Daddy Dearest: How Purity Culture Can Turn Fathers into Idols
"Statistics do prove that the strong presence of a loving father in the life of a girl growing up does tend to keep that same girl from becoming sexually active at a younger age," she writes. "But what message does it send to that same girl (to have) Daddy publicly announcing to the world in her presence that he alone controls her sexuality until marriage?"
Maybe "control" isn't a fair word to use in all or even most of these cases. But the abstinence pledges taken at purity balls do set up fathers as the guardians of their daughters' purity. We begin to see a pattern here—a pattern that helps explain why so many people are disturbed by what happens at purity balls. Between the fancy outfits, the dances, and the vows, it almost looks as if the daughter is being encouraged to treat her father like a bridegroom.
But there's an even deeper problem that sometimes gets overlooked: the encouragement of the fathers to be idols in their daughters' lives.
The father's pledge at Generations of Light (a site run by Lisa Wilson, whose husband, Randy, came up with the purity ball concept) refers to the father as "high priest in the home." It places the responsibility for the daughter's actions on her father. The problem with this idea is twofold. First, no one person can take full responsibility for another's behavior, and any attempt to do so does indeed tend to look like an unhealthy level of control. Second, it places someone between God and the young woman in question. She is directly responsible to her father for her sexual behavior, rather than being directly responsible to God. Last time I checked, that was the definition of an idol.
I took a virginity pledge myself as a teenager, but my church asked us to make our pledges directly to God. I believe that was the right way to do it. I love my father dearly, and I do my best to honor him as the Bible commands, but before I'm answerable to him or any other human being, I'm answerable to God.
This approach is in line with Scripture, which tells us that each of us will have to answer for ourselves before God. And it reminds us that only God is worthy of our pledges of full devotion and full obedience. Human beings, even the best human beings, are fallible, and any human we set up in place of God will be sure to let us down. Just ask all the faithful devotees of Bill Gothard and Douglas Phillips, for instance. If we want someone to obey, to worship, to consider a "high priest," we should be looking to the "High Priest . . . in the heavens" (Hebrews 8:1, NKJV).
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