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True Love Waits takes Olympic stance; world’s youth challenged

ATHENS (BP)–The 10th anniversary of the True Love Waits marital purity movement culminated in the shadow of one of the ancient world’s most impressive ruins, once a site of sexual indulgence.

Richard Ross and Jimmy Hester, co-founders of the movement that originated with LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, called on youth of the world to make a stand for sexual purity by remaining sexually abstinent until marriage.

The event was held Sunday Aug. 22, at the Dora Stratou Theatre, located on a hill adjacent to the Acropolis, site of the Greek Parthenon.

In addition to challenging the few hundred in attendance, the call to purity was webcast through www.truelovewaits.com and is still available for viewing.

The TLW event was held in cooperation with Lay Witnesses for Christ International and featured Carl Lewis, who has been called the greatest Olympian of the 20th century.

Another aspect of the event was the arrival in Athens of more than 460,000 commitment to abstinence cards from youth in more than 20 countries, including 200,000-plus from South Africa. Several thousand more pledges were made but the cards were unable to arrive in Athens prior to the event. True Love Waits team members were informed of the additional cards through e-mail.

“I believe the diversity of countries from where we’ve received either cards or word of commitments made shows the global scope of True Love Waits,” said Hester, director of student ministry at LifeWay. “It has had a positive impact in cultures around the world and it is simple to understand why. True Love Waits is based on God’s biblical design for human sexuality. He intended for sex to be between a man and a woman and within the boundaries of marriage. That is the message we unapologetically proclaim here in Athens.”

The reason for having the event in Athens during the Olympics is both to celebrate the past 10 years and the more than 3 million American youth alone who have made an abstinence pledge through True Love Waits and to raise awareness for a biblical approach to abstinence. True Love Waits began in 1993 in response to requests from teenagers and their parents for some way to express their beliefs that people should remain sexually abstinent until marriage.

“You stand before a holy God today and you have to make a decision,” Ross challenged the audience. “Do you love God to the point where you are willing to set yourself apart from what the world is doing so that you can be a holy vessel through which He can work?”

Ross’ message was similar to the challenge issued by Lewis, who called the youth to “set yourself apart in your group by being a leader and not giving in to what others are doing.”

Hester said the international setting was an appropriate place to celebrate the success of True Love Waits because of how the ministry has spread globally. It was introduced into Uganda 10 years ago and is credited by Ugandan First Lady Janet Musevani as the sole reason for a dramatic decrease in the number of newly diagnosed cases of AIDS in that nation. The majority of True Love Waits’ global expansion has come in the past four years, having taken root in more than 85 countries. More than 100 organizations — secular and religious — have adopted True Love Waits to promote sexual abstinence.

Teenagers who pledge to remain sexually abstinent until marriage are 34 percent less likely to have sex than those who do not take virginity vows, according to a study published in 2001 by the American Journal of Sociology. The pledge works, the study suggested, because it creates an “identity movement” or “moral community” that provides peer support for teens.

It is an environment that Ross is hoping will take root in countries like Greece where abortion has become a key form of birth control and the average girl may have multiple abortions before she reaches age 25. Sixty-seven percent of sexually experienced teens in the United States say they wish they had waited longer before having sexual intercourse, according to a survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Ross believes a similar survey done in countries like Greece would reveal similar results.

“Sexual activity outside of marriage leads to all types of tragic consequences,” Ross said. “You can see the escalation around the world in sexually transmitted diseases and the AIDS crisis spiraling out of control. The very sad thing is that it is all very much avoidable if young people heed God’s biblical precepts. My prayer is that countries like Greece will be transformed because Christian young people make a moral stand and influence their peers not just for sexual purity but lead them to a personal relationship with Christ. The two are very much related.”

Additional information and photos regarding True Love Waits and the Athens 2004 event can be found at www.lifeway.com/news.