Frozen Promises; Or, Life is NOT a Journey

I was reading No Longer Quivering this morning, and the latest entry was especially poignant and thought provoking.

I spent hours trying to decide on a purity ring. I wanted one with meaning, and I wanted it to be pretty. Besides, the more time I spent there, the more likely I was to convince my parents that I really wanted the newest Ludy book. After we picked up the purity ring, my dad and I had a talk about what it meant. I told him what I wanted, and I promised to remain pure until marriage.

Looking back, I wonder why I was promising things at 14 that were so far in the future. I was blissfully ignorant of the concept of ideas and people changing, and in my naivete, I assumed that what I thought on that day would still hold true in 5 years. Even if it didn’t, I had the guilt of breaking promises hanging over my head.

THIS. This this this this!

I promised my father at 13 that I would remain a virgin until marriage. What did I know at 13? I promised my father at 17 that I would never marry against his wishes. What did I know, a sheltered 17-year-old who had seen nothing at all of the world outside? It was foolish of me to assume that I would never change, that I would remain frozen for life where I was at 17. My parents did their best to hold me to these promises and didn’t see a problem with this. Were they as naive as I?

I wish I’d never made those sorts of foolish promises. The result was only heartache. When I grew past my teenage opinions, I had to deal with the guilt of broken promises, but I also had to deal with my parents’ sense of betrayal because I had broken the promises I made them. The thing is, the promises that were broken were promises I had no business making. But I was a sheltered and naive adolescent, so it’s not surprising that I didn’t know any better. The problem, though, is that the organizations and individual parents of Christian Patriarchy encourage girls to make these sorts of promises. Children may not know better, but adults should.


But isn’t that the problem? Christian Patriarchy sets out to create robot daughters, daughters who are programmed instead of allowed to think and explore for themselves. The goal is not to create a daughter who can think outside the box, but to create a clone, a clone that never changes but will remain frozen in time. Life is not seen as a journey because the conclusion is assumed. Exploration is not allowed because truth is already found.

The goal is to raise daughters in a box, and as part of this the daughters are asked while still quite young to promise never to leave the box without ever having looked outside of it. And if that daughter ever leaves the box, she will have to deal with the string of broken promises she leaves behind.

Here are a couple of examples of what I’m talking about:

From Alpha Center:

One highlight of the Purity Ball is where fathers and daughters make a covenant with each other to live purely.

Many purity balls are attended by girls as young as six or eight.

From Recovering Grace:

A young girl walks down the aisle of a crowded church. She’s wearing a lovely white dress, and the pastor and her father are waiting up at the front… is she about to be married?  No, she is making a public commitment to courtship in this very wedding-like ceremony.

The article later clarifies that the girl in question is twelve. TWELVE.

From Treasures from a Shoe Box:

Stephanie and her younger sister Emily have both separately entered into a covenant with their Daddy that basically states that they will keep themselves pure for their husbands, obtain their father’s blessing on their courtship and will wait for Daddy’s full release before entering into marriage. In this Covenant, Terry agrees to protect them from unqualified men, teach them God’s principles of life, and pray for them and for God’s choice of their life partners.

Do you see the covenant on the table? They had her sign a piece of paper.

Parents, please don’t ask your daughters to make promises like this. People change. People grow up. People mature. No one remains frozen at 13, 14, or 17. If a girl wants to remain a virgin until marriage, she doesn’t need a fancy covenant or a promise to hold her to that, and if she happens to change her mind (as people do) she shouldn’t have to face shame or guilt or broken promises.

Life is a journey, and girls should be allowed to take that journey rather than simply be informed of the destination.

The Cold, Unforgiving World of Geoffrey Botkin
Bob Jones University Rejects Key Recommendations of the GRACE Report
What Courtship Was for Me
Be Pretty, but Not Too Pretty
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Personal Failure

    O_oYou know, these sorts of fundamentalists say that people like me are obsessed with sex, but I don't even consider having a pseudo wedding ceremony for a 12 year old or forcing an equally young girl to sign a contract relating to her hymen.And these people think comprehensive sex ed is sick?

  • Anonymous

    These people are basically breeding vaginas to give to other men. They are the Christian taliban. They try to polish it up to make it sound good and ok, but they are not fooling me. They are just as gross as any other pervert with an offensive fetish.I was sexually abused as a child. All of this every man is entitled to have sex with a virgin on his wedding night obsession is very hurtful to me. Secretly they must wish that when they die they could go to haven with seventy-two virgins waiting on them. These people treat girls like all they are, are vaginas. How convenient to be a Christian man, having other men making sure you acquire your much entitled virgin vagina. I feel so sorry for girls who are raised in this perverted environment. Any who have been sexually abused must hate themselves and be so scared and ashamed. Not that they already are not this just ads more.These fathers are abusive perverts on power trips.

