True Love Waits

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True Love Waits

The True Love Waits campaign is an interdenominational program that promotes premarital sexual abstinence. Founded in 1992 by the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board, the campaign has the cooperation of more than twenty-seven other Protestant Christian evangelical, fundamentalist, pentecostal, and holiness groups as well as the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.

The primary goal of the campaign is to have young people commit to and sign the following pledge: "Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate, and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship."

More than a million young people in the United States, mostly preteens, but also high school and college students, are thought to have signed the pledge. In July 1994 a total of 210,000 signed cards were exhibited on the Mall in Washington, D.C.; in March 1996 a total of 340,000 cards from fifty states and seventy-six countries were displayed at a True Love Waits convention-rally in Atlanta, Georgia. Additional rallies have been held in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Ottawa, Canada; and Kampala, Uganda. The journal The American Enterprise has estimated that 450,000 cards were signed in 1997 and another 700,000 in 1998. This includes 500,000 cards signed by college and university students, who have formed True Love Waits clubs on university campuses across the United States; recently, a new organization called CrossSeekers has been established to serve college-age and twenty-something unmarrieds.

True Love Wait's target membership seems to be not American teenagers in general, but rather "churched" teenagers already within the conservative Protestant or conservative Catholic fold. Survey research has shown that sexual activity among "churched" youth increased from the 1960s to the 1980s, and then soared to a peak in 1987. Since 1987, the proportion of sexually active "churched" youth has declined; however, the young people reported that they postponed sex not because of a moral or religious belief, but for other reasons. The True Love Waits campaign concentrates on chastity in the individual as a means of cultivating increased commitment and solidarity within churches and religious communities. Another aim—manifested through the public display of signed pledge cards—is to demonstrate the strength and integrity of Christian youth.

Organizationally, the True Love Waits campaign is nondenominational: It seeks to supplement existing denominational teen ministry programs. Indeed, the campaign planning kit contains suggestions for incorporating into the formal liturgy a ritual for taking the sexual purity vows, and for reaffirming those vows regularly. In addition, the Baptist Sunday School Board has developed various tools that youth ministers and group leaders can use: commitment cards, a True Love Waits handbook, books and magazines on related subjects, a tract for youth evangelism, banners and posters, a retreat manual, a New International Version "True Love Waits Bible" with appropriate articles, and even a specially written musical.

True Love Waits has developed a powerful icono-graphic and artifactual tradition. "TLW" logos may be photocopied or made into stickers and buttons; moreover, group leaders and individuals can order T-shirts, caps, "commitment rings," compact discs and cassettes (featuring, among others, Grammy Award winners Amy Grant, DC Talk, and Petra, as well as Steven Curtis Chapman, Newsboys, and Audio Adrenaline), mugs and plates, and, as in the secular fashion industry, "True Love Waits Active Wear," including T-shirts and sweatshirts. The "commitment ring" is intended to be given to the young man or woman on the occasion of his or her abstinence pledge. One order form suggests that "the ring be worn until marriage and given to the marriage partner on the wedding night as [a] gift of purity."

One of the implicit messages of the True Love Waits campaign is that sex is more pleasurable if each partner abstains until marriage. The True Love Waits campaign argues that the spiritual and physical pleasures of sex are rooted in chastity and abstinence. Conversely, premarital promiscuity is said to rob young people of true sexual pleasure, through sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, and the social stigma associated with sexual impurity.

The True Love Waits campaign does not exclude teenagers who are already sexually active, but rather specifically targets these teenagers by emphasizing chastity rather than virginity. The campaign creates a category of "secondary virginity" that allows—indeed, welcomes—young people who have been sexually active to alter their behavior. Focusing on "acquired" purity over "original" purity places the campaign firmly within a Protestant tradition that emphasizes conversion experience over inherited religious affiliation. A decision not to have sex, even if one has already been sexually active, becomes a sacred act. Conversely, admitting and repenting sexual impurity simply removes it from the divine tally sheet.

The True Love Waits campaign claims not to pursue any larger social or political goals; it has stayed out of the sex education controversy in public schools. It is nonpartisan—indeed, at Stanford University, the True Love Waits club's founding president was simultaneously the president of the campus College Democrats organization in 1995–1996. At the same time, however, the campaign does encourage its adherents to make their social home within the church community; in return, the church community provides social, material, and religious rewards for chastity and loyalty.

See alsoBaptist Tradition; Catholic Charismatic Renewal; Celibacy; Chastity; Evangelical Christianity; Fundamentalist Christianity; Pentecostaland Charismatic Christianity.


"Growing Respect for Saving Sex." The American Enterprise 9, no. 1 (1998): 53.

Hill, Kathie, and Travis Cottrell. Waiters: A Youth Musical About Waiting on the Lord. Libretto and cassette. 1994.

Hunter, James Davison. Evangelicalism: The ComingGeneration. 1983.

"The Land Where Religion Is Hip." The American Enterprise 9, no. 2 (1998): 48–51.

Landres, J. Shawn. "Just Say Wait: A First Look at the True Love Waits Campaign." In The Power of Genderin Religion, edited by Georgie Ann Weatherby and Susan A. Farrell. 1996.

Landres, J. Shawn. "When the Medium Isn't the Message: The True Love Waits Campaign." Religion andEducation (Spring 1996): 25–33.

McDowell, Josh, and Bob Hostetler. Right from Wrong. 1994.

"Sexual Backlash." The American Enterprise 9, no. 4 (1998): 11.

True Love Waits: A Fact Sheet. 1994.

True Love Waits Church Worship Ideas. 1994.

Willis, Nancye. "Sexual Purity Pledges Catch World Interest." Baptist Press ( July 30, 1994).

J. Shawn Landres