Out In The Open

Pro-abstinence dad explains the purity ball phenomenon

"God is not a cosmic killjoy."
A father and daughter approach a cross, where the girls laid a rose to symbolize their commitment to purity, at the annual Father-Daughter Purity Ball in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

A purity ball is a formal dance attended by fathers and their daughters, where the theme is "abstinence." The dads promise to protect their daughter's purity—mind, body and soul—and daughters, in turn, promise to abstain from sex until marriage. 

Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay talks with a father who recently attended a purity ball with his daughter. 

Ron Johnson is a senior pastor at a church in Crown Point, Indiana. He says the promise on the purity commitment lays primarily with the fathers.

"It's not so much that we're putting unrealistic expectations on our daughters to somehow live up to an unattainable standard." Ron explained. "I pledge that I'm going to set an example for them of what a godly father and a godly husband looks like."

At the ball, the daughters are given a white rose, which they lay at the foot of the cross. The flower symbolizes a promise of abstinence, a pledge to hold off on sexual relations until marriage. "It's not a signed deal, it's not heavy-handed in the sense that we're placing some expectations on them. It's simply them saying 'This is my desire, to please the Lord with this area of my life'," Ron told Piya. 

A father watches his daughter sign the purity covenant at the annual Father-Daughter Purity Ball in Colorado Springs. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

In Ron's opinion, the public's focus on the abstinence pledge is misplaced when it comes to purity balls. To him and his family, the ceremony is about living in harmony with one's faith. 

"It's not about saying 'no'," Ron said. "What we try to share with our kids is, God's not a cosmic killjoy. He's the one who intends for us to enjoy sex to its fullest. When I'm talking about it with my kids I'm saying, 'Don't do it the world's way. Save your sexuality for where it was intended to be expressed, and that's in the context of a covenant relationship with your husband or with your wife.'"

The tradition of purity balls has its critics. Some say the father-daughter dance is "creepy" because of the underlying notion of the father controlling their daughter's sexuality. But in Ron's opinion, it is more surprising that people are discomfited by the notion of a purity pledge exchanged between fathers and daughters in the age of anything-goes sexuality.

"What's amazing to me is, when you talk about purity and you talk about sexual things and you encourage people to express that sexuality in the context of marriage, you're going totally against the media message, the Hollywood message, the public arena message. You're swimming upstream. And when you do that, the venom, the hatred that gets released, it's just mind-boggling."