The Other Failure of “True Love Waits”

You’ve probably seen people criticize church-led abstinence programs by saying that they are ineffective, or that they create feelings of guilt in young people. While I do have a very serious problem with the “True Love Waits” campaign, it’s not entirely for the same reasons. (First of all, plenty of people I know from church decided to wait until their wedding night to have sex. Secondly, it is possible to teach this sort of thing without guilt-mongering, even though that does happen. And it shouldn’t.)

My criticism is of a different nature. It’s that phrase: “True love waits.” It showed up on signs and posters in the hallways of our churches, and it had “1 Cor 13:4-8” printed next to it in small letters, which we assumed was a Bible passage instructing us not to have sex.

It all made sense until we decided to look up the verse for ourselves:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.

What was going on, here? That didn’t have anything to do with sex. In fact, it didn’t even say “true love waits!”

Some of our teachers were confused when we pointed this out. (Shame on you, if your entire teaching relies on a single verse that you didn’t bother to read.) It was like they hadn’t expected us to be curious, but, rather, to nod our heads and accept their teachings without question. Some of them even thought these discussions were disrespectful!

A few of them told us that “true love waits” was an optional translation of the phrase “love is patient.” That was fine with us – we were smart enough to understand that translations can be tricky business – but couldn’t they see how this unraveled the whole lesson? Was there, in fact, any part of the Bible that explicitly told us when we were allowed to have sex? (As teenagers, that sort of thing was on our mind, quite a lot.)

But that was just the tip of the iceberg. What about the other things they taught us? Did every lesson of theirs come from an obscure, optional translation of a Bible verse that was taken out of context? And were we supposed to build our view of God by cherry picking Bible passages that suited our desires and applying them however we wanted?

These were the questions we had after the True Love Waits campaign was over. Our teachers were not able to answer them, which, quite frankly, made it hard for us to trust them. Not to mention, we were more confused than ever about sex. As if that wasn’t complicated enough.

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