Purity Balls

When a friend of mine e-mailed me a link to an article in Marie Claire about “Purity Balls,” I was a little nervous about clicking on it. Purity Balls? Sounds kind of weird to say the least.

What I found was not so much weird as thought-provoking. The article is a case study of one family who belongs to the growing movement of Christian “courtship.” The movement has its roots in Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye approach to relationships, and it places a strong emphasis on the father’s oversight of his single daughter. The term “purity balls” refers to a “Father Daughter Purity Ball” which fathers attend with their teenage daughters. It is a formal affair with dinner and dancing, during which the fathers sign a pledge promising to guard their daughter’s purity until she is married. This event has taken place in 48 different states.

The article itself focused on one family, the parents of whom also happened to be the founders of the Father Daughter Purity Ball. In this particular family, the father helped to arrange his daughter’s marriage and after a short courtship they were wed. Until that day, there was zero physical intimacy. Not even hand holding.

Although the author of the article was somewhat sympathetic to the cause, there was a predictable breakdown in communication due to their conflicting worldviews, further exacerbated by Christian lingo such as the father’s commitment to be the “high priest of the home.” But articles likes this are certainly thought-provoking, and after thinking on it and talking to my husband about it, there are a number of great strengths about this model of courtship, yet I have some reservations as well. I’ll start with the positive:

1. Strengths:

It is a helpful means for guarding your dating relationship in a way that is above reproach.
Anyone who has ever dated knows that it is hard to keep your head on straight when your hormones are raging. While many Christians have all the best intentions in the world and create lots of different boundaries to hold themselves accountable, it’s just plain difficult to live up to them. And contrary to the author of the article, I am NOT thankful for all the mistakes I made in the past. We live in a culture that lives by the mantra of “no regrets,” which is the height of selfishness. When you screw up and hurt others, you should regret it. I regret hurting others, and I regret the hurt that my past relationships have inflicted on my now husband. In many ways I am the woman that I am today because of my mistakes, but that is a testimony to God’s redemptive grace, not the rightness of those decisions.

So in some ways, I wish I had worked harder to wait. I affirm that desire in other women. And this particular approach to courtship is an aggressive method of achieving that end. While a father cannot/should not force his adult daughter to abide by this set-up, if it is her desire to draw on the resource of her father as a form of accountability, then I support that.

It encourages tremendous intimacy within the family.
This approach to courtship puts an enormous burden of responsibility on the father. If he is going to help his daughter find a mate, then he better know her, and well. He better understand her personality, her strengths and weaknesses, and the deep desires of her heart. If he doesn’t, then he risks guiding her in a dangerous direction, but if he takes this role seriously he will invest a great deal of time into knowing his daughter. He will also have a great foundation on which to build a relationship with his son-in-law. The family could potentially be strengthened and unified by this practice.

2. Preliminary Concerns

It is not universally applicable.
This practice, though helpful for some families, is not generalizable. If a woman’s father is not a Christian, then it breaks down. If the woman lives far away from her father, then it breaks down. Although there was nothing in the article to suggest that this family believed ALL Christians should approach dating this way, I felt that this point still needed to be said. We must be careful about generalizing specific family practices as God-ordained practices for all.

It can be misleading.
One of my favorite books on abstinence is called “Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity” by Lauren Winner. In it, she warns Christians about telling lies about sex. For instance, it is a lie that sex outside marriage is not enjoyable, or that sex before marriage will ruin your sex life in marriage. Yet these are the kinds of arguments you hear Christians making. The subject of the article ran into this exact problem when she shared that her sex life was so “amazing” because she waited until marriage, and that she didn’t have to worry about her husband straying since he’d never been with anyone else. The author was clearly offended by these comments, given that she herself is married and professes to enjoy a healthy, full marriage defined by trust.

Abstinence is not about a cost-benefit analysis in which we decided to abstain simply because, in the end, we’ll have better sex lives. While adherence to God’s Word will always yields fruit in our lives, we are not earning a better sex life by waiting, nor are we guaranteed a marriage free of struggle. The MAIN reason for abstinence is that God cares about what we do with our bodies and He created them to be locations of worship and honor. Rebellion in this one area is symptomatic of a much deeper heart issue with God. So rather than try to out-do non-Christians with your sex-life, remember that the terms of your behavior are not set by the world’s standard’s of goodness, but by God’s.

There is a lack of emphasis on the role of the mother, as well as the purity of the son.
The article in Marie Claire was about a very particular vein of the courtship movement, which may be the reason that no mention was made of the mother role, or of a father’s obligation to his sons. But again I have to add that a woman’s mother should also be equally invested in her life, and it would be a bit strange to leave this oh-so personal realm to the dads. It would be equally strange to put all the emphasis on a daughter’s purity until marriage, while totally overlooking the son’s. God cares about men just as much as He does women, and their bodies are just as precious. As much as we fight for the purity of women, we must fight just as hard for men.

Well those are my thoughts. Let me know if you have any of your own–this is certainly a very interesting topic!