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    Posted May 7, 2014 by
    Canton, Georgia

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    Misogyny Masked as Purity Balls


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Jarrod Cochran is a minister at the Open Table Progressive Episcopal Church in Canton, Georgia. He said he feels morally obligated to oppose so-called purity balls – religious ceremonies in which girls are asked to pledge to their fathers to remain abstinent until marriage.

    ‘Jesus, as I touched on in my report, not only affirmed women as equals, but we see many prominent women leaders in the early church. To have something like a purity ball that claims to come from the same sacred texts that I read and yet subjugate women, not only causes me to speak out on behalf of others as a human being, but also speak out as a man faith who is seeing his religion, once again, being used to oppress and denigrate others,' he said.
    - hhanks, CNN iReport producer

    As an Episcopal priest, who has been serving in pastoral roles for over a decade, I have seen my fair share of eyebrow-raising justifications people and groups have used scripture to uphold. The topics that come to the forefront are the misuses of the Bible to justify war, civil obedience and nation-worship, continual gender and racial bias, and the exclusion of the GLBTQ community.


    However, a new and honestly, disturbing, trend has begun to rise in popularity. I speak of The Purity Ball. I was first introduced to the Purity Ball from a friend, who knows that I am an advocate and activist for creating a more just and equal world/society. Intrigued, I looked into it and what I found disturbed me greatly. As author David Magnusson describes it, in his book Purity:


    “A Purity Ball is a formal event where girls or young women and their fathers participate in a ceremony. The daughters dress up in ball gowns and the evening usually consists of dinner, a keynote speech, ballroom dancing, and a vow by fathers and daughters. The girls make a pledge to ‘remain pure and live pure lives before God,’ to stay sexually abstinent until marriage. Their fathers sign a commitment undertaking to protect their daughter’s purity.”


    How nice.


    But what Magnusson fails to mention are the ritualistic practices that go on at many of these Purity Balls. The young women dance provocatively around a cross and have a faux wedding that marries them to their fathers, as they pledge to give their virginity over to their dad to “hold for safe-keeping” until they marry.


    You would think that we, as a society, would have moved beyond something like this. You would think that as the world has revealed, quite blatantly, that women are just as capable at performing tasks and taking the lead as any man, these archaic and patriarchal ideas of yesteryear would be abandoned. You would think.


    As a minister and a Christian who takes his Bible seriously and as a human being that sees inequality of any form as an injustice, I have several issues with these “Purity Balls”.


    First, it’s a devaluation of the female gender. Having your daughter “give” you her virginity for “safe keeping”; forcing them to pledge to be "married" to you until she finds the correct mate, is treating your daughter – and women in general – as nothing more than chattel. The female is no longer the beautiful, individual, creative, and God-affirmed human being that is free and capable of thought, their own ideas, hopes, and dreams. No, the female, in the eyes of these men, become nothing more than a possession, an object; little more than a sadistic trophy that is on display until the time comes when they hand their “trophy” over to a “worthy male” that will continue the objectification and pre-prescribed gender roles, placing her into a metaphorical glass box, able to see the world and all that might have been, but not being able to touch it.


    The second issue stems from the first: These Purity Balls are created to control and subjugate women into chastity, while the men/boys are able to “sow their wild seeds” wherever they see fit. After all, that’s just “boys being boys”. This is nonsense. As a CIS-identifying male, I have sexual desires; but they are met by my partner and it would be unthinkable for me to wander outside of our covenant towards one another to “sow my wild oats”. I am a human being, not some wild animal who is incapable of controlling my impulses. Do we, as males, really see ourselves as so devoid of self-control, that it is acceptable, nay necessary, for us to have multiple partners while claiming to be committed to one, lest we be overcome and pull our genitalia out in public and hump the first thing we see? Ridiculous. Despite our rationale, we cannot enforce one standard for women and claim the “rules” don’t apply for the man. That is injustice.


    Finally, despite these Purity Balls being wrapped in biblical language, we find our scriptures speak against such ideology. We have throughout the Jewish Scriptures (what Christians call “The Old Testament”) great women leaders who were capable of rational thought and beauty. The several that immediately come to mind are Miriam, Moses’ sister, who was considered a prophetess; Deborah, one of the Judges of Israel; and Esther, the queen who, according to the story, prevented the slaughter of the Jewish people. We move over into the Christian New Testament where we see Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, making her the first evangelist of the gospel; Mary Magdalene, as the story goes, was the first to see the empty tomb of Jesus and tell the disciples – making her the Apostle to the Apostles; Mary the Mother of Jesus, who as the Magnificant goes, "Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed"; Junias, who the Apostle Paul calls “an Apostle among the Apostles”, which was the highest honor in the Early Church; Paul’s mention of Pheobe, Prisca, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, and Julia as great leaders of the Early Church. Lastly, we have Paul’s declaration in his letter to the Galatian Church to contend with when we attempt to justify the objectification and devaluation of women, which reads:


    “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28, emphasis mine).


    No matter how hard you try, we can never go back to a yesteryear in this country where “everyone got along because everyone knew their place”. We cannot go back there, first because we cannot turn back time, and second, because that time and place never existed in the first place. These Purity Balls are an attempt to twist scripture to subjugate women in this country. How can we look at other countries that force pre-pubescent women to have their genitalia “circumcised” or sown together to promote chastity with strong rebuke, while we allow Purity Balls, which are in essence, the same thing, to occur in our own backyard? Furthermore, how can we deny the right for our GLBTQ brothers and sisters to marry on the basis that it is “icky” or “against scripture”, yet allow a party where a child is coerced into giving up her virginity, by name, to her father for “safe keeping” until she marries? That is a pedophile’s wet dream made reality.


    The fact is this: you can attempt to claim patriarchal dominance on your wife and your daughters by pointing to historical gender roles. What you cannot do is point to the Bible or social norms as your authority for making your assumptions valid. The only one you are fooling is yourself (and your daughter, until she rebels). So, give it up. Stop masquerading male chauvinism and misogyny as protecting your daughter’s purity. Treat your daughter and your wife – all women – with the respect and dignity they deserve. Don’t just “be a man”; be a human. In welcoming women as equals, you also allow yourself to be invited into the human family.

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