Sex in the City vs. Love in the ‘Hood
The zip code for my church offices in North Minneapolis carries with it a statistic that really shook me up when I first heard it: by percentage, the young people in 55411 lead the nation in teen pregnancy, as well as HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
According to a 1999 Saint Paul Pioneer Press report, it's more likely that an urban teenage girl in my state “will get pregnant than in New York, Mississippi, California, or just about any other state in the U.S.”
Minneapolis North High School had so many teenage mothers when I attended that it opened a school daycare program called M.I.C.E. (Mothers In Continuing Education) so these new moms could continue attending school. Some adults thought this program was a bad idea, because the girls attending school with their babies might tell other girls that having a baby while still in high school wasn't really a big deal. As a junior in high school I dated a girl who had a baby, and at times it felt weird to go out with her as she pushed the stroller and I carried the diaper bag. I wondered if people though it was my baby, and sometimes I wondered if the baby wondered if I was going to be the new daddy. But through the years, dating a girl who might have a baby at home just became part of living in the city. After we broke up, I began dating another girl without a baby, who would eventually become my wife.
Later, I coached basketball for five years at two different high schools in the city, and every year a girl on the team became pregnant. One girl tried to come back to the team after she had the baby. She'd set up her portable crib in the corner of the gym during practice, and getting on the bus for games was always a chore—trying to carry her backpack, her gym bag, the baby, and a stroller. Not surprisingly, she wasn't able to make it through the whole season. Even the girls on my teams who didn't get pregnant weren't ashamed of being sexually active; some would even tell me about it in a casual way as if to say, “What's the big deal, coach? Everybody's doing it, right?”
I'm now raising two urban girls, eight and five, and often I'm nervous about my daughters becoming teenagers. I pray daily that God will help me love them enough so they won't look for love in unhealthy ways as teenagers. While I pray they'll wait until marriage to have sex, I also pray that if they make mistakes, I'll be more loving and forgiving than angry and disappointed.
The urban church must proactively recruit, equip, and empower godly women to come alongside urban girls so these girls see themselves as valuable daughters of God with gifts and talents to change the world. Governmentally funded programs like M.I.C.E. are being cut due to budget deficits and other priorities, and the urban church must stand in the gap and develop a holistic approach to youth ministry that supports urban teenage mothers.
Certainly, the church should encourage young women not to get pregnant in the first place. Certainly, we'd like to see families do a better job lovingly teaching their girls. But the church must also play a crucial role in providing godly women to mentor teenage girls; provide love, forgiveness, and support for girls who make mistakes; and equip families to raise-up godly young women in their homes. The church must advocate for needed programs (such as sports, arts, and leadership courses) provided by urban public schools and community centers; the lack of programs, services, and resources plays a role in urban teen pregnancy as well as in reduced levels of personal responsibility and healthy family systems.
We also need to recruit godly men who know how to respect, love, honor, and share power with women—and who will model this in front of boys. I'm concerned about many of the messages boys are fed about women from men in rap videos, commercials during televised sports, and video games like Grand Theft Auto. We need an army of godly men to counteract the men who are sending degrading images of women to our boys.
But the best gift the urban church can give to urban girls is to share with them what it means to be beloved daughters of God. Much of the sexual activity has to do with a search for love in the 'hood: Who really cares about me? Is there someone who would make love to me? Will anyone out there love me forever? The urban church must become the beloved community for urban young people. This “I must be beautiful to be loved; and I'm not beautiful, so I'm not worthy to be loved” syndrome must be dealt with head-on by the urban church.
True beauty is based on eternal words and promises from an inner Spirit, not on mythical and external standards. When I tuck my daughters into bed at night, I pray over them and then I ask them to repeat this after me: “I'm a queen. I'm beautiful. I'm a champion, and I'm God's daughter.” Now I'm working in God's power to show them what that all means—part of which is them watching me love and honor their mother, so when they grow up they'll expect no less.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.