Bright Lights: A Recipe for Emotional Disaster

A good friend of mine and I have been talking lately about her concerns for her younger sister. Her sister is  a young teen, and her parents have started involving her in a group called “Bright Lights.” I had never heard of this organization before, so I looked it up. Here is what I found:

A young lady who is pure shines with a radiant brightness in this world of darkness. How can a girl stay physically and emotionally pure as she waits for God’s best in marriage?

In other words, it is the very worst sort of purity culture organization. The moment someone uses the words “emotional purity,” run like there are wolves on your tail, becuase emotional purity is a term invented by purity culture supporters who decided that “physical purity” is not enoguh. Bright Lights has books and bible studies, but also runs presents a “Radiant Purity Conference” around the country, and I think a description of the conference will help explain what I mean.

This conference will encourage young ladies to be committed to emotional purity, to walk by faith, and to wait for God’s best in marriage. Creatively presented through stories and testimonies, practical instruction, skits, and real-life examples, this conference gives Biblical answers to everyday questions and deep life struggles. The material is discreet and appropriate for twelve year olds and yet relevant to all ages. Includes testimonies from young ladies who serve as Bright Lights staff, chalk drawings, and harp music.

Conference Topics: 

Waiting for God’s Best

Living with a Purpose

Giving your Heart to Your Father

Avoiding the Dangers of the World’s Thinking

How to Delight in Jesus Our Heavenly Prince

Using Your Years of Singleness for God

What the Lord Says About Modesty

How to Guard Your Heart When You Have a Crush

Internet Cautions

There are apparently also parent sessions, including one called “40 Ways to Protect the Hearts of Your Daughters” and another called “Talking to Young Men who Express Interest in Your Daughters.” THe page finishes with comments from girls and young women who attended the Radiant Purity Conference:’

“It would be an underestimation to say that my daughter and I have thoroughly enjoyed the conference. As a matter of fact, God used you and your team leaders to reveal truths to my daughter and I that weekend. She said that she was truly transformed by some of the sessions and made a commitment to wait for the Lord’s best for her life not only in terms of marriage but other areas as well.”

I think I learned a lot about how to handle crushes. After this weekend, I’m much more committed to staying emotionally pure for my future husband. – l6 year old young lady

“The conference was amazing.  We were so impressed with the leadership and so encouraged to continue to follow God’s pattern for young ladies, instead of the world’s.  So much of the teaching confirmed what my husband and I believe and are trying to teach our daughter.  We especially appreciate the new information about Internet usage. This has long been a serious concern for us. We have been disappointed that none of our Christian friends has taken this issue seriously enough. We no longer feel like the lone voice in the wilderness.”

How to guard your heart when you have a crush” met me where I’m at right now. But all of the topics spoke to me in some way. I made a commitment to surrender everything to the Lord, to totally guard my heart to the glory of God, to live to serve God with my life, and to be a woman of vision.

“I have never been to a conference like this one! It was an amazing answer to prayer. I know your Strong in the Lord and Radiant Purity conference had a big impact on my two daughters. The teaching from the Word also changed my heart and I learned things that I have never heard before. I have been in church since I was 5 years old… that is 30 years, why is this beautiful Godly message about femininity and modesty not being preached? I realize that some churches are, but I feel I have really missed out. Thank you.”

This stuff about crushes is what is most toxic, in my opinion. As my friend Kate wrote not long ago, this fear of having a crush, this belief that any romantic attraction must either be fled or taken to its full conclusion (i.e. marriage), warps girls’ interaction with guys and renders them afraid of male friendships and even afraid of themselves.

This conference is put on by a young woman named Sarah Mally, who founded Bright Lights at age 17 in 1996 (and yes, Sarah Mally was homeschooled—I could have told you that even before I looked it up to verify it). Here is an excerpt from her book, Before You Meet Prince Charming (which is, by the way, available for sale from Vision Forum, among others):

Don’t spend time alone with one young man or single one out in a group. When you are at church, school, or other events, it is good to stay in the company of several people or in families. If you get into a long one-on-one talk with a boy, you are putting yourself in a situation that can easily cause you to open up, connect with him, and find yourself in a more-than-casual friendship. It may mean nothing to him as a young man, but to you as a young lady, it will be a distraction and an emotional tie. . . . I want to avoid deep friendships with guys until the right one comes along. It’s our desire to be close eventually with one, but not with many in the meantime. . . .

Once premature, close friendships are formed, it’s much harder to stay emotionally pure and focused on The Lord. I’m not trying to give you a list of rules, but I do want to emphasize the point that we as young ladies must guard our hearts diligently! Our natural tendency is to want to give our hearts away.

Presumably, this is what is being taught in those “How To Guard Your Heart When You Have a Crush” sessions—beware of friendships or alone time with guys, because they will render you impure. Purity culture isn’t just about what you do with your body, it’s also about your thoughts, and about the idea that a simple crush has the potential to bring an abrupt end to your “purity,” rendering you suddenly and irretrievably impure.

(Parenthetically, I think this is part of what freaks these individuals out about sexual orientations outside of stick straight. After all, if you aren’t to spend alone time with those of the opposite sex, what happens when you also feel romantic attraction to those of the same sex? In the conception of purity culture, cross gender friendships are really off limits with the exception of your spouse, and the assumption is that these precautions will be sufficient, but same sex attractions mess this up completely.)

With the title of her book, Mally buys into the princess myth. Time and again you see this in purity culture, though—the girl typed as the princess and the guy as the prince come riding for her hand. We saw this in The Three Weavers as well, and discussed some of the problems with this configuration. More than anything, though, I would simply point out that life is not a fairytale, and that if you imagine your husband will be the perfect prince, you are going to be very much disappointed when you reach marriage (as will your husband if he imagines you the perfect princess). We’re people, not fairytale cutouts.

Josh Duggar and the Tale of Two Boxes
Sexual Purity and the Pool Battle Plan
How Treating Sexual Thoughts as "Sin" Undermines Relationships
Not Every Courtship Looks Like the Duggars'
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.


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