  • Anonymous

    Thankfully I avoided the whole purity contract business when I was young teen. I remember always thinking that purity rings and stuff were silly and my parents didn't seem to think it was important as long as I did wait until I was married to have sex.When I started dating my boyfriend at 18, however, my parents got really upset when they found out that we were kissing. Then my boyfriend and I had to make a list of physical "guidelines" for our relationship, a la Josh Harris did in "Boy Meets Girl" and then we both signed it promising we would never do anything like kiss, give extended hugs, or touch each other's face, hair, or feet. It was really humiliating signing that kind of coerced contract and neither of us really wanted to. Plus then there was the guilt of when we didn't follow the rules, we were going against our word and breaking promises. I felt like I had completely lost control over my own body and that was incredibly demoralizing. So yeah, I don't think any kind of contract in that area will turn out well.

  • Wendy

    If you can't consent to have sex at 12, I don't think you should be asked to make commitments about sex!

  • Naomi

    Anonymous said: "These people are basically breeding vaginas to give to other men."Yup. As someone once said, patriarchy is a conversation between men.

  • Katy-Anne

    Wendy!!! You hit the jackpot with your simple statement that says it all.

  • Libby Anne

    Anonymous of 12:32 – This EXACTLY.

  • kisekileia

    I made a promise to God when I was 13 that I would have my first French kiss at the altar on my wedding day. I reneged on it, with a lot of careful thought, at 19 in my first serious relationship. I'm glad that I didn't have additional pressure from my parents to keep that promise. They would prefer me to not have premarital sex, but I don't think I'm going to end up being disowned when I move in with my boyfriend early next year, and they didn't force me to make commitments about my future sex life at a young age.

  • kisekileia

    Which is one of the reasons that while I do think being raised evangelical was harmful to me in some ways, it wasn't nearly as bad as being raised QF/P.

  • Libby Anne

    Kisekileia – There are actually a lot of evangelicals who DO do purity balls and purity rings. The rings actually became quite a fad among evangelicals a few years back. I think the thing to remember is that there is a LOT of variation in evangelicalism. But I agree, being raised simply "evangelical" does avoid a lot of the more Quiverfull/Patriarchy specific problems.

  • Tanit-Isis

    When my sister-in-law was young, my mother-in-law had her promise she would never, ever smoke.My sister-in-law was fourteen when I met her… she may not have been smoking then, but she was within the year. This is not intended to defend smoking in any way, but to point out the general ridiculousness of asking children to adhere to a binding contract. It just doesn't work. That's part of the whole reason they're considered "minors". /sigh…

  • Rambling Tart

    Reading your posts brings me to tears every time. And I can't thank you enough for that. There is inestimable comfort in reading words from a total stranger that make me feel understood, safe, and so very, very grateful to be free of that world at last. Thank you.

  • dream-wind

    My recall is a little rusty here – but isn't there a part in one of the Gospels where Jesus tells people NOT to swear oaths because of the consequences of breaking that oath? I'll have to go and check, but that particular passage resonated with me.And the guilt and betrayal is why oaths shouldn't be sworn – you might make to oath with every intention of keeping it, just as Libby Anne and all commenters who made similar oaths did, but you never know when circumstances are going to change.As always your posts make me glad I've never had much to do with extreme religion, and humbled by your strength and wisdom.

  • Libby Anne

    Good point, Dream-Wind. Matthew 5:33-37 – Again, you have heard that it has been said by them of old time, You shall not forswear yourself, but shall perform to the Lord your oaths: But I say to you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shall you swear by your head, because you can not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yes, yes; No, no: for whatever is more than these comes of evil.Weirdly, my parents talked quite a bit about this verse, but they simply told us it meant not to swear – i.e. no saying "oh my gosh!" or "heavens!" or "what the hell!" Basically, the only things left us (even "dang" was considered bad) were "darn" and "goodness!"My parents also discussed the last part a good deal (let your yes be yes and your no be no), interpreting it to meant that we must always be honest honest and open about everything. I think people read into Bible verses what they want to read into them, or it least it strikes me that my parents did so quite a bit. I mean, in context, it's pretty clear Jesus is saying "don't take oaths" not "don't use bad language" or "always be honest as a boy scout." but, you know, context doesn't matter when you already know what you want to see! :-P

