Teen Birth Rates Highest in Mississippi Pt. 2By Lawayne Childrey | Published 15 May 2012 04:28pm |
Mississippi is considered to be one of the most religious states in the country, yet it leads the nation in the highest teen pregnancy rates. While the subject of sex may seem too taboo to discuss in most churches one Jackson Church has decided to take the issue head on. In part 2 of our series on teenage pregnancy MPB's Lawayne Childrey reports how young congregants are being educated about the consequences of unprotected sex.
At the Hanging Moss Road Church of Christ members are lifting their voice in song. But when church leaders heard that more babies are born to teen mothers in Mississippi than anywhere else in the country they decided it was time to address what they consider a disconnect in their teachings.
"I never really heard about teen pregnancies in church. I mean it happened, you saw people with children but it wasn't talked about."
20 year old Alexandria Powell was only 18 and in the 11th grade when she became pregnant. That's why she welcomes the conversations about safe sex at her church.
"You need to wrap it up, you need to control yourself, keep your legs closed. Heard all of that after, you know when I'm grown. Most people start having sex in middle school. So I think it's a disconnect between parents not really believing their children could do this and everybody kinda being closed mouthed about it."
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control finds that Mississippi has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation. For every one thousandth Mississippi teen girl 55 will give birth.
Even though Hanging Moss Road Church of Christ embraces teaching teens about the risks associated with unprotected sex, Joyce Smith, a registered nurse and teen counselor says many other religious leaders reject the idea.
"We posted on facebook that we were gonna be having these classes and we got several responses from the community saying great idea. But others said there is no way we could get away with doing this at church. Just tell em not to do it and then if they do they deserve the consequences that come with it."
Between 1991 and 2008 nearly 147 thousand teens gave birth in Mississippi which is considered to be the most religious state in the country. It's a statistic that Smith says makes her even more impassioned to help prevent teen pregnancy.
"You know you got your holy hat on now but what were you doing when you were 16, 17? That's a lot of pressure on these kids. And it's not fair to say to them so if you have sex with someone and it's unprotected and you have a baby that's like a taboo. It's not so much the child shouldn't but the act shouldn't happen. Yes you're gonna tell them not to but always give them the tools so they can make good decisions."
While, Hanging Moss Road Church of Christ is talking about safe sex options for its youth William Perkins an editor with the 600 thousand member Mississippi Baptist Convention says his group will continue the more traditional approach of abstinence.
"We believe there are traditional ways 2000 years old and biblically based ways to live that don't include this promiscuity that we find ourselves snared in now."
Perkins says there are many good abstinence programs available to teens but his organization promotes what's called "True Love Waits." It's where teens make a pledge before God, their parents and their significant other to refrain from sexual relations until they are married.
In the mean time Alexandria Powel who was a teen mother says she is glad that churches are starting to deal with the issue of teen pregnancy.
"I can see how hard it could be for a church to be looked at as somebody telling their children in the church to have birth control cause you're supposed to be telling them don't have sex ever until you get married. And I think I'm proud to be a part of a church that will take that issue on."
There is no concrete answer for why Mississippi leads the nation in the number of teen births. However, many researchers believe it could simply be that religious communities are more successful in discouraging the use of contraception among teenagers than they are in discouraging sexual intercourse. Lawayne Childrey MPB News.
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