The Innocence Project
Photo: Jeff Mermelstein
A lot of fathers hope their daughters will be virgins until they walk them down the aisle. But some are going a step further—taking pledges to support the girls' commitment to chastity. And formalizing those pledges at what are called purity balls.Three days before her 15th birthday, Elise Forte is at a formal ball. She's radiant in a spaghetti-strapped white tulle gown. Brilliants scattered in her updo catch the soft light of Colorado Springs' five-star Broadmoor hotel. In between dinner and dancing, Elise sits demurely across from the tuxedoed man who brought her here—her father, Jerry Forte. Elise's mother, Denise Forte, accompanied them and kneels by Elise's side. She hands her daughter a box.
Elise opens it to discover a piece of jewelry she knows well—her mother's confirmation ring. To explain why she's chosen to pass the heirloom along, Mrs. Forte reads Elise a letter.
"Dear Elise. This is the day of the Purity Ball... We are so excited... This ring is made of gold..., a precious metal, and shaped into a heart, and it signifies how precious your heart is to God, to us, and to your future husband, who God is preparing you for... The diamond chip is a sign of purity, a reminder that you are committing to purity in heart, soul, mind, and body until marriage... You will be able to give your husband the gift of purity, rare and precious."
Mr. Forte slips the band onto his daughter's ring finger. With a tender smile, he hands her another box. In it Elise finds a man's ring. Her creamy brow furrows in confusion. Mr. Forte explains that just as Elise now wears a ring representing her promise to be pure until marriage, he will wear one, too, as a sign of his dedication to the same goal. "It is in the form of a shield," Mr. Forte reads, "symbolizing my commitment to protect and shield you from the enemy. Inside the shield is a heart, which is your heart, which I am covering. Across the heart are a key and a sword—the key is the key to your heart, which I will safeguard until your wedding day, and the sword is the protection I pledge to you... On your wedding day, I will give this ring to your husband. I love you, my jewel, my princess. Daddy."
Elise slips the ring onto her father's right-hand ring finger, then falls into his arms, crying. A few minutes later, the family returns to the festivities at the seventh annual Colorado Springs Father-Daughter Purity Ball. During the evening, the girls present white roses before a cross under swords held aloft by two fathers, the attendees watch a "celebrate fathers" ballet choreographed to Natalie Grant's "Always Be Your Baby," and all the fathers sign a covenant that reads:
I, (daughter's name)'s father, choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity. I will be pure in my own life as a man, husband, and father. I will be a man of integrity and accountability as I lead, guide, and pray over my daughter and my family as the high priest in my home. This covering will be used by God to influence generations to come.
The first purity ball took place in 1998 at a nearby Marriott. Randy and Lisa Wilson, a Colorado Springs couple with seven children, hosted about 100 daughters and their parents, primarily from Evangelical Christian churches in the area. In 2006 the National Abstinence Clearinghouse, the ten-year-old nerve center of the U.S. virginity-until-marriage movement, sold 750 packets that outlined how to host a purity ball, and events were held in 48 states: Nearly 200 people attended the one in Tucson, about 150 people gathered in Spearfish, South Dakota, and around 600 fathers and daughters celebrated at a ball in Peoria, Illinois.