  • quietpanther

    Yeah, I figure you can only hold someone to a promise if no new relevant information has entered the situation. Fortunately, I'm pretty sure I got this idea from my parents (siblings love to take advantage of each other by making them "promise" something with unknown ramifications…). Also, as much as my family likes Vision Forum and borderline patriarchy, we never "did" purity vows or purity rings. When I first found out about purity rings, I concluded that they were interesting but too weird for me (they looked way too much like wedding rings — if the point is that you're NOT married [or f***ing], why wear something that makes it look like you ARE?).{ DO thread-hijack; }>> Basically, the only things left us (even "dang" was considered bad) were "darn" and "goodness!"Heehee … wow, reminds me of what I *used to* believe (NO YOU CAN'T SAY DARN IT'S A EUPHEMISM FOR DAMN): … my research actually became a lot more extensive; I'm thinking about writing a facepalmish blog post displaying my final consolidated findings….{ END thread-hijack; }

  • quietpanther
  • Janey

    quietpanther- Oddly enough, I've stopped blaspheming since I stopped believing. Those words just don't have the potency when they mean nothing to you. Of course, now I sound more Christian than ever by saying 'dangnabbit' instead on damn (also cause its a fun word) and "gosh" instead of god.

  • dream-wind

    Thanks Libby Anne, glad my memory wasn't failing.And all you people who think "darn" is an acceptable swearword, better not tell Susan, the housekeeper in the Anne of Green Gables books. In Rilla of Ingleside, set in WWI, she started saying "darn" a lot to express her feelings and was always horrified.And also on the subject of swearing, I'm an IT person. My last office seemed to attract evangelical Christians, and one of them always lectured us about swearing. Not only did us corrupted ones not stop swearing, by the time I left she'd been so corrupted she was heard to drop the odd f-bomb… :)

  • Wendy

    Good insight, dream-wind! Matthew 5:33-37 is now added to my list of really good points.

  • Jenna

    Fortunately, when my father took me out to dinner and gave me a purity ring, he at least made it a choice. My mom was the one who was a lot more high-strung about that kind of thing.Anyways, I have had quite a few times of being held to things I said as a child. I remember when my brother stopped being religious, a comment like "oh, but he used to sing such heartfelt praises to jesus".. um, ya when he was 6.I was thinking about this in the context of Kohlberg's moral development stages. Some Christian beliefs (not all) reward a more concrete, right/wrong, punishment-oriented moral reasoning. Therefore, the do not see any difference in moral development between a 12 year old and an adult.

  • Verity3

    Yes!!! Matthew 5:33-37 is one of the first things that clued me in to the possibility that my evangelical church family was really, truly, hopelessly dysfunctional. I mean, it says right there, don't take oaths. But now you're telling me it's time to take yet another Vow of This or That?But try telling leaders who profess direct accountability to God, that this means you aren't allowed to be ultimately, directly accountable to THEM. :/

  • Dianna

    I'm 25 years old. I took a "purity" pledge at 14. I still wear the ring because I've been wearing it every single day for 11 years and my hand feels weird without it there. That's the only reason.I used to have these visions of giving my ring to my future husband – getting it resized to be his wedding ring, even. And then high school and college and even graduate school passed without so much as holding hands with a boy (I'm dead serious). My "purity" was still intact only because it had never been challenged. And as I watched friends enter into relationships, I saw Christian friends experience unhealthy problems with sex, full of guilt and shame because they thought they'd broken some sort of promise. These relationships, if they made it to marriage, quite frequently ended in divorce a couple of years later – most likely because couples had rushed to the altar to justify their behavior.At 24, I came to my own conclusions about premarital sex and purity, on my own. When, a year later, I got my first boyfriend ever (this past summer), I was able to handle that part of our relationship in a mature and healthy way, with no guilt or shame. And with the ending of that relationship (for unrelated reasons), I have not struggled with feelings of being broken or ruined or a "sullied" woman – all things I was warned about as a high school student whenever sex was discussed.I wish we gave young girls the tools and the knowledge and the trust to learn and make their own decisions concerning sex. I can almost guarantee it would lower the divorce rate among self-identified Evangelicals.

