purity balls, Christian princess syndrome, and “mom” haircuts: evangelicalism’s mixed messages for women

 

 

 

We woke up one day last week to the first snowfall of the season, gentle white flakes touching down, slowly covering the muddy front lawn. It continued all day, the wind picking up, forming small drifts here and there.  I was happy for the snow as it made it a little more bearable to take down my Christmas tree and tuck away the family traditions along with it for another year.

White and pristine was my world, reminding me of the Lord’s promise that He will make our scarlet sins as white as snow. He is the great Purifier, the Cleanser of my Soul.  Such a comfort that is to me!

I have been thinking so much about the concept of purity in the past couple weeks, first as I have enjoyed the sweet innocence of a house full of little ones. They look at everything in wonder, their bright little eyes reflect their own worlds, yet untouched by those things that threaten to darken all of us. How do we protect our precious girls from those things? How do we protect our dear boys, our sons and grandsons? But more accurately, how do each of us, men, women, boys and girls, keep our hearts and minds pure in a world that ignores and even devalues the concept of purity? And how do we do this when modern evangelicalism tells us that it has to do primarily with sexuality and then spends so much time talking about it?

Recently reading excerpts from Mark Driscoll’s latest book along with seeing some of his teaching videos has left me feeling the need to retreat into a safe place and take a bubble bath for my very soul. I keep asking myself what has become of the evangelical church when it welcomes one man’s graphic sexual fantasies as “marriage counseling.” Or, what is wrong with the body of Christ when pastor and author Ed Young spends a weekend in bed with his wife on the roof of his church to promote sex? Apparently I am not alone as even Wade Burleson has weighed in on this one.  Purity, it seems, is a relative term and doesn’t apply to all people all the time.

But it isn’t only Pastor Young’s actions or Driscoll’s explicit language that bothers me about the latest public discussions about moral purity, Christians, and sexuality.  What really alarms me is that in so many places there are mixed messages about what purity actually is along with a double standard for purity that says it is somehow more important for girls to be pure than it is for boys. Oh, there is a hat tip to the rest of us, but most of the programs and so-called “ministries” seem to target young women and I am wondering why. And often it is measured by arbitrary ideals rather than the Lord’s standards.  Why, for example, is a woman’s outward appearance so central to the discussion?

After spending some time reading some of the current evangelical thought on women and purity, here are some of the messages I think are being sent and the links for you to read yourself. As always, I look forward to your thoughts.

 

Being a truly morally pure wife and mom probably isn’t sexy.

 

Back when Ted Haggard’s homosexual affairs became public, Driscoll suggested that this could be a temptation for other pastors since their wives often tend to let themselves go. He went on to share that he had had to straighten his own wife out on her wardrobe, ultimately telling her to stop “dressing like a mom.”  In his latest publication he goes on to share this story: ”My  pregnant wife came home from a hair appointment with her previously long hair that I loved chopped off and replaced with a short, mommish haircut. She asked what I thought. She could tell by the look on my face.  She had put a mom’s need for convenience before being a wife. She wept.”  Add this agenda to his assertion that young men who grow up in our “porn culture” have certain expectations regarding sexual practices, mix in a hearty dose of unbiblical gender roles, and one can only imagine the trips being placed on wives.

I’m sorry, but not only does Driscoll wear his own hair exactly like all my babies wore theirs, curled on top, but this is some of the most big baby behavior I have ever seen in a man. I am so sad that a “young, restless, and reformed” body of young men look to this man as a role model. And what message is this giving to young women? That looking “like a mom,” whatever that means, isn’t appealing to husbands? That women sin if they have their own preferences of style and taste? That the world is right and sex is only for young and attractive women, as defined by our post-Christian culture? Where is the sense of purity in this?

Compare this to the young husband and father I know who came through a particularly difficult time of labor and childbirth with his wife only to exclaim that he had never seen a more beautiful and lovely woman than his wife at that moment! That is the message those desiring to promote sexual purity need to be handing out!

 

A morally pure young woman must see herself as a princess who is outwardly beautiful and vulnerable.

 

A few years ago during one of my mom’s retreats, I had the women each decorate and wear crowns, not because I wanted them to envision themselves as some sort of helpless princess in need of rescue or a queen-of-everything mom who runs the show at home.  Rather, I hoped to convey that day, especially through our Bible study in 1 Peter, that we, as women, are part of a royal priesthood, women who have been given a calling of our own from the Lord, women who have been “ordained” before the foundations of the world to bring Him glory.

In contrast to this, many young Christian women are encouraged to see themselves as princesses, emphasizing outward beauty, passivity, and the need to always be under a man’s protection.  Of course, women ARE children of their heavenly father who is the King of Kings, but nowhere does Scripture admonish us to be princesses.  In fact, all believers are called to grow up in the fullness of our salvation, (1 Peter 2:2) becoming mature Christians.

I so appreciated reading author Laura Robinson’s thoughts on this subject and believe she has summed it up so well after being exposed to John and Stasi Eldridge’s nonsense:  “I am not a princess….It’s not bad news. It’s great news, actually. God has called me, has called all of us, not to a life of childlike sentimentality but to concrete hope and service in Him through discipleship.”

Doesn’t this make you think of Amy Carmichael and Gladys Alward? These women are among the greatest examples of godly womanhood in modern church history and yet they saw themselves as part of a royal priesthood, as the Lord’s servants who thought not of themselves but of others, to the glory of His Heavenly Kingdom. They enjoyed purity because their lives were focused on Jesus and others rather than themselves.

 

Moral purity is all about a young, single girl’s virginity and its oversight by her father.

