Some love can wait until marriage, teens say

Thursday, February 13, 2003

It starts with a vow and ends with a ring. But the wedding night has to wait.

More than 400 youth signed a pledge Wednesday night at the Freedom Rock youth center in Cape Girardeau to abstain from premarital sex and to lead lives of purity.

The signed cards will be staked in front of the youth center on pickets so that participants can share their promises. Later this month, they will put on rings to further illustrate their commitment.

"It's important for me to do this because it is not only a commitment to myself, but also to my God, my family and to my future husband that I'm going to lead a life of purity," said Amanda Garner, 15, a member of Bethany Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau.

True Love Waits is a national, faith-based program promoting sexual abstinence and encouraging youth to base decisions on a religious framework.

The gathering offered Christian rock music, prayer and praise. It was organized by youth ministers Bryan King of Cape First and Billy Garner of Bethany Baptist, though 15 other church groups participated.

The ring ceremony is planned for Feb. 26. Similar to a wedding, participants will make vows to God, themselves and their families to lead pure lives, King said. The silver rings are inscribed with "True Love Waits" and are worn typically on the bearer's left ring finger. More than 40 youth have already ordered rings, he said.

Bearers are encouraged to wear the ring, and then on their wedding day present it to their new spouses as a gift.

Eighteen-year-old Keith Fischer, who attended Wednesday's event, put on his ring in 1999 and still wears it today.

"Sometimes people ask me when they see the ring if I'm married, but it's not really a big deal to explain it to them," he said. "It's not embarrassing at all to talk about it. In fact, some of them praise you for it."

Pitfalls like teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and problems that can arise from promiscuity are not so much the focus of the abstinence program as bringing youth closer to God, King said.

"It's not really a preventative program so much as it's geared toward a commitment of faith," King said. "This issue has to be the biggest temptation facing kids today."

Fischer is part of the first generation to live with AIDS as a major public health concern. But that isn't why he felt motivated to take the pledge of abstinence.

"When I first started making the pledge, AIDS was not even what I was thinking about," he said. "Now that I'm older, yes those things are concerns, but I'm doing this more out of a commitment to my religious beliefs."

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