  • Anonymous

    " My recall is a little rusty here – but isn't there a part in one of the Gospels where Jesus tells people NOT to swear oaths because of the consequences of breaking that oath? I'll have to go and check, but that particular passage resonated with me."Yes, this is why Quakers don't take oaths. If they have to testify in court, they simply affirm that they're telling the truth.It's also why they don't say the Pledge of Allegiance. Some Christians think it's only us weirdo atheists who are against it ("just don't say God!"), but it's not. Some Christian groups also don't say it because they feel it's violating the commandment against idol worship. As for me, I am opposed to coercing children into saying the Pledge, but not because of the God part but because of exactly what is being discussed here – I think it is morally wrong to have children make a promise that they don't understand and have no hope of understanding. Nobody explains what the words mean to the first graders (and even if they did, some of these concepts are pretty big!), nobody even tells them that they have a choice and can choose to sit or stand quietly instead of saying it!And I just think that's dishonest and plain wrong.

  • Anonymous

    *thinks*Some Quakers probably say the Pledge. I'm not one, so don't take my word as the final word.

  • saraquill

    Do these fathers realize that these balls have incestuous overtones? I hope that it's accidental.

  • kisekileia

    @Libby Anne: I know some evangelicals do purity balls and purity rings. I'd heard of purity rings when I was a teenager, but I don't think purity balls were around where I live at that time. I'm pretty sure my dad would have recoiled from anything with incestuous overtones like purity balls.

  • Gwen

    I have never been exposed to evangelicals or fundamentalists, and thankfully I was never forced to make promises to my father or sign any contracts. But when I was a young girl, I decided on my own that I wanted to wait to have sex until I married. My reasons were surprisingly level-headed for a kid who had no concept of what romantic relationships are like. I figured that sex seemed like a very intimate thing, physically and emotionally. If it could make babies, then it must be serious and it must take commitment. I felt that I could not bear to sleep with someone only to have them leave me, and I thought that it would be far too emotionally damaging for me to take that risk. I hadn't accounted for all of the amazing, wonderful things that come along with falling in love – real love, a deep and honest love, the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced. So, when I was 25 and I met a man with whom I fell deeply in love, I decided that I wanted to be physically intimate with him. Because I was old enough to handle the decision with maturity, it was something truly beautiful and life-altering. I haven't regretted my decision. It was so perfect and beautiful that I can't regret it, even despite the fact that life got in the way and the man I love and I are no longer together. Thankfully, instead of breaking me, the whole experienced showed me just how many amazing things are waiting for me when I do find someone who I can spend my life with. Instead of feeling dirty, used, or devalued, I felt hopeful and free.I don't agree with the language and imagery used in Christian circles. I don't like the fact that girls who have pre-marital sex are likened to a pair of dirty, beaten-up, torn sneakers that would make a poor gift on a wedding night. I don't like the fact that having any sexual encounters means you are "tainted" and not "pure". I even hate that term, "pure" – like having sex is so dirty and wrong. I value sex very highly in addition to enjoying its pleasurable qualities, but I am not dirty. I am not tainted. I am not ruined. I wouldn't advise teens to jump into bed, but neither would I devalue and shame them if they did. Women are not property and the whole "purity" culture of evangelical/fundie Christianity is heavily patriarchal and rooted in the belief that a woman is property, who first belongs to her father, and then belongs to her husband (given to the husband by her father). It upsets me.

  • Xanthe Wyse

    I was raised in pentecostal christianity in very strict fundie family. The purity ring thing wasn't around when I was growing up. I didn't date as teen, partly because wasn't allowed to and also because I had no clue about how to go about it (I found out as an adult I have Asperger's). I had so much guilt and such baggage about sexuality to shed over the years thanks to all that indoctrination. I blog with this pen-name about how damaging I found religion. My family have disowned me since. They find it too disgusting that I rejected their religion, even though I was controlled by it for so long. I'm a good person, but they treat me like a leper.

  • Anonymous

    Yes Christianity, continue teaching girls that they belong to their father until he gives them to their husband and the state of their hymen determines their worth. Let's completely ignore the last hundred years or so of female empowerment. Ugh.'Impure' and proud of it.

  • Brian Macker

    I think you are correct in your estimation of the fact that children can't make these kinds of promises. That however rests in part on the fact that they are incompetent to give consent on many matters. They cannot consent to a promise for which they are lacking the knowledge to know not merely the full consequences but even the partial consequences of such promises.Do you think a child should be able to be sexually active while they are still dependent on their parents? I think the scope of the promises could be reduced in such a way as to make them reasonable. Think about the question and imagine where I a going with this.

  • Anonymous

    "Do you think a child should be able to be sexually active while they are still dependent on their parents?"If I'd gotten a chance to design the human reproductive system and puberty, I'd've done it differently, absolutely.But nobody asked my opinion, back in the day, and they have all the necessary parts and abilities long before most of them leave home.