 

A couple weeks ago I watched a documentary on Randy Wilson’s purity balls, which also was recently featured on a major television news program. Purity balls are a black tie dinner and dance for fathers and daughters to attend together where the emphasis is on exacting a commitment from daughters to their fathers that they will remain virgins until marriage. Also central to Wilson’s ministry is a father’s committing to protecting a daughter’s virginity and signing a pledge to become a “High Priest” of the home, both of these principles being played out in a variety of troubling ways. One young woman summed up the idolatry in her experience by saying “I realized what a privilege it was to be able to spend a night with my dad as he imparted glory and purity into my life.”

 

Wilson’s wife, Lisa, says that they wanted to create an event with “elegance, romance and extravagance, all the things girls find attractive” in a way that would “touch the intrinsic soul of a daughter” and leave her saying “I am beautiful and worthy of being pursued.”  This is to be stressed and enforced by the father and a girl is to learn that her sexuality never belongs to her but rather first to a father and then to a husband.  Organizers of this even state that “such an impregnable wall of fathers is what is necessary to see a movement grow that changes the course of our nation’s s history.” Note to self: more dominion theology rhetoric. It is the Gospel of grace alone that changes peoples’ hearts and lives.

 

I have known really lovely and intelligent girls who have participated in purity ball ministries but I’m certain it wasn’t at all like the stunning display shown here.  (Be sure to watch all 4 episodes for the whole message, otherwise you will miss many of the more dangerous nuances.)

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Even more interesting than this piece was a master’s thesis on the purity movement by Holly Adams Phillips entitled To Cover Our Daughters: A Modern Chastity Ritual in Evangelical America. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of her conclusions, I found some of the research she did into the ramifications of these teachings to be fascinating. Her insights into child development and autonomy, for example, I believe, are worthy of consideration. She also demonstrates how some of the very means of protecting young women are, in fact, making them more vulnerable.

Phillips concludes by saying “The Purity Ball’s overt agenda, purity, is supposed to be addressing, according to the fathers, the increased sexualization of America’s daughters in a way that defies popular culture.  However, are not the labels of virgin or pure just as much sexual labels as “slut or whore.”  I would like to argue that the characterizations of a young girl’s status as sexually active or not are in both cases is sexualization of a girl.”  Indeed, Stacy McDonald chose Raising Maidens of Virtue as her book title because it sounded more appropriate than labeling daughters “young virgins,”yet is still conveys the same emphasis, that of a daughter’s value being entwined with her sexuality.

I believe this is truly at the core of the current discussion on sexuality in evangelicalism: in seeking to promote sexual purity, whether through endless discussions of modesty in dress or in defining their roles ad nauseum, women and girls are, in fact, sexualized and, in the process, demeaned. Under the guise of “purity” the messages are mixed and confusing.

In reality, true moral purity comes from a life focused on Jesus Christ and serving others. Why don’t we hear this? Probably because it isn’t sexy enough.


“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
~ Galatians 5:13-23

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Comments

  1. Grace says

    Interesting that those associated with CBE and CBMW are adamantly against John Elredge’s books. I don’t think he emphasizes outward beauty over inner beauty. He has a very different take on masculinity and femininity than Mark Driscoll, so I’m very surprised to see him lumped in with Driscoll here.
    Elredges encourages people to let God define them, not their peers. Whereas Driscoll encourages fights even among school-age kids to find out who is the ‘man’.
    The differences between the genders is all the more reason for women to be be involved in ministry, according to Eldredge. Together, men and women make up the complete image of God.
    Others that speak along these lines are Danny and Sheri Silk, pastors from Bethel Church.

  2. says

    The weight these young girls are forced to carry bugs me. I’m so sick of being told that boys/men are visual and it’s “not their fault” so us gals need to step up to the plate and do the job for them by dressing modest and pure.

    Yes, we want modesty in our house. Yes, we want purity in our girls AND boys. But I refuse to make my daughters accountable for every man on the planet they come in contact with.

    Driscoll – wow. What a lot to say here. I’ve NEVER been a fan. Really. Never. I bought the Real Marriage book on kindle to see what the ‘hub bub” was about in all my circles. Truthfully, 99% of the book is fine by me. His comment about her mom-ish haircut made me think the same thing about it as you – HOW CHILDISH. But honestly, I think more of the real controversy about this book is the fact it deals with some very culturally specific things married couples CAN do in the bedroom. Mark Driscolls “I see things” creeps me out. I will never be a fan, but in all honesty the book bothers me WAY LESS than these purity balls, patrio-centric virginity holding daddies, and other things in the church of today.

  3. says

    In this movement it seems women are God given mistresses who must be/say/dress/do as husband “commands.” Children are there to prove manhood and to occupy the wife when the husband doesn’t need her in his bed. It’s really pretty sick.

    As a parent of 16 and 17 year olds I’m not sure anymore which is worse–Christian “purity-kiss-dating-goodbye” nonsense or secular sex-sex-sex nonsense. On the whole I think, as awful as it can be, public school is healthier in adolescence than a Patriarchal home. At least at school they can admit they have feelings (good or bad) can see that boys/girls have opinions, dreams and desires other than the so-called Biblically mandated ones of home Grand Pubah and bread winnner and sex supplier, baby birther and house slave.

    All of this makes me so mad. I’m a Christian and I want my kids to stay Christians as they grow up and leave home, but I’m not holding my breath with wackadoodle teachings like this out there. A girl keeps her virginity for her future HUSBAND–not her father! She dates guys she wants to maybe marry–not her FATHER. Daddy should take Mommy on a date not his hot teenage daughter. And having little children sign a purity pledge?? That’s just wrong.

    We have the book “The Princess and the Kiss” and did the study,albeit not in a group since as a single Mom I doubt I could have found one. The message my daughter got was “it’s best to wait” and nothing more. Why do they write so much other garbage into the whole idea of waiting till marriage???

