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Prom Night

It is springtime, and the school year is coming to a close in the mid-western United States. Small town public schools celebrate an old American tradition called “the prom.” For those of you in other countries, “the prom” is a party held by the local high school for students in their last two years of study. The kids dress up in formal clothing and dance. They dance American-style with close physical contact between partners. There is excitement as boys ask girls to be their “dates” and girls say yes. Of course there is pain as girls sometimes say “no” and boys sometimes don't ask. But all in all, the prom is an exciting evening of romance as kids move closer to adulthood. Many people seem to see it as a rite of passage.

The prom happened on Saturday in my hometown. It must have happened in other hometowns as well, because the photos started showing up on Facebook almost at once. Boys who normally wear jeans and sweatshirts lined up in white shirts and fancy vests. Girls posed in their formal attire, bare skin contrasting with the boy's long sleeves. This was the prom, and that is the way we do things at the prom.

I must admit to feeling a detached sadness as my really attractive young friends rejoiced in their dancing party. To me the prom has always meant something much different than it does to them. I didn't go to the prom. I didn't go in my junior year of high school. I didn't go in my senior year. The Christian schools I attended those years didn't do the prom. I would not have participated if they had. I didn't want to go. I had been taught most dancing was a morally risky activity. People who took the Christian life seriously needed to avoid moral risks. While I had much to learn at that point, I did take the Christian life seriously. The prom seemed an evil thing, and I would have doubted the Christianity of anyone who went.

I've learned much over the years. I view kids who go to the prom with more grace than I did in those days. Still, my deepening understanding has not convinced me that bringing a bunch of unmarried, hormone-saturated teenagers together to cuddle the evening away encourages them to take the Christian life seriously. It is nearly as doubtful if it does much to help them take moral purity seriously.

Many evangelical Christians do send their youth to the traditional spring dance. They send their sons who are turned on by a mere glance of feminine skin to spend the night up close to girls in strapless gowns. They send their daughters to let these young hulks hold them close. They send them out to a party that sometimes ends with unmarried couples spending the whole night together. I'm sorry, but I was a teenager once. I'm still single, and I understand the temptation that comes from the things people do in that kind setting. I retain my celibate track record today not because I was ever strong enough to resist such temptations, but because somebody else knew I wasn't strong enough and preached against dancing. You can call me a legalist if you must, but I wish today's teenagers had the same safety net I did.

Springtime after springtime young people who really would like to know God in His fullness dance their way into spiritual numbness and even failure. Jesus said the person who gives up his life will find it. I don't think He was teaching unnecessary asceticism, but I'm also sure He wasn't teaching unnecessary carnal provocation. The Christian church needs to once again teach its youth to guard their moral purity and to strive for spiritual success. Leading them away from the prom might be a first step.

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