I recently wrote about a group called “Bright Lights” that focuses on urging girls to abstain not only from sex and dating but also from male friendships—until marriage, of course. One of the conference topics, according to their website, is “Giving Your Heart to Your Father.” One of the commenters responded to that as follows:
I think the “Your Father” in the title meant God, but I could be wrong since there is the creepy incestuous vibe in the purity movement.
I replied and let her know that actually, giving your heart to your father really did mean giving it to your biological father. The idea is all through the purity culture literature I grew up reading as a Christian homeschooler, and yes, it gets incredibly creepy. Let me start by describing some of the most extreme rhetoric and ideas about father/daughter relationships, promoted especially by Christian homeschool organization Vision Forum, and then move on to the more mainstream ideas that suffuse the purity culture and make father/daughter purity balls so common.
First there are the Botkins sisters, who grew up in a Christian homeschooling family and now tour the country with their father speaking at homeschool conventions and conferences. They are closely associated with Vision Forum, an extreme Reconstructionist and southern apologist homeschool company popular among the more conservative of Christian homeschoolers. Let me offer some quotes from their book and website:
Firstly, you must love and honor and cultivate respect for your father. Second, you must seek your father’s heart and vision. Third, you must be able to come up with ways to use your gifts to make your father’s vision a reality, without him telling you what to do. (Visionary Daughters)
I realize that it is most likely God’s will for me to be married someday, and I desire and have the responsibility to be prepared, as much as possible, for this role as God sees fit. I want to be a true helpmeet to my husband, and what an excellent opportunity I have to practice this with my own father! (So Much More)
That’s right—the Botkins teach that teenage girls and young adult women are to serve as helpmeets-in-training to their father, preparing for marriage—practicing playing wife in every way except for sexual, of course. And indeed, the Botkins sisters also use the language Bright Lights uses, arguing that daughters must give their hearts to their fathers for safe keeping and protection.
And then, of course, is pastor, author, and Christian homeschool speaker Voddie Baucham, who had this gem to offer:
A lot of men are leaving their wives for younger women because they yearn for attention from younger women. And God gave them a daughter who can give them that.
After this comment sparked a bit of an outcry, Buacham posted a followup, which is now wiped from the internet along with the original video, explaining that he never meant to imply a sexual relationship between father’s and daughters. But the context around this quotation had to do with men leaving their wives for their secretaries, meaning that Baucham really was suggesting that for middle aged men teenage and young adult daughters should fill the same needs that sometimes drive them to have affairs with youthful secretaries. To put it simply, this is disgusting. And seriously, just where are these men’s wives supposed to fit in this scenario? Do they have an expiration date they pass at forty?
And now let’s turn from the Botkins and Voddie Baucham to Vision Forum’s Father Daughter Retreat. Here is a description from their website:
God’s Word speaks volumes to the relationship between fathers and daughters: His most sacred duty is her protection and preservation from childhood to virtuous womanhood. He leads her, woos her, and wins her with a tenderness and affection unique to the bonds of father and daughter. Success in his life mission is directly related to the seriousness and compassion with which he seeks to raise her as an industrious, family-affirming, children-loving woman of God.
She, in turn, looks to her father as a loving picture of leadership, of devotion, and of care. Her relationship with her father will help to define her view of the worth of a woman, the meaning of fulfillment and contentment, and her vision for virtue. When these relationships are realized and cultivated, the generational mission of the Christian family is secure.
Now let me move away from the more conservative circles of Christian homeschooling and speak to more mainstream evangelical purity culture more broadly, because all of this is there as well, albeit less bluntly. Almost two years ago I wrote about part of what is behind the purity culture focus on fathers and daughters. The basic summary is this: Teenage girls need male attention, and they should be getting that from their fathers. If they don’t get it there, they will turn to teenage guys for that attention, which will of course end up destroying their purity and happiness. Here is how I described this idea:
Yesterday I posted about about purity balls, and pointed out that fathers should have nothing to do with their daughters’ virginity, unless they’re reverting to some sort of Old Testament “fathers own their daughters virginity and women are property” mentality. Since then I have watched this documentary and done some thinking. See, the argument is more sophisticated than “your virginity belongs to your father.”
In the documentary, Randy Wilson of Generations of Light Ministry states that females will always seek male validation and that they especially have a burning desire to be viewed as beautiful by the men around them. Randy explains that because so many daughters today are not validated and told they are beautiful by their fathers, they look for that same validation and affirmation from young men their age, and end up with STDs, teen pregnancies, and broken hearts.
The solution to this problem, Randy says, is for fathers to be there for their daughters, to validate their daughters, have a special relationship with them, and tell them that they are beautiful and valuable. Then daughters will no longer need to seek those things from young men their age, and will no longer bear the physical and emotional consequences of dating and sexual activity. And that, quite simply, is the goal behind the purity balls Randy’s ministry runs.
My response? If you’re worried about your daughters looking for validation from teenage guys, how about you simply make sure to teach them to respect themselves and not find their value in what someone else thinks of them? But then, I suppose that isn’t complicated enough. But really, it’s this idea that undergirds the purity balls and Bright Lights’ call for daughters to give their hearts to their fathers—it’s this same idea that no teenage boy can be trusted with your heart, so you should give it to your father for safe keeping until the time is right.
Let me finish with a couple of points. First, the relationships this sort of teaching sets up are often extremely unhealthy—sometimes the term “emotional incest” is used to describe these patterns. One especially disastrous result is that the a woman can end up playing second fiddle to her young adult daughter in the quest for for her own husband’s attention. And besides that, what happens to this relationship when the daughter eventually moves away to live on her own, or gets married? And if you’re not supposed to give your heart away, how is it that giving it to your father—whatever that means—is safer? Let me put it this way: I did what I was supposed to do and gave my heart to my father, and it still ended being broken. It’s just that wasn’t some teenage guy who broke it—it was my dad.
Anyway, these are all the things that come to my mind when I hear that the Bright Lights group urges girls to “Give Your Hearts to Your Father.” It’s not meant to be hypothetical, and it really is talking about biological fathers.