  4. says

    Karen- so much good stuff in this post. Thank you as always. It’s been a rough day and at present I’m doing a little self-care (a bubble bath for my soul, as you put it) sitting in a Starbucks watching this ridiculous documentary you drew attention to. There is so much that could be said about it and it’s readily apparent to most—I HOPE—how misguided and wrong it is. However, the one thing that was said that always manages to work up my righteous anger was the part at the end of the first section about not giving away “pieces of your heart.”

    This is absurd. In the first place, it is not as if one’s heart is divided up into 10 or 25 or 50 pieces that we can choose to give away to whomever we wish, and when they’re gone they’re gone, and we’ll just be left to waste away in misery the rest of our lives because we have no heart pieces left to give to someone. In the second place, love does not shrink our ability to love; in other words, it does not detract from itself. It does just the opposite—it feeds itself! Love is self-propogating and grows exponentially: the more we love, the more we have the ability to love. I maintain this even when it ends badly, when it doesn’t work out, when it’s over and you’re alone again. This is of course not to advocate careless, recreational, promiscuous dating, or to say that it’s not necessary to use wisdom and discernment. It is just to say that love, if it is really love, only makes the lover more able to love, and not less.

    I feel like the advocates of that whole movement are trying to come up with some sort of “pain insurance” for their children, as if pain is a sure sign that you have sinned and displeased God (sounds familiar, kind of like Job’s friends, huh?). One of my bible college professors says that when students come into his office worried about big decisions they have to make, where to go to school next, which person to marry, and they say they don’t want to make the wrong decision because then they will be in pain, he always tells them, “You’re gonna be in pain! Go!” I think that would be a good lesson for these people to learn.

    Lastly, thanks for the article from CBE. I’d read it before and loved it, and I loved it just as much this time around. I think every girl should read that article and really take it to heart.

    Emily

  5. says

    “in seeking to promote sexual purity, whether through endless discussions of modesty in dress or in defining their roles ad nauseum, women and girls are, in fact, sexualized and, in the processed demeaned.” You hit the nail on the head with this. Thank you for writing about this topic! I will have to check out all your links.

    I had never heard about the “mom haircut” incident. What a way to treat his pregnant wife!! Now wonder the poor thing cried! What happened to unselfishly loving your wife and giving yourself up for her??

    The idea of making kids sign things rubs me the wrong way. My husband went through Passport to Purity with our son recently and it seemed like a balanced, reasonable look at the issue of purity but even with this you’re supposed to have the child sign a contract. We skipped that part :-)

    And the whole thing of telling them they should wait until marriage to kiss is no different than the Pharisees and their additions to the Law–extra rules intended to help keep one from committing the actual sin. It all has an appearance of wisdom, but is of no value against the flesh. Jesus Christ, our sympathetic High Priest, is the only One who can keep us from sin. “No kissing” rules are not necessary or even helpful in maintaining sexual purity. Yes, we’ll encourage our children to commit this area of their lives to Christ just like every other area, but we will also be honest with them: waiting until your wedding day to kiss will not earn you any rewards in heaven nor will it guarantee you a happy marriage.

    Probably because all we hear from the world around us is SEX this and SEX that, some Christians feel they have to talk about it just as loudly and frequently in order to have an impact–they believe we must raise our standards of purity even higher as the world’s standards of purity drop even lower. But you’re right, either way keeps us hyper-focused on sex and we, women especially, end up basing our value and worth on our sexuality instead of on Christ.

  6. says

    Great post, Karen.

    Of the many things that bothered me in that video, nothing bothered me like the children CRAWLING UP to their “High Priest” to receive a blessing. Crawling. Even the older ones. David saw that and nearly croaked.

  7. Red says

    Thank you. Thank you so much.

    This is true. I have long noticed that women’s value is determined by their sexual status, and this happens inside the church almost as much as outside. It makes me ill. Someone pointed out that in Mark Driscoll’s new book, he says that he wouldn’t have married Grace if he had known about her sexual sin when they were first dating. It’s left ambiguous whether he means “because she cheated on me” or “because someone else had gotten my goods.” Either way, I find it pretty strange, considering that BOTH of them had been sexually active at the point that her sexual sin occurred.

    And all the poppycock about women being 100% responsible for whether men lust? Please! If men are supposed to be the leaders, according to some of these preachers, then why do they need the women to step up and do the work for them? Hmm?

    My parents raised me to wait for marriage, and they didn’t need purity balls or creepy dates with dad to accomplish that. Dad was my dad, my boyfriends were my boyfriends, and my sexuality was an issue of God’s plan, NOT an issue of my worth as a person. I turned out fine.

  8. Melinda says

    Wow. Such an important discussion. Thank you for this post, and for shining a spotlight on the subtle lies that have infected this movement. I have to take issue, though, with the answer you gave to your concluding question. “In reality, true moral purity comes from a life focused on Jesus Christ and serving others. Why don’t we hear this?” Your answer was that it probably isn’t sexy enough. I disagree. Instead, I think the reason we don’t hear more of this is because the evangelical church as a whole is ignorant of the truth. It has forgotten that Christianity is about sold-out service to Christ motivated by overwhelming love for Him that comes from the understanding of our total depravity and hopelessness without him. It has forgotten that purity is determined by the motives of the heart. It has forgotten that a girl can be sexually pure and her heart very far from Christ. It is not about externals, but internals. The church today is all about behavior modification. Obedience in our own strength. Being good because the law demands it and it will benefit us in the long run, not because Jesus has CHANGED us from the inside out and we are compelled to live for Him because anything else is abhorrent. Purity comes not from outward adherence to biblical mandates only, but from a heart head over heels in love with Christ. What becomes of the little girls who are set up to believe Prince Charming will come who have been called instead to a life of singleness serving the Lord on the mission field? If they’ve been taught to save themselves for the love of a man like Daddy, they will have a very hard time seeing their real True Love when he calls them to something else entorely. What becomes of the little girls who are groomed toward total dependence on a doting, protective father who marry a good man that loves them but doesn’t cherish them and put them on a pedestal in the way they expect? Won’t they always mentally compare him to daddy and find him wanting? How will they know to serve and sacrifice for their husbands if they have been raised to believe they are princesses to be romanced? There are good things to this movement, but it is full of dangers if the focus is placed on the wrong things.

