Years ago a dear young friend of mine married and at the reception her mother-in-law commented to me how thrilled she was to have learned that her new son's new bride was a virgin.
I remember making a note to myself: Never get or share information about the "history" of my children's' betrothed.
Recently I wrote about "experts" who essentially applauded even very young girls "dressing provocatively, dancing seductively and posting salacious photos on social networking (Web) sites" because, in doing so, the girls were showing their "confidence." I commented that these folks were more than a little out of touch with reality, and I bemoaned the hyper-sexualization of our youth.
Fast forward again. Glamour Magazine this month reports on the growing popularity among some evangelical Christians of so-called "purity balls," apparently now the cutting edge of the teen abstinence movement. These are elaborate parties which young women and girls attend, gowns and all, with their dads. The theme is the girls' sexual purity, and the big moment comes when the dads sign a formal pledge stating, "I choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity... ." The girls themselves pledge to stay "pure" until marriage.
At the particular ball Glamour attended the young ladies piled flowers under a "V" formed with swords. (At least one dad recounted how he presented his adolescent daughter with a tiny lock. The key he will give to her husband on her wedding day.)
But just like my friend's mother-in-law commenting on the new bride's virginity, while this is surely well meant, I find it more than a little unsettling.
Look, I'm an evangelical Christian who knows the incredible and positive value of the relationship between a dad and daughter and who firmly believes that sex should be reserved for marriage.
But I just can't imagine going about it this way with any of my four kids, son or daughters.
For starters, something like a "purity ball" essentially minimizes a young woman's very humanity. It seems that in this context a girl's sexuality is first her father's (a little odd) then her husband's. But, of course, if we value her we know that her sexuality and the choices she makes about it as an adult are hers.
Besides, I can't help but wonder if a single-minded focus on virginity is an ironic, and unintended way, of sexualizing youth in a different way.
In any event, what bothers me most is that these dads and daughters may be falling for the misperception that "the sin is in the thing" instead of the heart, or conversely, that some sort of righteousness is inherent in the status of virgin, or any outward appearance of propriety.
But what if that same virginal girl has a heart full of bitterness, envy, lust, greed? Would her dad still be proud? Would she? Should they be?
This isn't to say these girls aren't lovely on the inside, too. Only that focusing on outward appearances of righteousness, perhaps even idolizing such things, is dangerous because it too often allows us to rest there, however unwittingly. There's a reason that Christ warned, in condemning the hypocrisy of the (outwardly righteous ) Pharisees, that sin is not what goes into a person, it's what comes out of the heart.
A lot of us Christians don't like that _ getting at "heart" issues is actually a lot more difficult than just not "doing" certain things.
I'm not suggesting for a moment that keeping God's commands is unimportant for His people. Just the opposite. It's because we love Him that we are called to do so, and it's His love that enables us to do so. And so, for instance, I talk to my children about the gift of sexuality, and that one can't rightly enjoy that gift outside of marriage because anything less isn't good enough for us. It's not how we were designed.
But neither is treating our girls, or our sons, like property. We need to protect our kids, not minimize their human agency. Such attempts might make it easier for us to watch them grow up, but it does them no favors in the end.