Apparently much to Ms. Gibbs' surprise, she discovers that the ceremony is beautiful, and that "The goal seems less about making judgments than about making memories." Well, what do you know? :) These Christians who are so insistent that it's good for young people to practice abstinence really DO love their kids - rather than passing judgement on kids for being kids, we really believe it is in their best interest to have strong bonds with their parents (especially their fathers), and to save intimacy for marriage. And so we do what we can to give them a solid foundation, positive memories of what really matters in life, and to build the kind of relationships that will help them to stand in opposition to all the pressures they face (rather than wimping out and saying, "Well, since you're going to anyway, be sure to use birth control.").
She sums up her article this way:
Maybe mixed messages aren't just inevitable; they're valuable. On the one hand, for all the conservative outcry, there is no evidence that giving kids complete and accurate information about sex and contraception encourages promiscuity. On the other, a purity pledge basically says sex is serious. That it's not to be entered into recklessly. To deny kids information, whether about contraception or chastity, is irresponsible; to mock or dismiss as unrealistic the goal of personal responsibility in all its forms may suit the culture, but it gives kids too little power, too little control over their decisions, as though they're incapable of making good ones. The research suggests they may be more capable of high standards than parents are. "It's always tempting as a parent to say, Do as I say, not as I do," says a father who's here for the first time. "But it's more valuable to make the commitment yourself. Children can spot hypocrisy very quickly."
I was relatively pleased at the ending of her article. It shows a remarkable willingness to look honestly and fairly at what she was seeing, in a way that few in our culture are willing to do. And though I don't agree with her about whether telling kids everything encourages promiscuity (after all, what kid isn't insatiably curious on these topics? And what kid doesn't experiment with something if it seems mysterious and important - and inevitable, as so many s-x ed programs teach?), I'm thrilled to see her encouraging parents to help their kids have high standards.
Just before that last paragraph, Ms. Gibbs wrote this one. It speaks clearly to the value of events such as the purity ball she visited, not only for the fathers and daughters involved, but also for the watching media and for the culture who sees these events through their eyes.
If you listen long enough, you wonder whether there is really such a profound disagreement about what parents want for their children. Culture war by its nature pours salt in wounds, finds division where there could be common purpose. Purity is certainly a loaded word--but is there anyone who thinks it's a good idea for 12-year-olds to have sex? Or a bad idea for fathers to be engaged in the lives of their daughters and promise to practice what they preach? Parents won't necessarily say this out loud, but isn't it better to set the bar high and miss than not even try?
I hope more people gain this sort of insight from authors such as Nancy Gibbs. And I hope more parents are encouraged to set the bar high - missing is possible when you do that, but so is winning. :)