  9. Chris says

    Wow. I didn’t even know this stuff was out there. It makes me a little sick to my stomach.
    As a Mom of young girls and a boy, I am curious about why the emphasis on the virginity of girls. I am more concerned about how to teach my son to be pure. I am currently at a loss as to how I am going to help him, especially with pornography so readily available.

    I also thank God for a loving husband who takes his command, “Husbands, love your wives” seriously with no blame-shifting. Perhaps his example is the key for my son!

  10. Vrob125 says

    I have never liked these purity balls–and I could never put my finger on why. We have three daughters who are now grown. And we are Christian.
    However, our emphasis for our daughters was not necessarily that they be super pure – at least, not any more than their two brothers. Our goal was that they use common sense and good judgment in making decisions about WHO they picked to be with in their lives. We wanted them to develop discernment and confidence. I don’t think that “Princessness” does that (is that a word)? A princess is helpless, even hopeless. She doesn’t need to think, make decisions, or have focus because she’s mindlessly waiting for her prince to come–thereby making her ill suited to even determine what good decisions are. What a waste.

  11. says

    Good morning,

    I appreciated your discussion on purity – in fact, I just had a book launch through Zondervan on the topic (Pure Love, Pure Life, Exploring God’s Heart on Purity). My focus was exactly what you stated in the final line – that purity comes as a result of a life focused on Jesus Christ. My own journey was pretty messy… when purity was a rule of “just say no,” I quickly broke it. But when it became about saying yes – yes to my God and his incredible love, yes to his purposes, yes to real relationship, yes to serving others – everything changed. That’s the central focus of the book, along with helping young women live it out – including practical ways to pour out to others.

    I have to confess though, I don’t mind purity balls. Oh, I might not agree with every nuance, but I think most dads who bring their girls to an event like that are just trying to do the right thing. I don’t think most of them hold to the extremes that you were addressing, they just want to help their daughters to know their value and live that out.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts! I enjoyed them!

    Warmly,

    Elsa Kok Colopy

  12. says

    As I was reading this I couldn’t help thinking, “You go, girl!”

    “In reality, true moral purity comes from a life focused on Jesus Christ and serving others. Why don’t we hear this? Probably because it isn’t sexy enough.”

    And probably because those preaching a moralistic message don’t see Jesus Christ as being enough. It’s Jesus Christ and serving others while you make sure you don’t tempt anyone.

    I think there is real perversion at the root of all this purity facade. Certainly many men go along with it out of moralistic zeal to do things the “right way.” But in my opinion a real cause for the fear that’s behind such over protection is the lack of self control that these men have over their own “fleshly desires.” The lack of trust in their daughters to make their own decisions – to make mistakes – to be themselves – to have a regular, normal, plain, old healthy relationship with their daughters is perverse in and of itself. This legalism is covering for lack of authenticity in other areas, without a doubt.

  13. says

    Hi Karen, there is so much good stuff in your blog, I really don’t know where to start, but I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your post. As a young Christian woman, I’ve struggled with a lot of unhelpful messages from the Church about what it means to be pure and recently started a blog on body theology as part of my exploration of what healthy sexuality looks like. I think a big reason evangelical Christians are so focused on sexuality right now is that we are uncomfortable with our bodies. We receive so many messages about who we are that we’ve lost the central message of our identity in Christ, a Christ who “took on flesh and dwelt among us.” Hence the hypersexualization of girls and the false message that a woman’s value is related to her virginity that you mentioned. I wrote about identity this week on my blog. I’d love for you to stop by and share your thoughts if you’re interested. http://bodythelogyblog.wordpress.com.

  14. says

    I was thinking today about another thingI have seen that really gives a mixed message to women/girls in the church. How often I have witnessed Queen Esther pageants and heard pastors wax eloquent about her physical beauty while downplaying her behavior or putting a spin on it that belittles her bravery and initiative and leadership.

  15. says

    Sallie, that scene where the children are all crawling toward and bowing down toward the father are outrageous! I cannot imagine my husband doing such a thing and on camera no less. Symbolism over substance.

  16. says

    I think one of the things that is motivating all the gender role/married sex disucussions is the fear of the homosexual agenda. I think their approach is all wrong and may even backfire in some instances. Young men who grow up thinking manliness means the macho demeanor of the Driscolls out there may be convinced they are really gay because they aren’t interested in being like those men and will be easily lured into experimentation once they are teens. Many men who have come out of the homosexual lifestyle say their first thoughts of being gay came as a result of the weird macho trips that were laid on them growing up.

  17. says

    Emily, it baffles me how quickly people have accepted the concept of “giving your heart away.” It is a sacrosanct mantra in some circles. Frankly, I would be really concerned about the future success of my son’s or daughter’s marriage if they hadn’t fallen deeply in love with the person they were going to marry. There must be sparks, the mystery of “the way of a man with a maid,” (Proverbs 30:19) the “forsaking all others” mentality. My husband often says these patriarchs who demand this must have been real fun when they were looking for a wife and they need, to quote him, “more Motown!”

  18. Emma says

    One objection I have to the concept of this “purity” things is that they often require children to take pledges before they’re even aware of sexuality. I remember happily signing one as a preteen, thinking “Sex is gross and boys are gross and I’m not just going to not have sex until marriage I’ll NEVER have sex ever with anyone!”

