Kathleen Parker

Those darned patriarchal Christians are at it again.

With "purity balls" back in the news -- dress-up affairs during which fathers and daughters profess their allegiance to sexual purity -- evangelicals once again have become America's favorite whipping boys.

Are these guys weird, or what? Well, yes, a little. But then again, not really.

Purity balls are an inevitable offspring of a permissive culture that at times seems more predatory than liberating. The dads and daughters who "date," dance and exchange purity oaths are merely a reactionary response. Every extreme invites another.

Now in their seventh year, purity balls were the brainchild of Pastor Randy Wilson and his wife Lisa, who run the Generations of Light ministry in Colorado Springs. In a Glamour magazine interview last month, Lisa said they wanted to "set a standard of dignity and honor for the way the girls should be treated by the men in their lives."

A video of their recent ball at The Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs confirms feminists' deepest suspicions. One segment features a parade of ballerinas in long white tutus toting a large wooden crucifix into the center of the ballroom, around which they

glissade, jete and pas de bourree to music that is a hybrid hallelujah-dirge.

Next, in the kind of blunt symbolism that leaves the dirty-minded breathless, fathers and daughters parade beneath an arch created by two men holding very long swords. The girls/women dip to drop white roses at the foot of the crucifix.

Is it hot in here or is it just me? Odd as purity balls seem to some people, they are not far removed from debutante balls still popular in many parts of the country. A key difference, of course, is that after the debutantes promenade in their practice bridal gowns, they go get sloshed and crash with their dates.

Everybody knows it's a charade, but it's a charade in the service of tradition and civilization. Ultimately charming, debutante balls are benign curtsies to the veneers of modesty and discretion that help humans distinguish themselves from their pets.

Most fathers generally hope that their daughters will postpone sex until adulthood, if not marriage. They may know that's an unlikely proposition, especially once their daughters hit college, where virginity is considered a sign of abnormality. But sane parents prefer that their daughters (and sons) not waste themselves on random hook-ups where sexually transmitted diseases are more likely to be exchanged than last names.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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