By Martha Cannizzaro
“Are you ready to scream?” a girl whispers to the boy next to her in the back row. The crowd of bouncy teens has been separated into two “squads” by the youth-group leaders on stage. “I want to hear my side get turnt up!” yells one, and half of the worship hall explodes into a roar.
Church vans from all over Pinellas County have gathered at Suncoast Cathedral for the abstinence-until-marriage “Don’t Hate the Wait” rally, organized by More2Life.
“I just love the program [More2Life]. Wherever they go, I go.” said Tyler Johnston, 14, Dunedin High School. “I like the impact given to teens.”
M2L is a youth development group active in thirty-five public schools in Florida. Over 70,000 students have seen their presentations since the organization was founded in 1998.
Graffiti-decorated props adorned the stage. Expletive-free rap music piped through the speakers. Elementary school kids shot free-throws at two basketball hoops in a far corner, as a couple hundred high-school students swirled around. The buzz of youthful chatter fell as everyone found a seat. No chair was left empty.
Break-dancers from Taking It Back Ministries enthralled the audience. Cautionary tales of promiscuity were kept light-hearted. “Netflix and chillin’ leads to Netflix and children,” was met with shrieks of laughter. The promise of free pizza hung thick in the air as Spencer Te’o, the keynote speaker, strode on stage.
Te’o charmed the Millenials with his self-deprecating humor and playful energy. He teased the crowd for being able to recite Wiz Khalifa lyrics, but not Bible verses. He asked how many in the room believed they were Created, and the response of howls and whoops was thunderous. “If there are some of you out there who don’t believe, hey, I don’t blame you, in our school systems we’re not even allowed to be taught that.” The crux of his argument against pre-marital sex was that it is not “in line with God’s purpose.” He cited Daniel 3:14-29 as evidence, which he referred to as “the most gangster thing ever written in the Bible.” The passage culminates in three men being thrown into a furnace for their refusal to worship a false god, but they are saved at the last moment by divine intervention. The fire grew and consumed the soldiers that attempted the execution. The three men had been saved, Te’o explained, because they were following God’s purpose. His jovial attitude turned solemn as he led the crowd in an impassioned closing prayer. The room vibrated with emotional assents.
The evening was an unfettered success for Jason Dorr, director of More2Life. M2L is the most active group of its kind in Pinellas County, with only a couple of ministries as competition. Dorr says their presentations are “all centered on your choices affect your future.” Their curriculum advocates abstinence until marriage as the only completely effective means of preventing STD’s, AID’s, and unwanted pregnancy.
“We don’t pressure them in any way, but we do let them know that committed relationships are a better situation, especially if they’re going to have children.” said Dorr.
This position towards sexual-education is standard for Florida policies. The Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Grant has financially supported Floridian sexual education since 1996. It requires the curriculum to maintain “abstinence from sex until marriage as the expected standard for all school age children.” More2Life receives funding as a sub-grantee of Title V, through New Life Solutions (formerly Pregnancy Center of Pinellas County). NLS is a self-described “Christ-centered ministry” whose mission is to “save souls, save babies, and reach teens.” Their five locations pose as secular, crisis pregnancy clinics and offer a limited range of services. NLS received $150,000 from Title V in the fiscal year of 2010. They tout M2L as a successful outreach branch on their website and Facebook page.
Congress authorized a study to analyze the effectiveness of Title V in 1997. Impacts of Four Title V Abstinence Education Programs, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research Inc, spanned six years. The results were conclusive: youths who participated in abstinence programs were just as likely to have sex as those who had received a comprehensive course. They were also just as prone to use contraception, but not as knowledgeable about the consequences of STD’s. In light of these findings, two federal grants for comprehensive sexual education have become available since 2009. Florida has refused both of them, despite troubles the state faces.
Data from the Florida Department of Health revealed Miami-Dade and Broward County lead the country in new HIV cases this year. Florida is ranked thirty-third in the nation for teen pregnancy rates (50 being the highest rate). Sixty out of a thousand teenage girls were pregnant in 2010 (The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies). Individual school boards vary in efforts to address these concerns under the requirements of Title V.
Dorr maintains his staff of certified “sexual-risk avoidance” specialists present the best option.
“A lot of times, outside of marriage, sometimes a relationship doesn’t work, and then, you know, it’s a single parent situation… One in four sexually active teens have an STD, so sleepin’ around… you’re at risk of bringing that into future relationships as well.”
While More2Life is required to augment their lessons for public schools to be free from religious doctrine, the argument could be made that the two are inextricable. M2L’s lessons do not condemn sex outside of marriage, but do exaggerate the dangers of STD’s and pregnancy as if they’re almost certain consequences. Their arguments may be antiquated by the standards of teens today: Census data discerned Millenials are holding off from marriage longer than any previous generation.
Religious teens don’t seem to notice a disconnect. K.C. Hettinger, 15, Cavalry Christian High School, explained her commitment to sexual abstinence: “Faith plays a major role… Abiding by the Bible, in the world today, that’s hard to do.”
Header photo from More2Life Facebook page.