    Ten years later… whole different perspective. (Still, my strongest temptation comes not from any specific men, but from time when I don’t have anything else to do and start wondering “What is this sex thing like?”) Asking a child to sign a “sacred pledge” that they can’t really comprehend is kind of sketch IMO.

  19. Susie says

    I have a friend who has adult daughters who are not married and as far as I know, they have not had any meaningful relationships with any men. My friend now laments that she was so protective of them regarding members of the opposite sex when they were growing up. She thinks that may have had the effect of making her daughters afraid of guys…causing them to maybe be somehow stunted in the way they relate to men now. Is this really true in their lives? I have no idea. From my observance they seem like great gals. Very likeable to everybody. But I suppose it could be true. But just to think about it, if a girl is so totally separated from boys in all her growing up years and never given the chance to relate to them as friends or just normal human beings, without Dad (or Mom) orchestrating every move, will she be able to learn to make good decisions and use wise discernment regarding the ways of first, healthy brother/sister in Christ relationships and then, any romantic relationships?

    Just to add, I’m not advocating a Christian teenage girl set her sights on having boyfriend after boyfriend, just ‘because’… or becoming just like ‘one of the guys’ in a small co-ed group of mutual friends. I think there does need to be the distinction of male-ness and female-ness…guys who treat girls with respect by keeping their hands off them, for one thing! And I’m all for bringing back chivalry…guys treating girls (and women of all ages, for that matter, from peers to grandma) special. Not because girls are helpless princesses, but simply because it is a mannerly thing to do! I know plenty of women/younger women who are quite capable individuals in a wide array of life’s skills (do you know how to use jumper cables to start a car? fix a broken toilet? repair a leaky roof? keep a large yard mowed with a push mower? Yes, I bet many of you do! And so do many of my single women and single mom friends!)…and I’d dare say all of them would welcome mannerly treatment by the opposite sex at any time.

    In fact when you think about it this way, it is really a two way street. Boys and young men also need the interaction of girls and young women in their lives, so they also can grow into guys who can relate to a young women in a healthy and respectful and responsible ways.

    I feel like I’m writing rambling random thoughts, here! Perhaps some of this relates to the topic at hand! ha.

    Susie

  20. Susie says

    Emma,

    I so totally agree with you! I was once in an adult S.S. class where the teacher was showing the class the pledge or contract or whatever it was regarding purity that he and his eleven year old daughter had signed. To tell you the truth I just didn’t get it! 11 yrs. old? huh?!

    Also, I once considered purchasing some ‘purity’ material by a well known guru of Christian purity. As I was browsing it one of the first statements that I read was that when she speaks at purity events for girls, she tells them, “I want you to imagine your wedding night.” How that statement is followed up, I don’t remember, but I do know that as I read that, I thought, NO!, why should my 12 yr. old daughter be imagining her wedding night?? Why would this purity guru encourage young girls to take their imaginations to places it need not go?! Apparently I’m in the sorry minority as this purity packet it still widely sold.

    Susie

  21. Laura says

    This is a bit off topic and I have brought it up before, but does anyone have any info on the Civil War Balls that homeschoolers seem so fond of? I just have a gut feeling about these that I have confirmed to a degree by reading background info on some of the groups behind the scenes, but its one of those things that otherwise discerning people seem to think is just good, educational fun.

    I guess the thing is that I think that many who get excited about putting these events on are really into the “Civil War was not about slavery” kind of thing. One site I read on implied that the South was cranky but the North was “terrorist”.

    It is troubling to me that this type of philosophy is making it’s way into the middle of the homeschooling culture, along with the patriarchy and all that bondage. People think I am somehow opposed to dressing up and having fun. Not so! We love fantasy and theater in our family. I guess I feel as though somehow these things invariably glorify and have pity for the South. Am I just showing my “Yankee” roots here? I think not, but I would love some insights. I feel that my future association with “Christian” homeschool groups may depend on what I perceive as an incredible lack of sensitivity about what the Civil War really meant to America.(and let me hasten to add that I am a a fairly libertarian person who generally supports states rights- but not when they take away the basic rights of all Americans…such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.)

  22. says

    Laura, there is absolutely a thread of pro-South loyalism within the patriocentric camps. Most recently I came across this from Josh Duggar:

    http://instagr.am/p/kiue5/

    I also have, in my photo archives, pictures of various patriocentrists sporting Confederate flags or waxing eloquent about how the South was right. One patriocentric daughter is shown presenting a Confederate flag to her betrothed for his birthday; another patriocentric young man, the son of a patriocentric leaders and pastor, talks about his favorite movie being “Birth of a Nation.” More recently, it was confirmed to me by an eye-witness that, in spite of pleadings to admonish racism in his own church, on patriocentric pastor and leader refused to address the sin of racism. Interestingly, these same people are also proponents of these Civil War balls. So, yes, Laura, your fears are not unwarranted. As i have shared before, I have heard racist comments with my own ears and my husband, son, and son-in-law attended a Bible study where a patriocentric church elder praised the KKK.

  23. says

    Emma and Susie, you both spoke to one of the things that has really bothered me, that of encouraging young girls to be thinking about sex and talking about it. This serves as a means of lowering their inhibitions, I believe, which can lead to sexual abuse and incest. There is no reason under the sun that a 4 year old girls should be attending any event with the emphasis on her sexuality. I really hated watching these girls in evening wear and make-up when it wasn’t just at home with little friends playing dress up. Why are Christian parents so interested in robbing their daughters of their girlhood in the same way the world does this? And interestingly, some of these people are the same ones that condemn the purchase of American Girl dolls. Where is the emphasis on serving others, being noble women of character rather than the trivial? It broke my heart to see these young girls spending so many hours of their lives obsessing over their clothing and beauty rather than reading about and emulating great women of faith.

