares disturbing statistics that reveal evangelical teens may be engaging in premarital sex at younger ages and more frequently than their non-evangelical counterparts.
For pastors and youth leaders who have labored hard to see their young people sign abstinence pledges, this study is a blow. But as author Lauren Winner pointed out in an op-ed in the New York Times last year concerning similar studies, we ought not to be surprised.
As she explains, "Pledgers promise to control intense bodily desires simply by exercising their wills. But Christian ethics recognizes that the broken, twisted will can do nothing without rehabilitation by God's grace."
This, of course, is no less than what the Apostle Paul teaches us in Romans 7. Winner further proposes, "Perhaps the centrality of grace is recognized best not in a pledge but in a prayer that names chastity as a gift and beseeches God for the grace to receive it." She also rightly draws our attention to the brash individualism of such pledges. Quoting Methodist bishop William Willimon, she writes, "Decisions are fine. But decisions that are not reinforced and reformed by the community tend to be short-lived."
To that I say, "Amen!" The Church has all too often forgotten this truth: True transformation requires God's enabling grace. And because of the way God created us to reflect the relational nature of the Trinity, transformation happens best within the context of community. Now more than ever, we need this nudging reminder that the community of believers must be indeed just that, a community, supporting and enabling that counter-cultural commitment to God's ways.
Unwittingly, Winner's arguments also point to the lessons we have discovered in working in some of the most difficult trenches of transformation—the prisons. Simply more education or a pledge before the parole board will not help prisoners stay out of prison. True change of will requires God's enabling grace and power.
And for that change to seep down deep, prisoners need a community of support. They need volunteers who will open up the Word of God and show them how to live, mentors who will come alongside and share their lives, and most of all, they need the open arms of a church community to embrace them and support them when they return.
The new statistics on the sexual activity of evangelical teens as well as the statistics of current numbers of prisoners returning to prison each year are deeply disturbing. There is no way around this. But these are disturbing truths we must face head on. Clearly, they show us the stark need facing the Church.
It is not easy work, but congregations must step forward to engage in the difficult work of becoming grace-filled communities that support and undergird the values central to a biblical worldview.