  • Anonymous

    I grew up Quaker, and I always said the pledge of allegiance at school because no one ever suggested I shouldn't. But that was just my experience, doesn't mean other Quakers don't refrain from saying it on principle. But this post reminds me of something that happened when I was in first or second grade. We got a lot of anti-drug stuff at school, which (especially to the black-and-white mind of an elementary school kid) seemed unassailable to me. So I was really surprised when my mom saw an article in the Weekly Reader newspaper that I brought home about kids taking anti-drug pledges, and it made her angry. She said that no one should be pressuring kids to make pledges and promises at such a young age, even about something good, like saying no to drugs. That attitude has always stuck with me, and made me think more seriously about what it means to pledge something.

  • Brian Macker

    "If I'd gotten a chance to design the human reproductive system and puberty, I'd've done it differently, absolutely."Humans have the parts and abilities to poke peoples eyes out from an early age. Would you redesign this in order to prevent eye injury? Perhaps you'd redesign humans to be born with boxing gloves on?Any serious responders?

  • Anonymous

    Actually, poking out ones eye is pretty difficult. The eyes aren't built that way.But seriously, Brian, when you ask a silly question you're going to get a silly answer. It doesn't matter whether or not I or anybody thinks teenagers should be able to have sex, the fact remains that they are physically able to do so and they are, by that point, too big to manhandle. Unless you propose locking them in their rooms at all hours of day and night (not to mention barring the window), I don't really see how you're going to take away their basic ability to have sex.At a certain point, you have to accept that you're not in control of every aspect of your child's life anymore. Better to give them the tools to act responsibly than to make rules for them that, if they break, they won't know how to handle.

  • Anonymous

    Ugh, gross. So if you have premarital sex you are cheating… on your dad?

  • Libby Anne

    Anonymous of 1:47 – Yes and no. Since your body belongs to your dad, you are essentially violating his property rights, but it's your future husband you are cheating on, because when you marry him he will essentially end up retroactively owning your past sexuality. My parents used to tell us that every boy and girl out there was some other person's spouse, so if we messed around with someone and didn't marry them, we were messing around with someone else's future spouse – hence, "fornication" turns into de facto "adultery."

  • Mara

    Wow, I cant help but be drawn to your blog. I said before the practices in the quiverfull/fundamentalist community are so interesting to me as a conservative christian. I mean, my church is one where women wear a covering on their heads for church. Anyways, what is the age people are baptised in this movement? In my church they pretty much refuse anyone younger than 16 and even then they usually are made to wait until they have finished school. A person would be made never to promise, this is the same as an oath, which the bible speaks against (for the fact things change in circumstances all the time.)Purity and abistence is taught but never in such detail, it seems these fathers have taken a page out of the old testament.. Young ones are encouraged to go through the normal teenage experiences. Thankyou for these eye openers.

  • Libby Anne

    Mara – I can't speak for others, but in my church the only requirement for baptism is that you had to articulate yourself that you wanted to be baptized and why. Children as young as seven were baptized, although sometimes we had adults "rebaptized" because they felt they had been baptized too young to understand.

  • Mara

    yeh I think that is a huge problem in christianity. Exactly as you wrote, children are making promises they have no idea about. Of course a child would want to be baptised, they know it would please their parent's and their friends are doing. It seems they are robbing the children of their childhoods.Thanks for your quick answer.

  • Hannah

    Funny: as a law student in contracts class, this whole concept of signing the oath means nothing legally. A child can disaffirm (choose not to follow through with a contract like this) to no detriment on her part. Or, should a child grow into the age of majority (18+) and after this fact decides to disaffirm before re-affirming, the contract is still voided.I know, not really on topic, just what it made me think of.

  • Anonymous

    Ugh, I had a purity ring :/ I was 12 when my mom took me on a special overnight vacation to teach me about purity. I agreed to: not masturbate; not have sex until I was married; not get physically intimate at all before marriage (though apparently light pecks and handholding were ok); and not casually date and give my heart away (or else it would be damaged goods). Fun huh? For goodness' sake, I was 12!!! I didn't even know what masturbation was!!! Or sex, for that matter. I still thought boys had cooties. So of course I was perfectly ok with those promises. Now I'm almost 21. Ha. Don't think the same way at all, and I've matured a lot since then. I don't think girls should be making those promises at all because they don't even know what they mean at that age. And I really take issue with the whole "damaged goods" thing. Loving people does not make you damaged. If anything, it makes you stronger and more mature. And also, the whole thing implies that women are goods to be saved for their husbands. I'm a person, not a piece of meat, thank you very much.

  • Anonymous

    *And by "damaged goods" I was specifically referring to "giving away pieces of your heart", though sexual purity works too.