  24. Adam says

    Karen,

    The video you posted has been removed from Youtube. However, I went to Youtube, and did a search for “Purity balls,” and the name you mentioned, and came up with this video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnRIk5bHe58

    What I was was a mixed bag. First of all, the girls looked absolutely beautiful. There is no question that the intent, anyway, of showing a girl that she can dress attractively and still be modest is well accomplished. Also, I think the idea of bringing fathers and daughters together in the battle for a girl’s purity is a helpful idea, as parents are supposed to protect their children.

    Still, there are a couple of things that bother me:

    1. Excessive reliance upon the father for the girl’s purity.

    While the father certainly should be involved in his daughter’s life, and especially in protecting her, the father cannot do everything. Even God said in Isaiah 1 that he raised up sons, but they rebelled against him. There is no greater father than God himself. Yet, his sons still rebelled against his revealed will, even though he taught them as a perfect father. It is an issue of the heart. That leads me to the second concern I would have:

    2. The emphasis on external ritual rather than internal transformation.

    One of the things that deeply concerned me as I was watching this was the external ritual of the whole thing. This finally hit me when they talked about how these girls would go up and place a rose at the foot of this cross symbolizing her virginity. This is not wrong in and of itself, but combine that with the pledges they sign, the modest dress that they wear, and the vow not to kiss until their wedding day, and you almost wonder if it becomes an outward show with no inward substance. While I don’t want to deny that some of the girls there sincerely want to remain pure, all of the focus is upon the external, and no emphasis is given to internal transformation and sanctification. That is, I believe, shown by the fact that, as the documentary above states, eighty percent of the girls who sign these vows will break them. That means that, if you look at every five girls who go up and put a rose under that cross, four of them will break their vow.

    The tragedy is that mere ritual and mere vows will not stop a heart that is in rebellion against God. For that, you need the gospel-not just for right now, but as something to cling to for the rest of life. A heart that has been truly changed will continue to battle sin day after day. It is a battle to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ. If a heart has not been changed to hate sin and love Christ, all the external ritual in the world will not stop a girl from breaking her vows of purity.

    Again, these rituals are not wrong in and of themselves, but the one thing I didn’t find was something Dr. Averbeck always called “spiritual formation.” It is dealing with how we, as Christians, in a community of believers grow in our faith, and become strengthened in our faith. I would think that parents would play a major role in this, but it is conspicuously absent from these purity balls. Furthermore, the Lordship of Christ is a theme that I did not find in this video. Even if we teach our children right, and seek to grow them in the faith, there is still the possibility that they will fall away, because whether or not the persevere depends not upon the parent but upon God himself. We believe in the *preservation* of the saints, namely, that it is *God* who, ultimately, causes the soul to persevere. Hence, parents need to be in prayer for their children as much as anything. I will never forget my grandmother praying for all her children and grandchildren. I really do believe it is part of the reason why I still today desire to follow God and do what is right. What I would have loved to have seen is for these fathers to be down on their knees almost the whole time pleading with God that he would keep their daughter’s heart pure. The ultimate reliance for a daughter’s purity should be on God. We do what we are commanded because God uses means, but we have to ultimately trust in God when it comes to the purity of our children. That can be hard for a parent who loves their children to accept, but, if the parent relies upon himself, it will fail, and fail miserably.

    God Bless,
    Adam

  25. Kelly @ Wisdom Begun says

    I am concerned just as much with the fact that all these serious issues are between the father and daughter, no mother in sight. While I understand the way those who tout the purity balls are thinking, no matter how much I disagree with them, they are actually putting the father and daughter in a rather intimate situation. The daughter is dressing up as an object (modesty, too, can emphasize beauty, rather than character), pledging to her father, and her mother, who should be just as involved is not. I may be misinterpreting all of this because I could not see the video for some reason, but my bottom line is that these men need to go back to being husbands to their wives and not to their daughters.

  26. Deb says

    Spot on, Karen, especially the points on true maturity for the Christian and the inner change and grounding needed in Christ–something that sadly I fear is way overlooked among Christian circles these days. THANK YOU.

  27. Michelle says

    I was reading Dobson’s “Bring Up Girl’s” a few weeks ago and there was an entire chapter on these Purity Balls. I got a red flag/pit in my stomach feeling, and decided to do a little internet reading which brought me back to this blog (which I Iove so much). (by the way, I just realized this afternoon we had the opportunity to comment on here) :)

    Anyway…this whole discussion is so incredibly interesting. To Laura above…we have a patriocentric family in our church who loves re-enacting the civil war and carry confederate flags around with them. My husband asked the 20 year old daughter about hers the first time he saw one and she just about attacked him with how the south was right and he’d better shut his mouth and listen to her (always interesting to me, that the women in these patriocentric families are always the super vocal ones…)

    This also reminded me of my husband’s “youth group” growing up. The gospel was preached secondary to purity. My husband always felt that the goal was to make it out of high school with his virginity intact. If you made it out “pure” than you were saved. That is disturbing enough…but for crying out loud, this whole topic is creepy beyond belief!
    Pledging yourself to your father? These dads are probably for the most part good guys…but, there is an Elsie Dinsmore element to this that makes me think it could tempt these men into having sexual “feelings” for their own flesh & blood.

    You know, there is such an over emphasis on rules and “protection” and control in the homeschooling community. We really need a fresh dose of FAITH. We need to trust the LORD to keep our children. Pray that they’ll enter their marriages with purity…and realize that if they DON’T (like many of us)…that He will use even that to draw them closer to Him and bring them to a place of trust and repentance and to understand the grace & forgiveness that only an incredible Father can give!

  28. Laura says

    Boy, Michelle, you’ve got that right about these Confederate women. I almost got into a shouting match with one at our home school co-op….actually, she was doing the shouting and I was trying to be reasonable. Egads! I didn’t think people really thought this stuff until I heard it myself!

