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Purity Balls: LIfe in the Evangelical Vatican PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 19 May 2008 07:27
Local color:

The New York Times does this piece on our local annual Purity Ball, held in the Broadmoor, our very upscale five star resort. The purity ball movement started here and ours is still the biggest and most glamorous. Mother of them all.

Here, it is the fathers who make a pledge, not the daughters.

But after dessert, the 63 men stood and read aloud a covenant “before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity.”

The gesture signaled that the fathers would guard their daughters from what evangelicals consider a profoundly corrosive “hook-up culture.” The evening, which alternated between homemade Christian rituals and giddy dancing, was a joyous public affirmation of the girls’ sexual abstinence until they wed.

Yet the graying men in the shadow of their glittering daughters were the true focus of the night. To ensure their daughters’ purity, they were asked to set an example and to hew to evangelical ideals in a society they say tempts them as much as it does their daughters.

“It’s also good for me,” said Terry Lee, 54, who attended the ball for a second year, this time with his youngest daughter, Rachel, 16. “It inspires me to be spiritual and moral in turn. If I’m holding them to such high standards, you can be sure I won’t be cheating on their mother.”

Relying on word-of-mouth that brought families mostly from the thriving evangelical community in Colorado Springs and from as far as Virginia and California, Randy and Lisa Wilson built their Purity Ball into an annual gala that costs about $10,000, financed by ticket sales. This year, about 150 people attended the dinner, purity ceremony and dance.

The purity pledges for the fathers to sign stood in the middle of the dinner tables. Unlike other purity balls, the daughters here do not make a pledge, said Amanda Robb, a New York-based writer researching a book about the abstinence movement who was at the Broadmoor event.


Recent studies have suggested that close relationships between fathers and daughters can reduce the risk of early sexual activity among girls and teenage pregnancy. But studies have also shown that most teenagers who say they will remain abstinent, like those at the ball, end up having sex before marriage, and they are far less likely to use condoms than their peers.

No one knows for certain how many purity balls are held nationwide, because they are grass-roots efforts. The Abstinence Clearinghouse, an advocacy group, says it sells hundreds of purity ball kits annually to interested groups all over the country and abroad.


Her father, Jim, said he brought her to show her how much he cherished her after almost losing her in a car accident two years ago.

"Loss tinged many at the ball. Stephen Clark, 64, came to the ball for the first time with Ashley Avery, 17, who is “promised” to his son, Zane, 16. Mr. Clark brought Ashley, in her white satin gown, to show her that he loved her like a daughter, he said, something he felt he needed to underscore after Ashley’s father left her family a year ago.

Mrs. Wilson, the organizer, said that her father abandoned her family when she was 2, and that Mr. Wilson’s father was distant. One father said he had terminal cancer and came with his two daughters. Others were trying to do better in their second marriages.

“I’ve heard from fathers that this challenged them, to guard their own eyes, for example,” Mr. Wilson said. “It is a call to covenant which basically says I as my daughter’s father will be a man of integrity and purity.”

I know that to people in many parts of the country, this sort of thing must seem unbearably corny but Colorado Springs is a city marked by its evangelical inhabitants.

As I wrote in "When Evangelical is Not Enough" shortly after moving here:

"When we moved our office to Colorado Springs I did not understand how different life would be in the "Evangelical Vatican." Over 100 national and international evangelical Protestant organizations make their home here including Focus On the Family. We have no skyscrapers, only "purple mountain majesties" (America the Beautiful was inspired by the view from Pikes Peak) and gigantic churches with names like "Radiance" or "New Life" that dominate the corners and hilltops. Visible, unapologetic faith is much more a part of the public scene here than would ever be imagined in Seattle.

When I drop into my local dry cleaner's or Mail Boxes, Etc., the staff is listening to Christian talk radio. During a recent morning walk, a friendly older man wanted to demonstrate his dog's best trick. I witnessed the apparently charismatic pooch "praise the Lord" by rising on her hind legs and waving her paws in the air on command. Honest.

If I walk into the local discount warehouse, the genial older gentleman who greets me will very likely bellow a few bars of "Amazing Grace." The first time I heard it, my West Coast urbanite paranoia kicked in. I gasped, "He's singing a Christian hymn in a public place. He can't do that! He'll be fired for sure." Six months later, he's still singing at the top of his lungs. I now know that Colorado Springs shoppers consider him a bit of local color rather than a one-man assault on the separation of church and state.

While most Catholics would shrivel like salted slugs at the prospect of singing religious solos in a discount warehouse, the general acceptance locally testifies to the prevalence of evangelical culture and how it affects our response to religious expressions."

I sometimes miss the cultural bright lights of a big city: museums, great buildings, great restaurants. But there are other compensations here that money can't buy.

Several years ago, I was paying my airport parking ticket last at night after arriving home from yet another road trip. For some reason I can not recall, I was feeling depressed and tears were slowly sliding down my face in the dark as I waited for the clerk in the booth to process my ticket.

She noticed and when she handed me back my credit card, she said simply "I'll pray for you."

God bless that intercessor, holding up those who pass by her booth in the wee hours of the night. Her prayer felt like the balm and protection of God at that moment. As indeed it was.

A city filled with a significant percentage of intentional disciples - even those on the Puritan end of the spectrum - is a different kind of city. Still full of people who are selfish, angry, violent, fearful and fully human - but there is a difference you can feel.

Even late at night while idling your car beside an airport parking booth.

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