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Don't Teach Teens "Safe Sin"

A commentary by Larry Walker
United Church of God pastor, Bend, Oregon

What would you think if I told you about a federal program to give instruction on how to rob a bank without getting injured or caught? Or if apprehended, how to avoid being imprisoned for the crime?

"You can't be serious!" would likely be your reply. Surely, no responsible person would advocate teaching others how to commit a crime in a way to avoid being caught or paying the penalty.

But I am serious. When our legal system operates correctly, there is always a penalty for breaking the law. Robbers are caught and they go to jail. The robber's family also suffers. The solution is to strongly advise against all theft—not simply selecting "safer" targets or procedures where the likelihood of getting caught is lower. Perhaps by now you are on to my ploy. Yes, I am still serious. Not about bank robbing in this case, but about teaching so-called "safe sex" to teens and unmarried adults.

Most would readily acknowledge that crime must be punished, even though it results in suffering and deprivation for the criminal and his family. Premarital or extramarital sex may not be classified as criminal behavior. However, the Bible clearly labels both as sin. Just as our local, state and national laws spell out penalties for crime, the Bible contains penalties for sin. Those penalties often involve other family members, even unborn children (Deuteronomy 28:15-18).

There is widespread debate in sex education between advocates of abstinence-based curricula and supporters of programs emphasizing "safe sex," including practical instruction on condom use. The crux of the argument involves whether to offer information on relatively safe alternatives for teens who choose to be sexually active. Shouldn't we protect our young people from disease and unwanted pregnancy?

The problem here is where do we draw the line? How is this any different than protecting bank robbers? From a biblical perspective, the concept of "safe sex" for unmarried partners promotes the mistaken idea that there is such a thing as "safe sin." But God's plan promises blessings for obedience and penalties for breaking His laws. There are no safe alternatives to obedience.

When one breaks God's laws, penalties are automatic. Young people who engage in premarital sex may manage to avoid sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy, but they still lose—they lose their innocence and virginity and the purity that God intended for couples to bring into the marriage relationship. Misusing what God intended to bind a husband and wife together can adversely affect future relationships.

As the term implies, in most cases teens who become sexually active will engage in sexual activity on a regular basis, thus increasing the risk of disease or pregnancy. In either case the consequences will be difficult and painful—emotionally as well as physically.

Consider the wisdom of the adage, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." The Bible teaches that fear of consequences can be a strong deterrent against wrongdoing, whereas removal of timely punishment generally only promotes further evil (Ecclesiastes 8:11 ). Offering allegedly "safer" alternatives can actually increase the very problems that one is seeking to prevent, and "strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns back from his wickedness" ( Jeremiah 23:14 ).

The policy of the local school district where I live, typical of most school districts, sends a distinctly ambiguous moral message.

On the one hand, the policy is to "Promote abstinence for school age youth and mutually monogamous relationships with an uninfected partner for adults as the safest and most responsible sexual behavior." But it adds: "However, abstinence shall not be taught to the exclusion of other material instruction on contraceptive and disease reduction measures. Human sexuality education courses shall acknowledge the value of abstinence while not devaluing or ignoring those young people who have had or are having sexual intercourse."

Teachers have to walk a tight line to avoid the paranoia over separation of church and state. So sexual education in schools is limited to health issues and communication skills, while only recommending that students formulate their own values and make their own decisions. The headlines about rising rates of sexually transmitted infections tell us what decisions they're making.

With schools abandoning or forbidden to discuss the moral dimension of sexual activity, the burden falls on the shoulders of parents and pastors to instill a sound spiritual foundation of biblically based morals and values in the minds and hearts of our young people.

Will you assume that responsibility, or let peers and schools educate your children about sex? If you abdicate, rest assured they'll get a good education in "safe sin."


©2002 United Church of God, an International Association
Used with permission.

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