    I am getting very upset about these Civil War Ball things. The otherwise reasonable and fair minded people in our homeschool group JUST DON’T GET IT!! It is not just about history. To some of the people behind the scenes, its a re-enactment of a better, nobler era.

    Wow! You mentioned Elsie Dinsmore! To me, and to my daughters, those are some of the most toxic and downright perverse books out there. They are like prescriptions on how to be a victim. Heaven help us…

    Any background references on the Civil War stuff to use as evidence would be appreciated. Thanks!

  29. Michelle says

    Hi Laura!
    I don’t know a ton about the civil war stuff…only a little from this family from church…and the daughter’s blog.
    It’s just eerie for us, being northerners. They are big Vision Forum folks…so I’m sure some of what is influencing them has to come from that camp.

    Unfortunately, I don’t really feel overly comfortable interacting a ton with the homeschool community. I have my group of mommy friends that homeschool, but I have never been to curriculum fairs or been in a co-op. I don’t interact with much of it in my “real life” —except for in church—where I kind of feel like an outsider. :(

  30. Michelle says

    oh! yes, and the Elsie Dinsmore stuff! We had someone tell us we should give those books to a dying teenage friend of ours. I had never heard of them, but bought one online and decided I’d better read through it first. I was bored out of my mind in the beginning and then was like….wait! what? I read the entire book with a pit in my stomach thinking….who would recommend this to a dying girl to explain the gospel? this book is SICK! I passed it on to my mom without any commentary to get her feed back. She read it and sheepishly got back to me asking why I asked her to read it. I told her I wanted her honest thoughts…and she told me she kept turning pages wondering if the girl would end up being sexually abused by her father and his friends and was creeped out that I asked her to read it, but kept reading because she had told me she would!!!! Weird stuff I tell ya!

  31. says

    My thoughts on Elsie Dinsmore:

    “Finally, I would like to share one more book in today’s trilogy of patriocentric dogma for women. The first introduction little girls often have to patriocentric womanhood is found in a collection of books called the Elsie Dinsmore series, written between 1867 and 1905 by a woman named Martha Finley. Though Findley was raised in the north and lived much of her life in Ohio, scholars categorize the Elsie series as part of the body of literature that promotes the Lost Cause Myth. Wanting future generations to look back on the Civil War and see it as anything but a lost cause, writers during this era glamorized the antebellum age and rewrote history, portraying the war as being fought over states rights rather than slavery. It is important to note that the idea central to maintaining the way of life they loved was a hierarchical system of slavery and patriocentricity and the Lost Cause literature was the key ingredient to reclaiming that social order. Historian Victoria Ott noted that “the promotion of a domestic ideal that touted men as the patriarchal head of the family legitimated the reassertion of the pre-war status quo.” Putting the Dinsmore books into the context of the Lost Cause agenda helps us understand why Elsie is an important figure in modern patriocentric literature.

    Promoted and sold by Vision Forum and recommended on dozens of homeschooling websites, Elsie Dinsmore is certainly the chosen role model for young girls in the patriocentric paradigm. There are 28 volumes of the Elsie Dinsmore books and you can also get Elsie dolls and a complete wardrobe with accessories to accompany her. Elsie is a young girl whose mother has died and who is raised by her black slaves while living on her father’s plantation in the deep south. Though Elsie is touted as the perfect role model for girls to emulate, there are dangerous lessons for girls woven throughout these books and even some that could send many inappropriate messages. Elsie’s father is a mean and unregenerate man and Elsie’s virtue rests in her complete obedience to him, even in one situation where her father is about to beat her with a horse whip for something she did not do. She is the object of affection, even at age 8, for an older man whom she eventually marries. When she marries, she grieves and weeps because she has to leave her father. In fact, the father-daughter relationship is central to the story in each book and the perpetual childlike adult Elsie never appears to become a true grown-up. Detailed descriptions of her sitting on her father’s lap and kissing him long and hard on the lips may not shock some parents but I found it creepy and distasteful.

    Aside from these concerns, the stories are sprinkled throughout with racist thought and hierarchical propaganda which should be reason enough to avoid them. Elsie is the perfect picture of what some men in the 1870’s thought a woman ought to be but to see her as a role model of godly womanhood is a stretch. She acquiesces, she cries, she is physically and spiritually perfect and through that perfection she is able to have significance, including bringing about the salvation of her father. The message is clearly given to little girls that if they are perfect enough, they can be loved and accepted by both God and man. In no way does she represent a real woman addressing the real issues of life. Instead, Elsie is a characateur of the perfect patriocentric woman, a model for wimpy womanhood, in many ways the embodiment of Andelin’s perfect woman and the beginning of such indoctrination at a much younger age. How much better it would be for young girls to be introduced to the biographies of missionaries and to the great women in the Bible.”

    This is from my article on the curriculum used within the patriocentric movement:
    com/2011/07/21/the-sins-of-partiality-and-triviality-and-the-curriculum-that-promotes-them/

  32. Laura says

    Guys, I think that Elsie Dinsmore is a prime example of why the home school community needs to go back and re-read The Emperor Has No Clothes!

    We are like sheep, saturating our minds and our kids minds with this type of stuff, simply on the say-so of various “prominent” homeschool “leaders”. We need to call this type of thing as we see it! Thank you Karen, for doing so!

    Reading these books objectively will reveal: Abused child taking blame for abuse, enabling sociopath father, condoning of slavery and accompanying physical abuse, shame based living…the list goes on and on ad infinitum.

    I, for one, see nothing of Christ in these books. My smart daughters alerted me to the lunacy of all this. I, in a more trusting phase of my life, handed one over to them thinking it would be like Little House on the Prairie. They had the good sense to read it and come back to me with their pointed critique-“This book is HORRIBLE!!” And they were 10 or 12 at the time!

    I agreed !

    Michelle, I know what you are saying with the staying a bit removed from the “Homeschool Community”. We have homeschooled 20 years and I joined a co-op for the first time last year, to take advantage of some classes. It is a diverse and tolerant group, overall, but even so, this is where I have run into this Confederate stuff. I have made some really good friends, though.(I am a “Yankee” as well- perhaps we grew up more insulated from this South Shall Rise Again stuff?) I will say that other than the one family, I believe that no one else there would have a clue that there are those among homeschoolers who are “southern sympathizers”, nor would they want to associate with this element if they were aware of it. My bug is that these things go on and so few of us speak up or notice…

    Thanks for sharing. This site has been such an encouragement to me. Didn’t C.S.Lewis say “We read so that we may know we are not alone”?

  33. Danielle says

    I have never heard of purity balls until now. With the little I now know of them, there are a couple things that disturb me a bit. I don’t see how a girl’s sexuality belonging to her father is a good thing at all. I don’t understand the rationale behind girls who are too young to understand what’s going on taking part in a purity ball, or why it has to be an annual thing. I think that a father has an important role in a daughter’s life, but I do not think a father daughter relationship is (or should be) the most important relationship in a family.
    I don’t know much about Mark Driscoll, but his need for his wife to not look like mom is a little depressing.
    My questions are, how do you feel about a father taking a daughter to dinner (or some father daughter activity) and giving her a purity ring? How about father daughter dates? Also, how would you suggest teaching sexuality and purity to our sons and daughters? Maybe the words virgin and pure are sexual labels, but I’m not sure how they are bad things. Maybe you don’t mean it the way I am reading it, but it would seem that they are important to teach. Not in the complete way as purity balls, but still. Yes, “true moral purity comes from a life focused on Jesus Christ and serving others,” but you have to talk about sex, modesty, and purity sometime. (I have a 5 month old, so it’s still a ways off for me, but hopefully I remember the suggestions I hear) :)

  34. says

    Danielle, I absolutely agree that purity and virginity are important concepts, for men and women! And purity does not end when someone gets married…it is for all of us throughout our lives!!! Let me be clear about that!!! However, within this movement, there is an attitude that defines young women by their sexuality and I contend that that is only a small part of who a woman is. Labeling a daughter (sons are never labeled this way…why not?) is really sad to me. It conveys to young woman that their worth is found in their sexuality and isn’t that exactly what the world tells them?

    I think fathers and daughters ought to have wonderful relationships and have no problem with a dad taking his daughter on outings…we tried to take each of our children alone with each parent over the years, even if it was just running to the store for a gallon of milk! I don’t like the phrase “father-daughter date” and know most young women tell me they want to see their fathers date their moms instead. I agree. Dads set the example for their sons in how to treat a wife and for their daughters in what to expect of a husband by how they treat the mom of the home. Purity rings or trinkets? Highly recommend NOT using them. Most of the research now is showing that signing those pledges,with or without rings, actually means nothing. I once was in a home where the father had had his daughters sign one of those pledges and had it framed and hanging on the dining room wall where he proudly showed it to everyone who visited them. A couple years later it was discovered that he was sexually molesting the younger girls. This is simply an outward act that may or may not mean something. In fact, a girl can be a virgin when she marries but have an unpure heart and mind, even if she has never once watched a romantic movie or read an
    Amish romance! I think our children need to hear us share our own struggles, hear the same from other adults, assure them that their value is on who they are an individuals, encourage them to be pure in heart, soul, mind, and body, and build a solid enough relationship with them that if they fall (or we fall) we will restore one another, by God’s grace. I also agree that the father/daughter relationship is not the primary one…..there is nothing by trouble ahead in a marriage where that is the case!

  35. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    “The weight these young girls are forced to carry bugs me. I’m so sick of being told that boys/men are visual and it’s “not their fault” so us gals need to step up to the plate and do the job for them by dressing modest and pure.”
    — Lindsey

    Isn’t that the exact same logic used in Extreme Islam to justify FGM, the burqa, the locked harem, and honor killings?

  36. says

    Is there something that we (wives, mothers, grandmothers, aunt, etc) can do to help guide our young girls to love themselves, be strong women and remind the men in our lives that their primary roles are, to be a loving and affectionate husband to his wife,to teach his sons how to respect women, and protect his daughter, but not to devote his time solely to his daughter. Also, I’d like to remind moms out there to watch and observe their daughters for signs of sexual abuse, because often times male family members molest right under your nose while wives and mothers say, oh noooooooo, he would never do that. So please be careful leaving your daughter alone with any male. At night, when you are asleep, listen for times when your husband gets up and goes to the restoom, kitchen, or to check on the children. Ask your daughter, niece, grandgirls about how they are feeling, or whether there is anything that makes them sad or uncomfortable. Look at their eyes, body language, and facial expressions, when you talk to them. This happened to my friend.

  37. Tonya Grant says

    My daughter went the Wilson’s purity ball and never signed any pledge. The pledge is signed by the father pledging that HE will strive to keep himself pure. Most purity balls emphasize the daughter but this one (by the Wilsons) is unique in that it is the FATHER who is pledging purity.

  38. SMSinTX says

    Thank you for writing this and for so articulately explaining your position. I was just expressing to a friend my concerns with purity culture and the emphasis on young girls’ sexuality and stumbled upon this post while Googling about the subject. It is so refreshing to see a woman of faith not just holding these views but publicly sharing them. Thank you. Thank you. I couldn’t agree more.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Purity balls, Christian princess syndrome, and “mom” haircuts: evangelicalism’s mi… from thatmom.com (This is really good stuff!  The story about Driscoll’s wife cutting her hair is appalling.  But this is the same man who has publicly said he screens his wife’s email so I shouldn’t be surprised… The video series on the purity balls is also fascinating. I left a comment about the children crawling up to their “High Priest” for a blessing.  Yuck.) […]

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